Have your thought about just how much time you spend in front of a screen per day? Think about all the devices, computers, television screens, speakers, artificial lights and other things that weren’t around even a hundred years ago. I personally know people who have to fall asleep with something digital, whether it’s music, a television show, or an eReader.
How Did We Get This Way?
Just a decade or two ago, we barely spent any time with these digital surfaces. Children played outside, they talked to each other face to face (no texting) and adults read books and slept more. What was so wrong with that? Truthfully – nothing. But we tend to want more and the newest things and to “sleep when we’re dead.” Well, the real truth is that our digital lives are leaving us burned out, negative, stressed, and unhealthy.
I’m not trying to scare you, I just want you to take an honest look at how much time you actually spend with electronic devices per day. Is it every minute that you’re awake? For many of us, it is. And – believe it or not – many of us still feel that we aren’t doing enough. We didn’t send enough e-mails, we didn’t text our friend enough, we didn’t read all the news. Is this a healthy way to go through life? I don’t think so. On some level, we are all aware of this.
Causes Of Digital Burnout
Blue light is one of the many causes of our now-normal low quantity and quality of sleep. Blue light can come from your television, computer screen, eReader, or other sources. Blue blockers and programs which adjust the light of your screens are some of the best defenses against a disrupted circadian rhythm. Disrupted circadian rhythms have been linked to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Night shift workers are especially vulnerable.
Think of how our grandparents lived. They weren’t exposed to any screens at all, except perhaps for a short stint of television at night. They got more sleep than we do, ate better quality food, and were generally happier and less stressed. Our generation is truly facing the experimental brunt of being the first “test group” of a completely digital world. Computer keyboards, smart phones, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, e-mail, text messages – all nearly brand new inventions.
These inventions are all encroaching into our free time. Time that used to be spent de-stressing and relaxing, is now spent worrying about what our friends from college might be having for dinner. If this sounds ridiculous – I agree. I don’t have any social media profiles, accounts or anything of the sort. And it has made a world of difference. You wouldn’t believe how much free time suddenly “appears” in your life.
How “Smart” Are Smart Phones?
Despite avoiding social media, I still struggle with my smart phone. My free time is now spent reading studies, answering messages from friends – it’s hard to completely give up that digital connection. The addictive nature of digital devices – especially smart phones – is now well documented. All of this is completely new and foreign to the human species. We have never been able to be completely connected – all of the time – and we have NO idea of what the long term health outcome may be.
Natural Light And Sunshine
The next thing I want you to think about, is how much time you spend outside anymore. Is it a lot? A little? Or is it none at all? Think of all the hours you likely spent outside as a child. What happened to all those hours? Have they disappeared? Are they replaced with “pinning” recipes, playing video games, or texting? That’s what I thought. And you can’t go by what others are doing – because the average American is now greatly unhealthy.
Have I convinced you that you need to try a digital detox yet? If I haven’t, here’s some more to think about. Even back in 2012 – when smart phone use was much lower by comparison – Newsweek wrote an article stating that the internet was making us crazy. I don’t entirely disagree. Kids are now looking at screens for more than 8 hours a day. Think about that for a minute.
That is more than most of us sleep. That is an upsetting, terrifying statistic. How about China, whose online users more than double the entire U.S. population. Digital is the future (in fact, it’s the present) but how much is too much? Many researchers and experts are well aware of just how much time and effort we are now attaching to digital profiles. And yet, they themselves may have a hard time giving them up. Digital addiction – it seems – is across the board, in different genders, demographics and markets.
In fact, back even in 2011, 33% of smart phone users checked their phone before they even left their bed. Now, I would venture to guess, that statistic is closer to 90%. Even my mom sends text messages regularly now, and she’s over 60 years old. With almost 50% of smart phone users checking their phone while using the bathroom, it should be quite obvious that things are getting quite out of hand. 50% of Americans prefer communicating digitally, rather than in person. What has happened to us?
Start Your Detox
So what can you do to start your detox? Make an easy first step, and take all electronics out of the bedroom when you are going to bed. In fact, try to not look at a screen for an hour or two before you go to sleep. If this is impossible, at least get Blue Blockers and download a program to change your screens to a different type of light.
Once you’ve altered your bedroom routine, try to only use your smart phone when it is absolutely necessary. For many people, the best way to do this is to simply leave it in the car while at work. You won’t be able to easily grab it from your pocket, so the crisis will be immediately avoided. And don’t feel bad if you have withdrawals – nearly everyone does. Once you leave your smart phone alone for a while, you’ll probably feel a little bit like a crack head when you go to use it all the time.
Next, try to limit your e-mail usage to one time per day. Just one session in the morning or night – that’s it. Obviously we don’t want you to get fired here, but check it as little as humanly possible. Got it? Good. We are almost ready for the big move now. Getting you to go outside!
Sedentary office life is a killer – quite literally. Even if offset by an hour of exercise per day, sitting and all-cause mortality still go hand in hand. What can you do to combat this? To start with, don’t sit down unless you have to. Treadmill desks are becoming more and more popular – get one if you can. There will certainly be times where you have to sit, but try and make them the exception, rather than the rule.
Get Away From It All
If standing up isn’t possible at your job, try to take frequent stretching and walking breaks. Don’t be bothered if you’re the only one doing this – you will be the leader, not a follower. In fact, you may be surprised at how many people have questions about your new “analog” life. They are likely just as burned out from all the digital distractions in their life. Maybe they’re just afraid to do something.
Lastly, instead of spending your entire weekend on the computer, watching TV or texting people on your phone, I want you to go outside, and spend a long time walking, exercising or hiking. No doubt, this will initially be quite a shock, but you will get used to it. Even when you’re outside, I bet you will see cell phone towers, advertisements, and all kinds of digital distractions. Think about how our world has changed, and what exactly you want your life to be like. To you want it to be spent looking at screens, or spent being happy, healthy and rested?
Detoxing from the digital world can be a difficult process, and it is not necessarily an easy or popular choice. But it can be done. Soon you will be sleeping better and be less distracted, less stressed, and healthier. And you may also realize just how addicted to the digital world you have become. Even those of us who long resisted the technology have succumbed, and have likely become addicted – without even realizing it.
Are you ready to do a digital detox? How much time do you spend using your smart phone each day? Let me know in the comments!