The explosion of electronic devices has brought us instantaneous communication, ease of commercial transactions, and entertainment on demand. But increased screen time, estimated at 7-11 hours for adults each day, has also brought with it unforeseen effects on our bodies and our health.
Perhaps the best-known negative effect of screen exposure is a decrease in melatonin, a hormone which regulates sleep. Researcher Victoria Dunckley, M.D., says, “Just minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize the body clock. Once the body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other unhealthy reactions occur, such as hormone imbalance and brain inflammation.”¹ All light suppresses melatonin production, but the blue light emitted by computer screens is especially disruptive. To mitigate the problem, turn off devices at least one hour before bedtime, and use blue light blocking glasses if you must stare at a screen for a prolonged period. Also refrain from taking your phone to bed and looking at it if you wake up at night.
Another hormone affected by screen time is cortisol, a major stress hormone. Using a computer more than three hours a day results in lower cortisol levels, which can cause fatigue and an inability to deal with stressful situations. Playing video games triggers the release of cortisol constantly, leading to increased time in fight or flight mode, leaving people feeling edgy or exhausted. If you feel irritable for no reason, try cutting back on your time playing video games and responding to social media to see if you feel less tense.
Winning points in video games and getting likes on social media increase dopamine, one of the brain’s feel-good chemicals. These activities stimulate areas of the brain associated with cravings and addiction, which is why it can be difficult to break away from technology. Imaging studies have found that Internet and game addiction shrinks regions of the brain responsible for planning, empathy, and impulse control. This can lead to violent behavior and poor quality relationships.
Research is emerging that early behavior regarding computer use can affect later life patterns. It is imperative that parents set limits on the amount of screen time their children are allowed, and that they choose games that promote compassion and cooperation.
Insulin is another hormone whose dysregulation is associated with longer screen time. Insulin is involved in energy production by controlling the uptake of glucose (blood sugar) into your cells. When there is not enough insulin, or when the body becomes resistant to it, diabetes results. Too much time online is associated with type 2 diabetes in adults, as well as higher body fat and insulin resistance in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than 2 hours of screen time of daily for kids.2
The common theme across age groups is that more screen time means less time for activities that are good for your health. Screen time displaces sleep, face-to-face communication and exercise. It leads to sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep and a hyper-aroused nervous system. To improve your wellbeing, turn off that device!
Dr. Jessica Needle is a licensed naturopathic doctor practicing at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.
1) Dunckley, Victoria. Screentime is making our kids moody, lazy and crazy. Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201508/screentime-is-making-kids-moody-crazy-and-lazy
2) American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization. Screen Time Guidelines By Age. https://www.eyepromise.com/blog/screen-time-chart/