The majority of people in the developed world spend a significant part of their lives sitting in front of computer screens, looking at their mobile phones, watching TV, or playing video games. That mounts up to a lot of time sat staring at a screen, and it’s not always good for your health. If you don’t take steps to safeguard your wellbeing, you can end up with musculoskeletal problems like a bad back, stiff neck, and aching joints. Constant use of a keyboard can cause repetitive strain injury or contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome. You can get headaches, nausea, and feel overly tired, suffer from eye strain, and even have trouble sleeping. These problems can be avoided if you take some simple measures to make screen time a safe time.
Strain on muscles and joints
If you spend several hours or longer working on your laptop at the kitchen table, hunched over a gaming screen, or slouched on the sofa watching box sets on TV, you will be putting your body under unnecessary strain. Good posture is essential to keep your joints mobile and avoid contracted and frozen muscles. Persistently adopting a poor posture can lead to all kinds of aches and pains and the stiffening of muscles that are being held in unnatural positions. If you’re using a computer, make sure you use a desk rather than sitting at the kitchen table or on the couch, and that your chair is the right height to ensure you have a straight back and the correct angles for your joints. Ergonomically designed furniture will provide the best support for your body, as long as you set it up correctly and sit in it properly.
Hand and wrist strain
Using a laptop, mobile device or games console will all involve continuous use of your hands. You might get stiff fingers and aching wrists, or even find that you have pain going up your arms all the way to your shoulders. If you don’t do something to reduce the strain, you could end up with painful conditions like RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome, that not only cause pain but reduce your mobility and dexterity. Adopting the correct posture is the first step so that your hands and wrists are positioned in the least stressful manner. You can use wrist rests to support your wrists when using a keyboard, or wear a wrist brace to help reduce existing discomfort. Try to take frequent breaks and stretch your arms and fingers to loosen them up, and vary what you are doing when you can, like alternating between using a mouse and a touchpad.
Eye strain and headaches
Looking at any kind of screen for a prolonged period of time will make your eyes start to feel scratchy and bring on fatigue. Taking regular breaks, just for a minute or two every hour, can give your eyes some relief from the brightness of the screen and the intensity of concentration that can bring on headaches. The atmosphere in which you use your screen will often be dry, adding to the problem of sore eyes. Having a humidifier will help, or even just a dampened sponge in a bowl on your desk. If you wear contact lenses, use lubricating eye drops if you find your eyes tend to dry out. It might be worth considering using a different type of lens that is softer or more naturally moisture retentive. It’s a good idea to learn more about what options are available, as the there is a far more diverse selection of lenses on the market now. You should also have your eyes tested regularly to make sure you aren’t having any trouble seeing the screen. If you wear glasses or contacts, a change in your prescription can make you squint or struggle to see clearly, and even if you think your vision is fine, it’s worth having it checked as problems can creep up so slowly you might not realize anything is wrong.
Digestion and hydration
When you have a pile of work to do, or you’re at a critical stage in a game or TV show, it can be tempting to just keep going, grabbing a snack here and there and the odd cup of coffee. This kind of diet won’t do your health any good, and you’ll end up feeling even more tired from the fluctuation in blood glucose levels and lack of water. You’re also likely to get headaches and have trouble focusing on what you’re doing. Drinking the right amount to keep you fully hydrated means having more than just coffee (which is a natural diuretic) through the day. You could combine your hourly break to stretch your legs and rest your eyes with a walk to the water cooler for a drink. Snacking and not stopping for a healthy lunch are going to affect your concentration and productivity, and you could start suffering from indigestion and trapped wind. Make it a priority to have a healthy lunch, and try swapping to fruit or healthier snacks in between times instead of junk food.
It’s been found that watching a screen before heading for bed can prevent you from dropping off into a deep sleep. That means you should stop watching TV, checking your emails, browsing the internet, reading an eBook, or playing video games, at least half an hour before you lay down. Not having enough exercise, going to bed late or trying to reduce the amount of sleep you get, and having a mind that’s on overdrive from the stimulation of working or gaming can all affect your ability to enjoy the regular, healthy sleep and dream cycles you need. Getting enough good quality sleep will refresh you, brighten your mood, and give you more energy, so don’t neglect this vital function.
Having access to modern technology has many benefits and provides multiple opportunities in life. Just remember to take care of yourself and not overdo the screen time.