Screen Time: Toppling The 4th Pillar of Your Health!
We are all aware how our eating habits affect our health but when was the last time you heard or saw a headline linking screen time and health?
When you consider how modern day lives are dominated by technology and little electronic screens, why is that? When we wake up we watch the news on tele, maybe even check our emails or social media on our phones. Drive to work to an office where the next 8 hours are spent looking at a monitor no more than 1 metre away from our faces. Drive home after a long day, sit and relax in front of the TV watching some viral Netflix program. In between that any spare time is spent refreshing social platforms or trying to complete another level on that game were addicted. Even if your benign productive with your time its spent research or learning on a computer, reading on a kindle because books are too inconvenient.
Is it then any wonder that it's been reported upto 30% of the UK population are short sighted (Myopia) when we spend so much of our time looking at screens 1 metre away from our faces. Apart from driving, when do we ever look further than 10 metres ahead of ourselves for extended periods of time. Compare that to the opposite, how much time we spend looking less than 1 metre away. The difference is exponential.
A small group of muscles called the ciliary muscles sit within the eye flattening or bending the lens to allow differentiating depth of views E.g looking at our hands vs a mountain top in the distance. Other than the nervous systems control of the muscles through the oculomotor nerve also known as the third cranial nerve (CN III), which is a whole blog in itself. The generic phrase if you don't use it you lose applies to all muscles this one included. The same way a leg in a cast atrophies and becomes small because it's not used, an eye focused on the same distance for 8-14 hours of a day will begin to atrophy and become less effective at its job making it harder to efficiently adjust to objects in the distance.
As well as that did you know you blink 3x less often when looking at a screen. Not only is that negatively affecting an autonomic action (one we do without thinking) which should say enough on its own. But a decrease in blinking of upto 60% as shown when looking at a computer can cause conditions such as dry-eye, a known precursor of keratitis (inflammation of eye).
Another area of your health our modern obsession with screens can affect is your sleep, also known as yoru 4th Pillar of Health- Recovery. Due to the constant light and high levels of blue light exposure associated with screens this can negatively affect your pineal gland, a key area of the brain for sleep efficiency. Your pineal gland, a small raisin-like structure in the brain, works alongside other systems such as your circadian rhythm and raising adhesion levels to initiate and maintain proper sleep. As the sunrises in the morning more light penetrates your closed eyelids and signals to the pineal gland it is time to awaken. The pineal gland halts the release of melatonin allowing you to wake and feel alert when you do so. Then as the day draws to an end and the sun begins to set, initiating night time and your impending slumber, the reduced levels of light entering your eyes stimulates the pineal gland to start and drip feed your system with melatonin. Meaning when you try to sleep your body has had 90 minutes or more sleep encouraging hormones to slow down thought and bodily processes making it easier to fall and stay asleep for the proper 8 hours at night.
Long exposure to artificial light such as that from computer screens, television and phones disturb this natural process tricking the pineal gland into thinking it's still day time. Meaning there is no drip feeding of melatonin and despite feeling tired due to the rising levels of adenosine in your brain you can’t fall asleep when you want to or remain asleep once you have.
Is it surprising children now struggle with sleep more than ever. Taking melatonin supplements as an external way to fix an internal problem. On the topic of children a disclaimer is needed as for those suffering with ADHD or Autism where altered levels of brain function affecting the proper process a melatonin supplement can be advised. But for the vast majority of those who use or give melatonin supplements to otherwise “healthy” individuals who for hours prior to sleep sit in front of a TV screen playing fortnite or watching youtube or playing games or messaging their friends this is idiocy.
This is like spending money and effort buying puncture repair kits with a drive full of glass and nails. It's never going to work but if it does it's not sustainable. Albeit crawling on your hands and knees picking out the glass and nails from the drive is difficult and time consuming at first, it will resolve a problem long term and mean no more punctures. All right that was a pretty rubbish metaphor but you get what I mean. Instead of trying to find the most efficient mop, why not fix the leak. Maybe that's a better metaphor.
Rather than thinking I or my loved one must have something wrong with them, that is why they wont sleep despite a staggering amount of adults and children all suffering with the same problem and seeking a chemical medicinal “solution for this”. Spend some time and figure out what may be causing this issue in the first instance and take steps to resolve it.
20-20-20 An exercise recommended by the NHS for anybody who works on a computer. Every 20 minutes spend 20seconds looking 20 metres away. This could be across the office if its long enough if not through a window. May every 20 minutes for 20 seconds i don't know maybe it sounds cool. Why not every 10 minutes for 1 minute i dont know. But more importantly changing the depth of view as often as possible could stop you from becoming short sighted and needing glasses in the future.
Wear blue light blocking glasses. They are cheap, costing less than £10 from Jeff Bezos and the amazon guys. This will greatly reduce the amount of artificial blue light entering the eyes especially at night and help the proper function of your pineal gland aiding sleep.
Reduce screen time in the evenings. This costs absolutely nothing and will make you healthier beyond belief. Having set protocols such as no tele after 9pm, reading an actual book before bed instead of a kindle or checking your phone will again encourage proper pinal gad function, the release of melatonin and improve sleep. Of which the health benefits are endless.