What Staring At A Screen All Day Is Doing To Your Brain And Body | The Human Body

It’s 11 PM. You should be asleep, but you’re watching a video on your phone and
tomorrow you’ll wake up, and go to work, where you’ll stare at a computer for eight hours. When you get home, you might
even watch a movie on TV. So if you’re anything like
the average American adult, you spend more than seven hours a day staring at digital screens. So what’s all this screen
time actually doing to your body and brain? Surprise, surprise, humans
did not evolve to stare at bright electronic screens all day so our eyes are suffering
the consequences. An estimated 58% of people
who work on computers experience what’s called
computer vision syndrome. It’s a series of symptoms
that include eye strain, blurred vision, headaches,
and neck and back pain. And in the longterm this
amount of screen time could be damaging our vision permanently. Since 1971, cases of
nearsightedness in the US have nearly doubled, which some scientists partly link to increased screen time. And in Asia today, nearly 90% of teens and adults are nearsighted. But it’s not just the
brightness of our screens that affect us, it’s also the color. Screens emit a mix of red,
green, and blue light. Similar colors to sunlight. And over a millennia it was
blue wavelengths in sunlight that helped us keep our circadian rhythms in sync with our environment. But since our circadian
rhythms are more sensitive to blue light than any
others, a problem occurs when we use our screens at night. Typically when the sun sets we produce the hormone melatonin. This hormone regulates
our circadian rhythms, helping us feel tired and fall asleep. But many studies have
found that blue light from screens can disrupt this process. For example, in one small study, participants who spent
four hours reading e-books before bed for five nights,
produced 55% less melatonin than participants that read print books. What’s more, the e-book readers reported that they were more alert before bed, took longer to fall asleep and
reach restorative REM state, and were more tired the next morning. But perhaps the most concerning changes we’re starting to see
from all this screen time is in kid’s brains. An ongoing study, supported by the NIH has found that some preteens who clocked over seven hours a day on screens had differences in a part of
their brain called the cortex. That is the region responsible for processing information
from our five senses. Usually the cortex gets
thinner as we mature, but these kids had thinner
cortexes earlier than other kids who spent less time on screens. Scientists aren’t sure
what this could mean for how the kids learn
and behave later in life, but the same data also
showed that kids who spent more than two hours a day on screens scored lower in thinking
and in language skill tests. To be clear, the NIH data can’t confirm if more time spent staring at
screens causes these effects, but they’ll have a
better idea of any links as they continue to follow and study these kids over the next decade. It’s no doubt that screens have changed the way we communicate,
but only time will tell what other changes are on
the horizon for human kind.

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