Attention adults: Curbing screen time is not just for children

February 21, 2018

Adults spend more than 10 hours on electronic devices daily.


Much attention has focused recently on the number of hours children are spending in front of screens. Too much screen time has been linked to obesity and depression among people 18 and under. Apple shareholders raised the issue earlier this year, urging the maker of the iPhone to help curb smartphone addiction among children.


But what about people 18 and older?


While more research needs to be conducted on the health effects of electronic device usage on adults, this much is known: Adults spend a lot of time on their screens too.


According a 2016 Nielsen study, adults spent 10 hours and 39 minutes each day using electronic devices during the first quarter of that year – a full hour more than during the same period the previous year.


Media experts associated the jump with the rise in smartphone and tablet usage. This would include work-related usage. The findings raised questions that continue today about the quality of the time adults are spending their smartphones, tablets and computers. According to an NPR report, some medical experts believe that over-reliance on smartphones can become a “behavioral addiction, like gambling."


A Scripps Clinic primary care physician said too much screen time for adults could pose health risks.


“We know already that texting while driving is a dangerous problem, but it’s not just driving. We also have a problem with injuries related to pedestrians using their cell phones,” said Vivian Tran, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic in Mission Valley. “There are other health issues such as neck pain from looking down at your phone for too long and poor posture which can affect your spine.”


That’s not to say get rid of your smartphone because it is potentially addictive, the experts caution. Instead they urge moderation and awareness of how too much screen time can affect your health. Is it interfering with your sleep? Is it cutting into your time with family and friends? Does it affect your ability to finish your work?


The following are tips to help you curb your time on an electronic device:


1. Take regular breaks and stretch

If you work in front of a screen, make sure you take a break and look away at least every 30 minutes. Stand up, stretch and move around. When you’re in your chair, back and neck stretches can help keep muscles loose. Learn a few “chair yoga” moves and practice those for 5 minutes at frequent intervals throughout the day.


2. Leverage technology

If you find it difficult to disengage from your screen, let technology help. Use your phone or calendar system to set alarms reminding you to take breaks. You can also use high-tech solutions to combat inactivity and weight gain. Activity monitors worn on the body, like Fitbits, tend to increase your activity level simply because you’re paying attention to it.


3. Stand up, sit less

Get a headset, stand up and walk around when you talk on the phone. If you have a way to transform your workspace into a standing desk for at least part of the day, consider doing it. Remember, the fewer hours you spend sitting, the better.


4. Pay attention to your posture

A natural, upright posture (with slight curves in the lower back and shoulders) helps to support your head and reduces fatigue and aches. Paying attention to your posture throughout the day, whether sitting or standing, can help to reduce some of the strains of screen time. Use your 30-minute breaks to do posture checks until sitting or standing up straight becomes a habit.


5. Don’t eat in front of a screen

We tend to eat more when we’re watching TV or playing games. To combat that trend, designate separate meal times and stick to them. Banish snacks from the entertainment area.


6. Keep screens out of the bedroom

Avoid using any kind of backlit screen in the hour right before bedtime, because these emit light that can interrupt your quality of sleep. If possible, keep devices — including TVs — out of the bedroom completely.


Healthy Life is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps Health. For more information, or for a physician referral, visit or call 1-800-Scripps.

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