Someone told me a crazy fact over the weekend which blew my mind:
It’s been over 15 years since the release of the first ever iPhone. (Other brands of smartphone available.)
Obviously we had mobile phones before then, but that really was the start of “computer phones”. Because they’re so far removed from what a telephone used to be, and are more akin to having a computer in your pocket everywhere you go.
And any time you’re sitting across the dinner table from someone who’s glued to their phone…
Or looking around a packed train carriage where nobody’s talking to one another…
…it’s easy to focus on how bad phones can be for society. And that’s before we look at things like worker conditions along with social and economic factors.
But we can’t overlook the huge list of benefits that come with smartphones:
- Being able to look things up in seconds – giving us near-infinite amounts of information in our pockets
- Keeping in touch with friends and family across the world (without ever paying for expensive long-distance calls)
- Huge opportunities and developments in things like e-learning, safety, navigation, and everything in between.
But what if we put all those considerations aside for a minute, and focus on just one area:
Mobile phones (and other mobile devices) could be posing a huge risk to your overall health.
Here are the 3 key health issues your phone usage could be causing, and some tips on how to prevent them from causing long-term damage:
#1. Phone neck
On average, we spend 2-4 hours per day looking at our phones, and studies suggest many children may be spending as much as 13 hours per day on their devices.
This behaviour is leading to something being widely referred to as ‘phone neck’.
Your head typically weighs between 10 and 12lbs, and every inch your head is bent forwards puts a huge amount of additional strain on your spine, muscles and nerves.
The graphic shows just how big a difference this can make – where tilting your head forward at 60º increases the strain to a whopping 60lb – 5 to 6 times as much as when your head is upright.
For reference, that’s like allowing a 7-year old to sit on your neck for several hours a day.
Over time, this poor posture can cause irreversible damage to the spine, with the effects reaching as far as your shoulders, hips, and lower back too.
Avoiding this danger is as simple as being conscious of your posture when holding your phone or tablet, by keeping it held at eye level so you don’t need to tilt your head.
Using a ‘pop grip’ type case on your phone can help with this too.
#2. Blue light
Our brains are remarkable when it comes to regulating sleep and feelings of tiredness.
Known as our ‘circadian rhythm’, this natural process relies on environmental data – i.e. light and darkness – to help us sleep at nighttime, and stay awake during the daytime.
I don’t want to go too deep into the science, but there are different wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, which are processed differently by our brains.
Our phones, tablets and computers primarily emit a wavelength of light known as ‘blue light’.
And blue light, which also occurs naturally in smaller amounts, has been shown to have the strongest effect on human circadian rhythms.
Exposure to blue light during the night time or before bed has been found to hugely disrupt our circadian rhythms, and wreak havoc on sleep patterns (and ability to fall asleep).
In fact, blue light suppresses melatonin for twice as long as green light, and can shift your circadian rhythm by as much as 3 hours!
How do we avoid it?
You can buy ‘blue light blocking’ lenses or glasses which can prevent the light from reaching your eyes, but the best advice is to come off your devices at least 1 hour before going to bed.
Why not make this part of your nighttime routine, and see what difference it makes to your quality of sleep and overall energy levels?
Dopamine, also known as the ‘feel good hormone’, is a chemical messenger used in the ‘rewards centre’ of our brains and in functions like memory, motivation, and mood.
It’s been found that seeing a notification on our phone causes us to release small amounts of dopamine.
The problem with this is, the dopamine boost is temporary and soon fades, leading us to seek more ‘hits’ by constantly checking for notifications on our devices.
This leads to us not only seeming distracted or obsessed with our phones, but causing dopamine addiction, and an unbalance of hormones in our bodies. Worse yet, many apps and social media platforms are designed to hook us in with these dopamine boosts.
Although arguably a harder habit to break, getting a handle on this can hugely improve our mental and physical health.
It’s often a case of changing our habits – by only checking notifications at set times throughout the day, turning off notifications where we can (or limiting them with ‘do not disturb’ mode), or deleting the apps we know we’re slightly addicted to.
One thing we can be sure about – mobile phones are here to stay, so let’s make sure we’re not letting them damage our health.