Ironically, I am writing this from my personal computer after having spent some time on google researching the topic of screen time and our brains. I am grateful for technology and devices that make the gathering and distribution of information so effective. Most of us find our computers, phones and other devices a necessity as well as a source of communication and entertainment. But we would be well served to keep it in check because all that screen time isn’t doing us any favors.
Everyday screen time
Whether you are writing a report on your computer, Netflixing or scrolling through your Instagram feed, that blue light emitting from your screen could be affecting your brain. It has been long known that screen use before bed interferes with sleep patterns. Screen time can suppress melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain which is responsible for circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock. Low melatonin levels can also affect the female hormone cycle, and increase the chances of getting breast cancer, prostate cancer and heart disease. Some researchers also believe melatonin levels influence aging.
Screen addictions, like gaming, include an additional set of problems. Screen addiction follows the same dopamine addiction process as other addictions. Continued heavy use has shown shrinkage, or loss of tissue volume, in gray matter areas where “processing” occurs. Areas affected include the frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control. Other areas are the striatum, and particularly the insula, which is involved in reward pathways and the suppression of socially unacceptable impulses, our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. This creates an obvious link to violent behavior but also dictates the depth and quality of personal relationships.
I remember hearing about a leader in the development of technology saying he doesn’t carry a cell phone and doesn’t use his computer after work hours. Screens are a modern necessity and the only protection we have from over use and addiction is self-control. We must make a plan for the wise use of devices. A few suggestions:
- Get honest. Track the amount of time you and your children are on devices
- Look at how much of that time is needed and how much is discretionary
- Find other activities with which you can replace some of that screen time
- Stay off devices in the late evening
Sherry Stirling Fernandez, CPT
Owner, FitMania Boot Camp Specialists