In the fight to stay healthy, technology can give us an edge in our personal and professional lives. We can use our digital devices to improve our diets, track our fitness efforts, or help us with medication compliance.
And that’s on top of all the other wonderful technological advancements that have improved our healthcare system by providing better patient care, improving relationships with patients, and faster medical results that go straight to your phone.
When it comes to women’s and men’s primary care, Portland physicians are increasingly seeing patients who exhibit signs of technology overuse, particularly with the current reliance on smartphones in our day-to-day lives. After all, Americans spend nearly 12 hours a day looking at multiple digital screens—and that number keeps going up. A recent Deloitte study found that 60 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-34 admitted to smartphone overuse. This leads us to ask the question, “What are some negative effects of technology?”
The negative effects of technology on health
We are by no means claiming you shouldn’t use technology. In fact, we love staying connected. Instead, we want to encourage smart use of technology that takes advantage of its conveniences and counteracts the side effects caused by overuse. By considering the following symptoms linked to technology addiction, you can continue harnessing its power to improve your overall well-being while staying connected. Here are a few key considerations around technology use and how it affects our health.
Digital eye strain
When we gaze at a screen for long periods of time, we often forget to blink. In fact, research has shown that digital eye strain reduces our blink rate by half, which means the tears that protect our eyes evaporate without being replaced. Additionally, reading the smaller fonts on a smartphone or other portable device can intensify the strain.
As a result, nearly 60 percent of US adults report symptoms of digital eye strain, which include dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, burning, itching, difficulty focusing and pain in the neck or shoulders. For most people, eye strain merely causes discomfort but it doesn’t typically result in any long-term problems.
Ways to reduce digital eye strain
To minimize discomfort, the doctors recommend taking a “20-20-20” break: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something 20 feet away. To train yourself to blink more, try to get in the habit of blinking every time you breathe. Other tips to combating digital eye strain include:
- Reducing overhead lighting to eliminate screen glare
- Using eyewear if needed
- Positioning yourself at arm’s distance away from the screen
- Increasing text size on devices to make them easier to read
- Getting regular eye exams
We love our devices so much that many of us even sleep with them. One study found that 71 percent of smartphone owners keep their phone next to their bed at night to ensure they don’t miss a thing. Another study found that over 40 percent of bedside smartphone users wakeup from noises or lighting from notifications coming from their device.
It might seem like a harmless habit, but late-night technology use can interfere with your ability to sleep. According to a Gallup poll, 40 percent of Americans say they’re not getting enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation and Swedish researchers discovered a link between heavy cell phone use and increased sleep disorders in both men and women.
“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Charles Czeisler, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Tips for addressing smartphone addiction in bed
To avoid sleep disruption, try replacing late-night technology use with sleep-conducive activities such as taking a bath or reading in bed. Resisting the urge to keep your phone on your nightstand can also help minimize nighttime interruptions. Here are other tips to help you reduce the temptation of bringing your smartphone to bed with you:
- Turn off your Wi-Fi or use an internet blocker
- Listen to a podcast
- Put your phone somewhere you can’t reach but can still hear
- Track your usage and set a limit
- Turn off unnecessary notifications
- Set your screen to night mode
When we’re using technology like computers, video games or TVs, we generally aren’t exercising. That’s why there’s an increasing body of research linking the overuse of digital devices to decreasing exercise and fitness levels. For example, in a recent study covering college students in Thailand, researchers found that students experiencing smartphone addiction participated in less physical activity compared to those who moderated their use.
Logically, spending more time on the couch and watching TV or playing video games reduces the time you spend staying active. However, the link between obesity and gaming is marginally associated to weight gain in adults, with exposure to unnatural blue light from a TV and smart devices being more associated with obesity.
Apps that help you get physically active
That’s a problem technology can easily help us solve. There are plenty of fitness apps available to help you stick to an exercise routine, stay motivated and track your progress. Using just one of them can help you get enough activity to counteract your screen time and encourage exercise. Here are a few of our favorite fitness apps to keep you active:
- For outdoor runners: Nike+ Run Club
- For general fitness tracking: Apple’s Fitness App
- For yoga: Asana Rebel
- For new runners: Couch to 5K
- For ten-minute workouts: Sworkit
More than three billion people interact with each other over social media every day. While many of our exchanges are generally harmless, overusing these services can impact our well-being. Social media addiction is linked to a rise in mental health disorders like depression suicidal ideation, particularly in teenagers. Researchers made that correlation by highlighting how platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter place higher social pressures on young people and adults that can lead to instances of cyberbullying, increased need for approval, and general feelings of discontent.
One study showed that teens who spent five or more hours a day on social media were twice as likely to experience depression-related symptoms. It also indicated that females using social media at that same amount were more likely to show signs of depression compared to males.
Tips for managing social media use
You don’t have to disconnect or delete your social media profiles to protect yourself. We recommend finding a healthy balance that places less emphasis on digital reward systems and managing how much you use it. Here are a few healthy ways of using social media:
- Log off and take regular social media breaks
- Carefully decide what you want to post and who you wish to see it
- Limit how many social media profiles you use
- Delete specific apps that might be getting in the way of your productivity
- Use a schedule for when you’ll be social online
Technology and health advice
Technology can add limitless value to our lives—especially if we take care to use it mindfully. As technology use increasingly finds its way into discussions about men’s and women’s primary care, Portland physicians hope patients will explore new ways to tap into its power to improve their overall health and fitness.