How does Screen time impact Brain, Cognition, and Mental health?


How does screen time impact brain, cognition, and mental health?

How does Screen time impact Brain, Cognition, and Mental health?

As rightly stated by Albert Einstein, “All of our exalted technological progress, civilization for that matter, is comparable to an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal”. Inevitably, technology plays a very significant role in our lives and survival in the absence of it is almost unimaginable. Undoubtedly, we’ve also turned much lazier due to these lofty advances. Without hesitation, technology can be called ‘agathokakological’. It has both good and evil. The way you desire to use it determines the consequences.

In this article, ‘How does screen time affect  brain, cognition, and mental health?’ we shall look into the adverse mental and physical effects of prolonged screen usage, and explore ways to reduce the damage caused by screens.

What is Screen time?

Before diving into our topic, ‘how does screen time affect brain, cognition, and mental health’, let us first define screen time as precisely possible.

The number of hours you spend watching screen (TV, and all personal devices included) is called screen time. On average, we spend 3 hours and 15 minutes of our day on phones alone. This number escalates if the screens are included. We check our phones nearly 58 times a day.

Screen time affects Mental health

Addictive and excessive screen time can cause physical, psychological, neurological troubles and also adversely impact one’s mental health.

According to a longitudinal study conducted on 327 adolescents, recreational screen time is negatively associated with mental health.

High screen time is positively associated with anxiety, depression, and psychopathological symptoms in yet another study conducted on 4747 college students. It was demonstrated that 16.3% of the students suffered from anxiety, 15.9% suffered from depression, and 17.3% suffered from psychopathological symptoms due to high screen time.

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Screen time may affect your relationships

Not only that, it can also impair your social skills, weaken your emotional judgments, severely impact your self-esteem.

According to Lin Sternlicht, LMHC, digital addiction specialist,  prolonged screen-time can have a significant impact on one’s brain, mood and general wellbeing. Excessive exposure to screen-time may also be a sign of a digital addiction.  

One of the ways that screen-time impacts the human brain is in the release of dopamine. There are several virtual cues that signal the release of feel good neurotransmitters such as when you get a like or comment on a social media post or excel to a new level of a game.  Over time the individual can become dependent on digital stimulation to induce pleasure, resulting in regular life pleasures no longer bringing the same gratification or sense of happiness. 

Loss of interest in activities, hobbies and relationships at the expense of screen-time is one common symptom of a digital addiction.  As such, excessive screen time can lower one’s mood or trigger anxiety.

Reduced attention spans

Attention is the ability to focus on a task for as long as possible without being distracted by scrambling thoughts. It’s a no brainer that screen time reduces your attention spans. Through screens we consume a whole lot of info most of which is unnecessary.

Screen usage gets you stuck in the rut by getting you caught up in unimportant things mostly. And this severely affects your ability to focus or concentrate which in turn affects your capabilities and learning.

Innumerous studies and research articles have pointed out the ugly truth that our attention spans have decreased by almost 50% in the last decade.

Based on the data from Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study, screen time was available for nearly 95% of pre school children with the mean screen time being 1-4 hours per day. It was found that children whose screen time was more than 2 hours per day suffered from significant attention related troubles.

What is more alarming is that these children, whose screen time was more than 2 hours per day had an increasing risk of meeting criteria for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Low Physical Activity and High Screen time

The combination of high screen time and low physical activity is a catastrophic and deadly one. It is an annihilating pair.

As previously discussed high screen time is a predictor of mood related disorders, it is also known to be one of the contributing factors of school life dissatisfaction in students.

While physical activity and screen time are independently associated with both mental and physical health, their interaction can affect your health in pretty unexpected ways.

This destructive combo is associated with several conditions like psychological disorders, depression, anxiety, poor stress regulation, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cardiac troubles, osteoporosis, insomnia, inflammatory diseases, and even digestive problems.

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Screen time and its impact on sleep

Every individual needs optimal sleep for proper functioning. Lack or improper sleep can lead to the accumulation of several modalities in the brain and the body. A healthy sleep is essential for growth, cell repair, cell regeneration, metabolism, heart-functioning, memory consolidation, immunity, attention, mood, hunger, etc. In simple words, your sleep patterns affect every aspect of your physical and mental health.

 Despite its prominence, sleep is perhaps the most ignored and neglected health condition. Screen time is ne of the offenders of sleep quality and quantity. Exposure to screens, particularly around bedtime may impact sleep negatively.

A cross sectional analysis was performed on 653 participants. It was found that adults spend a substantial amount of their time using smart phones. It was demonstrated that the average time an adult spends with a smart phone (secluding other screens) is nearly 38.4 hours per month.

The results indicated that screen time drastically affected the sleep quality of the subjects. Poor sleep and decreased sleep efficiency were highly linked to increased screen time.

Screen time and its impact on children

The first 5 years of one’s life are extremely crucial since, this is the period in which the mind and the brain develop rapidly, more so, in the first three years. Around this time, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, mental, linguistic, motor development, and many other essential developments happen. According to an article published in Adam and Miles, brain development in early childhood is extremely important as it sets the stage for the rest of the child’s life.

Nearly 68% of children under age 3 use screen media such as televisions, DVDs videogames, etc. on a daily basis. This may adversely affect their health leading to negative outcomes such as increased Body mass index (BMI), decreased cognitive development, decreased language development, ultimately paving way to reduced academic success. American academy of Paediatrics recommends parents to avoid exposing children aged 2 and under to screen media. According to an article run in Springer link, screen time may have detrimental effects on childrens’ health and development.

A study was conducted on children aged 2-4 years. The data for the study was accessed via maternal report. It was demonstrated that cognitive delays and poorer academic performance paralleled to increased screen time. Moreover, one-quarter of childrenwere not developmentally ready for school entry.

According to Dr. David Greenfield, the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, part of the issue is that we don't know the long-term ramifications of excessive screen use. We do know that during the first five or six years of development the brain is doing a lot of wiring and interconnecting. Now that's the normal neurological period that children go through developing new interconnections. That's later followed by the pruning of those connections, meaning the fine-tuning of them. 

What we don't know is what all of that screen time does in terms of the excess amount of dopamine.  The brain is responding to an excess of stimulation and the brains of these children are being bombarded with sound, movement, and color in a way that we've never seen before.  We think that what it does is that it desensitizes the child to other forms of stimulation and input and therefore it may make learning more difficult and make it harder to gain that level of attention later in life. 

So the truth is we don't know for sure how it's going to affect kids in later generations, but we do know that it's going to have a significant effect. 

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How to protect yourself from the damage caused by screens?

While some people spend hours on screens, some others check their phones multiple times a day, which nearly equals to the similar amount of time as the former. A normal person checks his/her instagram 150 times a day nearly. Either this way or that, you are wasting your time surfing through screens. In this article, ‘How does screen time impact brain, cognition, and mental health’, we have previously looked into the damage caused by screens.

Undoubtedly, screens have become an inevitable part of our personal and professional lives. While there isn’t much we can do about their interaction with our professional lives, we surely can make effective changes when it comes to their role in our personal lives.

According to Abby Hau, Head of Marketing, WELLPCB, we can reduce the damage caused by following certain essential measures like the ones listed below.

1.Suitable working environment. Indoor lighting should be moderate, not too bright or too dark, and avoid direct light irradiating the screen to avoid interference light. The screen should not be too bright, and the color should be green.

2.Correct sitting posture. Choose a height-adjustable chair with full back support, knees bent approximately 90 degrees, and a comfortable sitting posture. The center of the computer screen should be on the same level as the operator’s chest, and the distance between the eyes and the screen should be 40 cm to 50 cm. Do not put your body too close to the table, and keep your elbows naturally bent. During the operation, you should always close your eyes and rest for a while to adjust eye fatigue.

3.Wash your face and hands frequently. The surface of the computer screen has a large amount of static charge, which is easy to collect dust, and exposed places such as the operator's face and hands are easy to be contaminated with these contaminants. If you do not pay attention to frequent washing, rashes may appear on the face, which can cause skin pigmentation in severe cases.

4. If you use the computer often and want to keep your body healthy, you have to pay attention to:
Operate the computer for a moderate amount of time, not too long. Try to control the continuous operation time within 3 to 4 hours, rest for a quarter of an hour every 45 minutes, and do some eye exercises to relax your eyes. You also need to relax your head, neck and back, leave your seat and walk around to allow blood to circulate fully and take away fatigue

5. Choose computer equipment that is beneficial to health.
Nowadays, computer applications are becoming more and more popular, and people use computers for longer and longer. Sitting in front of a computer in a stiff posture for a long time, with eyes facing the screen with electromagnetic radiation, wrists and fingers doing mechanical repetitive work for a long time, can be harmful to the human body. In order to reduce the damage to the human body caused by these equipment and mechanical actions, in addition to doing some self-protection, how to choose some computer equipment with health care functions and ergonomically designed is also very important.

6. Another way to reset your mind to establish an equilibrium in screen time is through dopamine fasting. Unlike the usual fasting we all know about, dopamine fasting implies solemnly refraining yourself from things and activities that give you pleasure. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when you do something that you find pleasurable. The more enjoyable the activity is to you, the more dopamine is released and vice versa.

It is due to the release of dopamine that activates the reward system of your brain which further motivates you to do the activity that has been giving you pleasure. This is especially bad when it comes to unhealthy activities. For, we rarely find pleasure in healthy activities and it is quite the opposite when it comes to unhealthy, self-destructive habits. For, it gets you trapped in the vicious loop of pleasure and reward seeking behavior.

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Concluding: ‘How does screen time impact  brain, cognition, and mental health?’

I hope my article, ‘How does screen time impact brain, cognition, and mental health?’ is of assistance. Subscribe to my newsletter and get all updates delivered straight into your inbox.

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  1. I really loved this article. I will definitely help me for a better health condition. And the things which we have to follow while using our devices and precautions to be taken . I really like this one. Waiting for muxh more interesting articles .


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