How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Adults?
We've all heard
warnings about too much screen time for kids, but what about adults? With many
jobs requiring hours spent in front of a computer, and most of our free time
spent streaming shows on television, scrolling social media on phones, and
scanning stories on tablets, many of us spend consecutive hours looking at
screens, especially during the pandemic when most of our social interactions
are online. Are there negative effects of screen time for adults that we need
to worry about, too?
We're taking a closer look at how much screen time for adults is healthy.
How much time do adults spend on screens?
A few years ago, the average screen time for adults in the United States landed at 11 hours per day. Since lockdown, this number has gone up to an astonishing 19 hours per day on screens during the pandemic. Are you wondering where your screen time falls compared to the rest of the nation? If your phone, computer or tablets are set to send you weekly screen time reports, you may have an idea of just how many hours you clock in with your eyes locked on a device. About 30 percent of adults say that they're online "almost constantly."
How much screen time is too much for adults?
There are clear guidelines on how much screen time kids should have, but how much screen time is healthy for adults? There is no magic number of hours for recommended screen time for adults; however, there is clear evidence that too much screen time can be detrimental to your health. For instance, this study found that those spending six hours or more per day watching screens had a higher risk for depression, and this study found that limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day lead to a "significant improvement in well-being." The type and quality of screen time also play a role.
Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time:
- Insomnia and Poor Sleep - Light from screens signals your brain to stay awake, and that constant input throughout the day can make it difficult to unwind at night. If you have persistent sleep issues, you may benefit from a sleep study at a sleep center.
- Eye Strain and Headaches - Too much time spent looking at screens can cause fatigue or discomfort in your eyes as well as dimmed vision. Glare on screens and the brightness of the display can place further strain on your eyes. Eventually, this strain can lead to headaches.
- Addictive Behaviors - Social media and smartphones have been around for less than 20 years and the impacts they have on humans are still being discovered. Recent studies have uncovered that people can develop addictive behaviors with smartphones and social media, including thinking about the device or platform constantly and craving using it, using their smartphone or social media apps to cope or modify their mood, and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when they are unable to access their phone or apps. If these behaviors progress to interfere with everyday life, it is cause for concern.
- Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain - Time spent sitting at desk typing or holding a phone and looking down, places strain on the neck, shoulders and back. When these positions are held for extended amounts of time, it can lead to pain and sometimes more severe musculoskeletal issues.
- Changes in Cognition - We know that too much screen time is not good for children's developing brains, but what impacts does too much screen time have on adult brains? A 2020 study found that people who have been diagnosed with smartphone addiction had problems with the part of their brain responsible for transmitting messages and poorer cognitive performance.
- Reduced Physical Activity Levels - Time spent on screens is time that people in past generations would spend being physically active—taking walks, working in a garden, playing sports, working on projects, etc. A sedentary lifestyle is directly linked to an increased risk of obesity and other physical health problems.
What's a healthy amount of screen time for adults?
Experts say adults should limit screen time outside of work to less than two hours per day. Any time beyond that which you would typically spend on screens should instead be spent participating in physical activity. This might not be feasible immediately, but there's still a lot people can do to try to reduce this down.
Tips for Reducing Screen Time
- Turn off notifications. Notifications are messages from apps that appear on your screen to alert you of new activity. This triggers you to look at your phone and, more likely than not, spend additional time on your phone beyond checking what the notification is.
- Set a timer. Use a timer on your phone, the microwave, or an old-fashioned egg timer when you are watching television or using a tablet. When the timer goes off, turn off the device and make an effort to move your body—go for a walk, clean a room or try an at-home workout.
- Leave the phone out of the bedroom. Many people fall prey to scrolling their phone in bed at night or when they first wake up in the morning. This interferes with your sleep and can significantly add to your daily screen time. Use an alarm clock to wake up each morning and leave your phone on a small table outside your bedroom door each night.
This post is not intended to cover all health problems associated with screen time. If you have concerns about screen time and consequences on your health, such as eye strain, back issues or symptoms of depression, schedule an appointment with your doctor.