Monday Morning Moment – Screen Time – Give It a Rest

Blog - Screentime - smart3508Photo Credit: SafeSmartSocial

Walked away from the computer at 8:00 last night…best night of sleep I’ve had in a long while.

Alex Cavoulacos, productivity expert and founder of The Muse, wrote a Fast Company piece on establishing the habit of turning off screens at 11:00pm each night. A night owl, Cavoulacos discovered, in forming this habit that she: 1) could actually do it, 2) prioritized her work better, 3) finally found time to read, and 4) slept better. “Turns out that I inadvertently stumbled upon a trigger habit: I was reading more, sleeping more, and spending more quality time with my husband. All of this led to me feeling less stressed and better prepared to start each day. All in all, a huge positive change in my life, all thanks to a single new habit.” Check out her whole article and fascinating video here.

Tanya Lewis, a science journalist, went even farther than Cavoulacos in restricting her screen time. She writes, for Business Insider, that, for one week, she avoided screen time from the time she got off work until she went to bed. That means no TV or Netflix, no checking her phone for directions or searches of other kinds, or just out of boredom, and no tablet time for any of the above. What she discovered was how hard it was and how dependent to screen time she had become. She did start reading books again during that week. She also found that when she avoided screens, getting to sleep was easier. The most fascinating thing she noted was how much more social she became without the distraction of screens.

Night time connection

Anybody remember the old days, before wi-fi and smart phones? And the cable went out because of a storm? We would actually light candles and snuggle together on the couch, play games together, be silly, and talk. Special times worth re-creating with a screen fast.

How about our health? Is there any evidence that all this screen time, especially at night, affects our health, over our lifespan? For sure. Read Power Down for Better Sleep by Heather Hatfield on WebMD. She quotes fatigue specialist, Dr. Mark Rosekind, “One of the most simple but important reasons technology affects our sleep is cognitive stimulation.” What we are watching on screens late at night revs up our brains and stirs us up physically. This stress (positive or negative) can create a flight/flight response, resulting in our body’s release of cortisol – bringing on a state of vigilance rather than the restfulness needed for sleep. Add to our body’s “high alert” status the blue light of electronics. Hatfield reports how this light passes “through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls several sleep activities) and delays the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.” To my sleepless, techie friends and family: it makes sense, right? Put it (screen time) to rest.

[Damon Beres in a Huffington Post piece, writes how “reading on a screen before bed might actually be killing you”. He points out the health problems that can result partly from inadequate rest (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease). He also points to blue light filters that can help if we can’t imagine avoiding screen time at night.]

What about the impact of screen time on the brain over time? Debbie Hampton wrote a fascinating, sobering piece How Staring at a Screen Changes Your Brain (For the Worse). Hampton refers the reader to the findings of Dr. Michael Merzenich, author of Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.

“Visual activities, like staring at a screen or even driving, continually narrow our field of view to a smaller box-like zone right in front of our eyes. Our brains learn to categorize everything outside of this box as a distraction not worthy of attention and get good at filtering out anything not right in front of us. By developing sustained attention in the central view, our peripheral vision suffers, and our view of the world slowly contracts. The field of view in humans decreases as we age. Over time, a person becomes immune to noticing life’s visual surprises, and their eyes move less often. As a result of these self-induced neurological changes, our brains and bodies get conditioned not to pay attention and not to react to the unexpected.”

What does that mean for us? You have probably already seen this in action. Our attention is drawn in, fairly fixed, on our screens. We miss what is happening around us. One day I’m going to write about situational awareness – as a personal safety issue as well as a sharpening discipline to appreciate life around us. This whole addiction to screens that is prevalent today will take the rest of the world out of our view, so to speak, if we’re not careful.

For our sake (at work and home) and for our family’s sake, consider: No screen time before bed.Blog - Screentime - mugmagPhoto Credit: MugMag

Speaking of the family…our children – I will just post these quick reads about little ones (and teens) and how so much screen time affects them physically, socially, and developmentally. We fall into these habits with our children, but we can also pull ourselves, and them, out of the same.

What’s your takeaway from this? I personally want to strategically narrow the screen use in my life. Writing makes screen time an occupational hazard but I love those screens way too much outside of blogging. Thanks to Chris Bailey’s A Life of Productivity and his book about his productivity project, I have already made some changes. No Facebook on my phone, as one change. Still have a long way to go.

Bottom line: I don’t want to miss the people I love, in the flesh, and I don’t want to miss the real world…and lastly, I don’t want to miss truly experiencing God…because of this surreal, burgeoning habit of screen time. So…I will leave you for now. Well-rested, hopefully. Sweet dreams.

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