On Your Health

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The Benefits of Unplugging From Your Smartphone

Gone are the days when phones were used for phone calls. Today, most of our technology needs are rolled into one compact device – the smartphone. From tracking health and saving the perfect recipe to checking bank accounts and searching for the nearest gas station, many people instinctively grab their phones for answers. Researchers have noticed the uptick in smartphone use and some are asking, “Do smartphones cause more problems than they solve?”

Are Americans addicted to their smartphones?

According to a February 2018 study by Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone, an increase from the 35 percent in 2011. Approximately 83 percent of Americans use the internet on their smartphone, tablet or other mobile device. From that group, 89 percent reported being online at least daily while 31 percent claimed to be online “almost constantly.”

When was the last time you went an entire day without using your phone to scroll through social media, snap a photo, check your email or play a game? The convenience of a smartphone makes it hard to put down. A study found that 44 percent of cellphone owners even sleep with their phones beside their beds to avoid missing calls and texts during the night. Unfortunately, this can cause some wear and tear on your health.

The benefits of unplugging

Taking a break from smartphones and other digital technology, a process known as “unplugging,” can be beneficial for your mind and body. Not only can it help improve quality of life by allowing you to live in the moment and enjoy life and nature without viewing it through a lens, unplugging can recharge your brain and give various muscles and tendons a much-needed break.

It improves your work-life balance, mentally and physically

It can be difficult to resist responding to work messages when a notification pops up outside of work hours. Research has shown the increased use of smartphones has made it more difficult for employees to distance themselves while outside the office. The same study reported that unplugging and keeping work hours and non-work hours separate can help people recover mentally from the workday and improve out-of-work experiences, too.

Unplugging also gives your body the physical rest it needs after a busy workday. Whether you work outdoors or spend your day typing, extended smartphone use after work can cause added strain on your tendons. Give your thumbs a break while outside the office to avoid something known as "texting thumb."

You get better sleep

A recent study showed that 90 percent of adults in the U.S. use an electronic device within one hour of bedtime at least a few nights per week. Blue light emitted from laptops, smartphones and tablets can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, causing it to suppress melatonin production, which is a natural sleep regulator that helps make you sleepy.

Exposure to digital screens can also cause visual discomfort when used for extended periods of time – a phenomenon called "computer vision syndrome," otherwise known as digital eye strain. Symptoms include dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches. Many of these symptoms are temporary and will subside after taking a break from looking at screens.

Start dimming lights about two hours before bedtime and resist scrolling through social media in bed. If you work a night shift or need to use screens in the evenings, you can wear glasses that block blue light or install a blue light filter app on your device.

Your neck gets a break

Spine surgeons have noticed an increase in patients with upper back and neck pain, irregular spinal curvatures and disc issues. This is likely related to poor posture when using smartphones. The study showed neck X-rays with forward curvatures, the opposite direction of the natural curve, due to looking down at a phone.

When spending prolonged time looking down to text or watch a video, the weight of your head can add increased strain on the neck. This is known as “text neck.” The average head weighs approximately 10 to 12 pounds in a neutral position. At a 60-degree bend, it weighs about 60 pounds.

The best way to prevent text neck is to give your neck a break by unplugging from your smartphone and engaging in physical exercise to strengthen your neck and shoulder muscles.