What Is All This Screen Time Doing to Our Health?
Reading on paper may have more advantages than you think!
From working at a computer to socializing, playing games, paying bills, taking notes in class, doing homework, reading books, watching TV and texting, we are all spending an increasing amount of our lives looking at screens. But at what cost to our health?
To start with, screen time is very hard on our eyes. More and more people who use screens for at least four hours a day are experiencing symptoms which include eyestrain, tired eyes, irritation, redness, blurred vision, and double vision, collectively referred to as computer vision syndrome.(i)
Reading on a screen is more demanding than reading printed material. Online reading requires frequent saccadic eye movements (rapid movements of the eyes that abruptly change the point of fixation) and continuous focusing which are visually and physically fatiguing(ii). We tend to blink less when looking at screens meaning our eyes dry out more and dry eye disorders may be the result.(iii) Although not generally serious they can result in more frequent eye infections and inflammation(v).
Use of light-emitting devices before bedtime can confuse our natural internal clocks, prolong the time it takes to fall asleep and suppress the level of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. A Harvard Medical School study compared the effect of reading an iPad or a paperback before bedtime on 12 young adults(vi). After five days, those using E-readers took longer to fall asleep, had a delay in their body clock, spent less time in ‘deep sleep’ and had reduced alertness the following morning compared to the same people reading a book. When this is added to the fact that light from screens increases alertness causing us to delay bedtime, significant disturbances in sleep patterns and daytime functioning can result(vii).
Watching TV and playing video games are associated with a significant increase in blood pressure(viii). In contrast, each hour spent reading is associated with a decrease.
Phil has over 28 years of international experience related to sustainability and the forest products industry. He currently leads Two Sides North America, a non-profit that promotes the unique sustainable features of print and paper, as well as their responsible production and use. Two Sides operates globally in five continents with members that span the entire graphic communication value chain. Phil has written extensively on sustainability and environmental topics related to the forest products sector. He received his Bachelor and Master's of Science degrees from McGill University in Montreal. He is a private forest owner and sustainably manages over 200 acres of forestland for both recreational and economic benefits.