Americans check their smartphones a combined 8 billion times a day and 90 percent of users fall in the category of overusing, misusing or abusing their devices. Dr. David Greenfield, director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction compares smartphones to a slot machine: “Every once in a while you get a reward… a piece of information, a text, an email, an update…but you don’t know when you’re going to get it, what it’s going to be and how good it’s going to be.” These rewards trigger a release of dopamine, which activates the pleasure center of the brain. Yet, the rewards rarely come without a cost. High stress levels, low productivity and loss of sleep are just a few of the negative effects of screen time on adults and kids.
Taking a break from your phone or planning a digital detox from all your electronic devices can help restore some balance. If you’re thinking of breaking your phone addiction, here are some of the digital detox benefits you can look forward to.
People who are constantly looking at their devices report higher levels of stress compared to people who spend less time interacting with them. Some of this stress is a result of heated conversations about politics on social media. Then there’s the work stress that arises from an unexpected work email after hours.
If you’re not ready to power down completely, consider removing your work email from your phone, so you can keep work at work. You can also limit social media use to certain hours of the day or to your tablet, so you don’t spend your whole day scrolling. Research shows that time spent on social media beats time spent eating and drinking, socializing and grooming.
Is your phone getting in the way of your productivity? A recent study found a link between mobile phone addiction and self-reported decreases in productivity, as well as the number of work hours lost to phone use. While it can be difficult to take a full digital detox from all devices at work if you rely on a computer, you can keep your phone from interfering by turning off notifications or stowing it away in an inaccessible location like your car or another room. You can always keep track of it with a device like Cube Tracker, a Bluetooth tracker that will locate your phone with an audible tone, vibration, and flash should you forget where you stowed it away.
Taking selfies and scrolling through social media feeds can wreak havoc on our self-esteem as we idealize the lives of others and endlessly compare ourselves to strangers. One of the positive effects of taking a break from social media time (of which 80 percent is spent on mobile devices) is that you’ll stop bombarding your brain with images of what you don’t have so you can spend more time appreciating what you do have.
A recent study showed that 78 percent of people use electronic devices before going to bed. This can be problematic, as researchers say there’s a link between screen use and poor sleep. The blue light emitted from smartphones, tablets, computers and other electronic device screens suppresses production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, so it’s best to avoid them before bed.
Like stress, poor sleep is one of the negative effects of screen time that can wreak long-term havoc on your health, with effects such as depression, obesity and even heart disease. If you like to check your phone before bed, resist the urge to keep it within arm’s reach. After all, you can’t rest up without powering down first. Besides, books always look better than a glowing screen on the bedside table.
Deeper Connection With Others
Of all the functions a smartphone offers, voice calls are one of the least used. Research shows that mobile phone usage is hurting our relationships, especially when it comes to phubbing—the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones. People glued to their screens are seen as less polite and attentive to friends, and extensive phone use is also linked with lower marital satisfaction.
The great thing about tuning out from friends and family online is that you can tune in to them in real life. After all, what’s the point of scrolling through old memories in your iPhone gallery or Facebook memories when you can make some new ones right now?
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health and VICE.