Is Blue Light Giving You The Blues?
By: Amy Chang Radosevich, MA, ACSM, ACE, AFAA
I was thinking about a recent wellness survey I created for our new corporate client, and one of the questions was “How many hours per day are you staring at a screen?” The results came back with the majority of the respondents spending more than 8 hours per day in front of a screen. This is congruent with an article I recently came across that cited the average American adult spends between 7 to 11 hours looking at a screen of some kind. You may have heard of the slogan “Sitting is the new smoking”. I can’t help but think that hours sitting is in many ways correlated to hours spent on screens. So perhaps all things that can potentially shorten our life span starts with the letter “S”? I can imagine some of you already coming up with a list of “S” words that prove otherwise but just go along with me for the purpose of this article.
7 to 11 hours a day means a third to almost half of our day. If we subtract the 7 to 8 hours we are supposed to be sleeping, that doesn’t leave us much time for arguably the top priorities in our lives - family, friends, self-care, personal development etc. Besides being a time sink, recent report on negative effects excessive screen time has on humans include insomnia, brain fog, short term memory loss, vision strain, headaches, shortened attention span and concentration. The collective impact has been termed “digital dementia”, and the most concerning part is that we are only scratching the surface and more time is needed to conclude if some of these effects are reversible or can cause permanent damage.
Additional symptoms or effects related to excessive screen time usage are:
- Brain MRI studies have shown atrophy of right brain gray matter in online game addicts. This area of the brain is responsible for planning, prioritizing, organizing, impulse control and reward pathways, empathy and compassion, along with the ability to translate physical signals into emotion.
- Kids who spent more than 2-hours screen time per day scored lower on thinking and language tests.
- A Harvard study in 2014 reported that subjects who read an e-book versus a printed book took longer to fall asleep, have lower melatonin secretion, a later timing of their circadian clock, and lower morning alertness. These effects could be attributed to the blue light emitted from digital screens.
- Reports have shown prolific use of social media can increase anxiety and depression while subjects who went through a social media detox for a few days to a few weeks drastically improved their sense of well-being.
- Excess screen time can cause CVS - not your local pharmacy, but stands for Computer Vision Syndrome. I know I have personally experienced some, if not all the symptoms associated with CVS: Eye strain, dryness, irritation, redness, double or blurred vision, burning, plus neck and shoulder pain.
While it’s likely unrealistic to eliminate screen time in this day and age, we can certainly be more mindful about how and when to spend time in front of a screen along with other lifestyle choices we can make to minimize or combat the negative impacts. Here are some recommendations:
- Shoot for less than 6 hours of total screen time per day and no screen at least 1 hour before bed. If you really have no choice, consider investing in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses. I’ve recently gone back to reading good old paper books. There’s something special about the feel of flipping an actual page.
- For those who have kids, experts recommend no digital media for infants up to 24 months, and only 1 hour per day for kids ages 2 to 5.
- Take at least a couple days off of social media each week.
- Consume an abundance of nutrient rich foods especially those high in carotenoid antioxidants like zeaxanthin, lutein and astaxanthin. Think leafy greens and yellow and red fruits and vegetables.
Okay, your screen time is up so I’ll sign off here. Remember to use the time you save from getting off social media, watching less TV or playing less video games to get a workout in at the studio or the great outdoors!