Screen Time Limits Aren't Just For Kids. Why Adults Need Them Too

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Healthcare authorities and pediatricians frequently issue recommendations to limit screen time for kids to no more than an hour per day. But what about adults?

With a growing number of Americans working jobs that require hours in front of a computer, and most "free time" revolving around some combination of Netflix, YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, it should come as no surprise that many adults logged more than 17 hours of daily screen time during the height of the pandemic.

The Negative Effects Of Screen Time

The evidence is clear that excess screen time is problematic for kids and adults alike; children often model their screen-time habits on what they see adults doing.

"Too much screen time not only produces its own negative effects like eye strain and headaches, but it also steals time from more healthful pursuits like forging real-world connections and exercise," says Marjan Moghaddam, D.O., a family medicine doctor for Henry Ford Health.

While there's no tipping point for when screen time turns sour, excess use is clearly associated with the following ails:

  • Poor sleep: The light emitted by screens signals your brain to stay awake, and the constant barrage of signals during the day can make it difficult to unwind at night.
  • Eye strain: It's probably no surprise that staring at a computer for hours at a time is bad for your eyes. The brightness of the display, coupled with glare, can overtax already tired eyes.
  • Addiction: The dopamine dump that happens with smartphone use can be tough to resist. "For some people, the pull to the screen is so intense it interferes with their sleep, work and relationships," says Dr. Moghaddam.
  • Muscle aches: Time spent hunched over a computer or looking down at a device can put a strain on your neck, back and shoulder muscles. When you hold these positions for long periods of time, you may experience pain and even serious musculoskeletal issues, also called tech neck.
  • Sedentary behavior: If you're binge watching your favorite Netflix series or scrolling through your social media feeds, chances are good you are not exercising.

How to Establish A Healthier Relationship With Screens

So how much screen time is too much? And (maybe most important) — how do we scale back?

"Most experts agree that adults should limit screen time to less than two hours per day outside of work-related activities," Dr. Moghaddam says. "The idea is to take a balanced approach where your average screen time isn't taking time away from healthier pursuits, like exercise." These six strategies can help:

  1. Turn off notifications. Limit notification alerts to help minimize unnecessary screen time.
  2. Set limits. Establish time limits for all devices, including televisions, smartphones and electronic readers. In addition to the time limit you set for each platform, make sure you institute a "bedtime" for all devices. "I recommend an ideal curfew of 2 hours before you turn in, with a minimum goal of at least 30 minutes," Dr. Moghaddam says.
  3. Make meals a screen-free zone. When you eat in front of a screen — TV or any other type — you're more likely to overindulge. Plus, if you're eating with your family, having a smartphone or other device nearby interferes with your ability to be present.
  4. Keep screens, including TVs, out of the bedroom. It's easy to get sucked into a TV show or mindlessly scroll through social media feeds on your smartphone. You might even think it helps you wind down. But the truth is, your bedroom should be reserved for sleeping and intimacy, not screens.
  5. Track your time. Today's smartphones come equipped with functions that allow you to track how much time you're spending in various applications. If you're trying to scale back on screen time, you need to know where you’re starting from.
  6. Take frequent breaks. If you work in front of a computer screen, schedule reminders to take breaks every 30 minutes. Get up, stretch out, move around. Consider, too, scheduling "off" hours for your smartphone. "Maybe you shut it down for 30 minutes at a stretch so you can focus on the work at hand," Dr. Moghaddam suggests.

Becoming Savvy About Screen Time

When you begin modifying your screen-time habits, you may be surprised by how much time you actually have.

"Limiting screen time not only frees up significant time but it can also help you think more creatively," Dr. Moghaddam says. In this case, the adage applies: What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Adults need to model healthy screen time behavior for their children — and that includes setting reasonable screen time limits.

The bonus: When your thought process isn't hijacked by a deluge of bells, whistles and emojis competing for your attention, you'll be better equipped to focus on what really matters: Family, work, real life.

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To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Marjan Moghaddam is a family medicine physician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Capitol Park and Harbortown.

Categories: FeelWell

Tags: Primary Care