How Screen Time Affects Adults

Published: November 13, 2019

When it comes to technology—especially new technology—it’s only natural that we worry how it could affect our children. After all, their brains are still developing, and it’s hard to say with any certainty how our rapidly changing world might impact them. But while we frequently fret over our kids, we give far too little thought to ourselves.

While the adult brain might not be developing at the same stunning pace as those of our children, we are nevertheless affected by technology. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that adult brains are a whole lot more adaptable than we might give them credit for due to a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. The habits we adopt every day could be having a much more profound affect on us than we realize.

That includes our screen time. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with watching television, texting on your phone, or playing games on your computer, there are some important things to consider as you decide just how much time you spend enjoying these activities.

Too much screen time could contribute to depression

In a recent study published in Preventive Medicine Reports, researchers discovered a “significant association between TV watching/computer use with moderate or severe levels of depression” after controlling for other variables. The chances of developing depression were highest for those who watched television or played computer games for more than six hours per day.

Mitigating this risk is simple enough, if you’re willing to change some habits. Instead of video games, institute special board game nights with your family. Instead of watching TV during dinner, keep the television off while you’re at the table. Not only will you lessen your chances of developing depression, you’ll strengthen your relationships.

Excessive screen time can make you less healthy

The benefits of exercise aren’t much of a secret. We’ve long known that even light physical activity can have a positive impact on your health. But by the same token, the opposite is true: A sedentary lifestyle, such as sitting in front of the computer or television, can put you at a greater risk of illnesses like diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

To stay healthy, we recommend getting active and getting outside. Riding bikes, hiking, or even taking a walk around the neighborhood can be a great way to get your body moving and reduce the risk of illness. These are also great activities for the whole family—and a wonderful opportunity to spend some quality time together making memories.

Screen time before bed can mess with your sleep cycles

The temptation to check your phone one last time at the end of the day can run high. And what’s the harm? Sure, maybe you fall down a rabbit hole on Facebook or get caught up in reading emails, but is that such a big deal?

Unfortunately, it can be. Studies show that the blue light from your phone’s screen can actually trick your brain into thinking it’s still daylight, which in turn affects how it produces the hormones that regulate sleep. This can make it harder to fall—and stay—asleep. Done often enough, the cumulative effect of this restlessness can leave you exhausted.

Try changing your habits before bed. Pick up a book or a magazine instead of your phone. And if you must check your email at night, consider using an app that can help filter out the blue light. While they might not be perfect, studies do seem to indicate that they can help improve melatonin levels in the brain, which in turn leads to better sleep.

A little moderation goes a long way

No one expects you to give up screen time entirely. In today’s digital age, it’s almost unavoidable. But we’d encourage you to try and pay closer attention to your habits, and look for opportunities to change how you use technology. After all, most of our recommendations above aren’t anything all that radical—spending quality time with the family, getting more exercise, and getting better sleep are good goals for pretty much anyone.  And if you need help coming up with activities for the family then check-out these Free Family-Friendly Summer Activities in Indianapolis.

And if you are struggling with depression or strained relationships, here’s one last thing to keep in mind: Your screen time may not be the only thing to blame. These are complicated issues, and there’s not always a clear cause or solution. That’s why Families First offers mental health counseling for individuals, couples, and families. Learn more about these services, or give us a call at 317-634-6341.