Being connected 24/7 can strain your eyes, screw up your sleep, and may even cause cancer. Here, how to do a digital detox without dropping off the grid.
Sarah DiGiulio 1 / 11
Sure, smartphones and tablets make it easier to keep tabs on your inbox and fantasy league, but experts say being constantly connected comes at a cost. In theory, if you’re available at all times, you can do what you need to do on your own schedule, leaving more free time overall, explains David Greenfield, Ph.D., director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. But the research has actually come out the other way around—being logged on 24/7 leaves people with less time, they are less productive, and they are more stressed than ever, he says. “You never have any down time because you always have your device with you.”What’s more, technology overuse can be hazardous to your health, contributing to eyestrain, poor sleep, obesity, and even cancer. Read on for a closer look at these dangers—and how to stage a digital detox.The 14 Best Things You Can Do for Your Body >>>
The Danger: Anxiety and Addiction
Suffering from “Nomophobia” (no-mobile-phone-phobia)? The term hasn’t yet made it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the bible of psychiatric disorders), but Greenfield says the anxiety is not just in your head. A recent survey of 496 college students found those who used their phones the most were more likely to have anxiety and report lower satisfaction in life compared with students who used their phones less, according to the findings published in Computers in Human Behavior. Another survey found that when the respondents misplaced their phones, 73% felt panicked, and 14% desperate.“We’ve become conditioned to the potential for information to be there every time we hear a beep, buzz, or vibration,” Greenfield says. When you’re using your device, you are always on duty—“hyper vigilant” to incoming calls, texts, Tweets, or updates, putting you in a state of ongoing arousal. That means every time the phone buzzes or beeps, alerting you of new information, there’s an elevation in dopamine (the chemical messenger that signals that experience is pleasurable, increasing the likelihood you’ll do it again). “We always want to be connected because never want to miss anything,” Greenfield says.10 Foods That Fight Anxiety >>>
The Detox: Make a No-Tech To-Do List
One of the best ways to overcome anxiety or addictive behavior is to confront it—i.e., put some space between you and your device and deal with the withdrawal, Greenfield says. His advice: Avoid the constant temptation to check your device by making a list of 100 things to do that do not involve your phone, computer, or technology—a go-to guide you can mentally reference when you feel the urge to reach for your device. And be social. Make more time to catch up with friends face-to-face instead of via text, e-mail, or Facebook.What Your Smartphone Says About You >>>
The Danger: Physical Inactivity
How long does it take to type a 140-character Tweet? Probably not long enough to cut into your gym time, right? Or maybe yes…In a study of 49 college students, those who used their cell phones the most (either browsing, texting, Tweeting, or chatting) tended to perform poorer on cardiorespiratory fitness tests and reported being less physically active than those who used their phones less. “As cell phone use goes up, fitness goes down,” says lead study author Andrew Lepp, Ph.D., associate professor at the College and Graduate School of Education, Health, and Human Services at Kent State University.
The Detox: Get Outside—and Get Moving
Go for a run. Practice your three-pointer. Hit the driving range. “Anything that’s outdoor or physical is an antidote to digital media consumption,” Greenfield says. The CDC recommends adults get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week (brisk walking counts!), plus strength training at least twice a week. And, limit extended periods of “down time”—no matter your exercise habits.The Game Changer Workout >>>
The Danger: Restless Nights
Even if the ringer’s turned off, keeping your phone near the pillow still has the potential to disrupt your Zs. Any light emitted from your device can confuse the body’s natural clock, lowering quality (and quantity) of sleep. The light from your laptop, computer, or tablet suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, leaving the body more alert.What's more, according to a 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll of 1,500 adults, frequently using technology before sleep was linked to poorer sleep quality, plus nearly two-thirds of the respondents reported not getting enough sleep during the week and 95% reported using some type of electronic device during the hour before sleep at least a few nights a week.
The Detox: Keep It Out of the Sheets
Leaving your phone in another room when you turn the lights out helps you avoid the temptation to check—and you avoid the risk of a stray beep or buzz waking you at all hours, Greenfield says. Do invest in an alarm clock that’s not connected to your phone. Ten dollars is a small price for better sleep.Also aim to limit digital time before you call it a night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off electronics at least an hour before bedtime—especially avoiding anything interactive, including video games, surfing the web, and texting—for better quality sleep.10 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight >>>
The Danger: Cancer
Experts say the jury’s still out on whether evidence proves increased cell phone use is linked to cancer. Cell phones give off radio waves (a non-ionizing type of radiation, similar to what comes out of the microwave). Current research shows the only known effect of non-ionizing radiation is the production of heat, but newer studies suggest that depending on how long and often the phone is used, and its proximity to brain, it could have other potentially harmful effects. Alpa Patel, Ph.D., strategic director of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study 3, says she wouldn’t say certain cell phone behavior is linked to increased risk of cancer. “But, there’s definitely a need for significant research.”
The Detox: Moderation
Since the evidence is still inconclusive, experts say no need to commit to constant speaker-phone-mode, yet. But, if you are concerned about your exposure, limiting calls, or using speakerphone or hands-free alternatives for long calls, will reduce those effects. Or, use the landline.10 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Life >>>
The Danger: Eyestrain
Dry eyes after a long day in the office? Experts say viewing a computer screen (or any digital device) for extended periods of time can cause “computer eye syndrome.” Symptoms include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, itching, burning, and dry eyes. Research has shown that people tend to blink less when reading digital devices (compared to books or magazines), and that reading smaller fonts on smartphones and other portable devices, as well as glare from their screens, can increase eyestrain.5 Texts That Kill Your Chances with Women >>>
The Detox: Reposition, Blink, Repeat
You may not be able to limit the amount of time in front of a screen (especially if your job keeps you deskbound), but these guidelines from the American Optometric Association can help reduce eyestrain and other posture-related symptoms. If possible, reposition your computer screen to be about 20 degrees below eye level (4 or 5 inches, measured about 25 inches from the center of the screen to your eyes). Try to avoid glare from overhead lighting or outside windows by moving the screen, using blinds, or attaching a glare filter.And give it a rest! For every 20 minutes of computer use, look away for at least 20 seconds to rest and refocus your eyes before continuing. And, after two hours on the computer, rest eyes for 15 minutes (take a walk, get coffee, etc.). And don’t forget to blink often.10 Ways to Kick Ass at Work >>>