Lockdown… and the impact of screens on health

Electronic devices have an undeniable appeal for adults... and children! What is the impact of screen time on health?

Screens are everywhere!

The time spent in front of screens is a topic that concerns everyone at a time when each household has at least seven “screens” on average. In fact, we are seeing a proliferation of electronic goods such as cellular phones, tablets, laptops, video game consoles and televisions.

COVID-19 lockdown measures force a very large number of adults and children to stay at home for an extended period. Therefore, the appeal of electronic devices for entertainment purposes may significantly increase.

It is important to know that the impact on physical and mental health is primary linked to the duration of exposure. However, the type of content consulted and even the time of day also have a role to play.

 

Impact on physical health

Sleep

The impact of screens has been shown in various sleep studies. Results show that the longer the screen time, the shorter the duration of sleep, the poorer its quality and the harder it is to fall asleep. Additionally, heavy users feel more tired during the day.

Screens produce a type of wavelength called blue light, which is what negatively affects sleep. It prevents the normal secretion of a hormone called melatonin, which is responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. Additionally, when people leave their devices on during the night, their sleep may be disrupted by notifications that produce light or sounds. 

To promote better sleep, avoid exposure to light from screens at least two hours before you go to bed and close all of your devices during the night.

Being overweight and obesity

Sitting in front of TV, playing video games or navigating the Web on your smartphone from your couch are all sedentary activities that promote weight gain in adults and children.

To avoid this, it is possible to make it enjoyable and useful by doing physical exercise while you watch your favourite television series. You can also set up a stand-sit workstation. In fact, why not play video games as a family by incorporating movement or dance? Or even better, choose outdoor activities that will allow you to stay active and get some fresh air.

People who are in lockdown should consider going out every day and staying active. Some examples of activities to favour are: taking a walk, cycling, playing outdoors or doing yard work. Involving your children can provide an opportunity to reduce screen time and discover new horizons. 

Eye health

Overuse of screens (and reading too close in general) can also affect eye health. Among other things, it could contribute to the rapid evolution of myopia (or nearsightedness).

 

Impact on mental health

Energy level

Screen use does not promote vitality. Additionally, since it compromises sleep quality, it can also cause fatigue, behavioural changes and decreased performance. This is another reason to limit its general use in the evening!

Anxiety and depression

Evidence from studies shows that too much screen time can affect mental health in both adults and children, making them more prone to anxiety and depression, among other things.

Attention and concentration

Too much screen time can affect attention span and the ability to concentrate in both adults and children. In fact, it does not help small developing minds to learn to do one thing at a time and to undertake a task or an activity.

Child development

For some children, it has also been suggested that overexposure to screens can lead to certain difficulties, such as:

  • delayed language development
  • learning disabilities
  • compromised academic performance
  • poor communication and relational skills
  • decreased motor skills
  • etc.

Here are a few additional recommendations for healthy screen use:

  • Avoid leaving the television on in the background.
  • Remember that screen use should be avoided in children under the age of two.
  • Limit screen time to an hour a day for young children between the ages of two and five.
  • For older children and adults, it is recommended to limit screen time to two hours a day.
  • You can occasionally play games with your child on a tablet, but be careful not to use technology as a babysitter... or worse, let your child be raised by it!
  • During lockdown, it’s the right time to discover and enjoy new activities: board games, knitting projects, paint by number, dancing or singing (karaoke) contests, reading a book collection, etc.
  • Establish a typical lockdown day schedule that is consistent from one day to the next. Children generally respond well to routine, as this reassures them and prevents them from reverting back to their screens.
  • Establish rules for the use of technology in your home that everyone should follow... including you!
  • If you have to use a screen for work, be sure to take regular breaks. Ideally, you should move away from your screen and focus your gaze and attention on something else for several minutes. Your brain and eyes need this downtime.
  • Once you have finished working, consider entertaining yourself in ways that don’t involve screens as often as possible.

Remember that you are a role model for your child. If they see you constantly in front of a screen, they are likely to do the same. Using technology responsibly in today’s world is paramount for health... and especially during lockdown!

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Lockdown… and the impact of screens on health

Electronic devices have an undeniable appeal for adults... and children! What is the impact of screen time on health?
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