Is it Time for a Digital Detox?

May 05, 2021 6 min read

How to avoid the harmful effects of spending too much time on your digital devices

According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 31% of American adults say that they go online “almost constantly.”[1] Other sources report that we spend as much as 12 hours a day in front of screens, consuming five times more information than our counterparts did 50 years ago.[2]

There is a lot of pressure these days to be connected to our devices all of the time. And there’s a lot of temptation, too, that keeps us glued to our screens. From addicting games to breaking news headlines to intriguing TV shows, it can be hard to stay away.

But unfortunately, spending too much time on screens can have detrimental effects when it comes to health and wellbeing.

The harmful toll screens are taking on your health

The shocking amount of time we, as Americans, spend on our devices is very problematic when it comes to our health; screen time is linked to a long list of harmful health effects.

The more we use digital devices and spend excessive time on screens, the more likely we are to experience:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Trouble sleeping and reduced sleep quality
  • Reduced well-being
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Lower productivity
  • Poorer dietary choices
  • Lower levels of self-reported health [3-9]

There are many studies demonstrating the link between digital device use and health concerns. 

For example, one study found that multitasking on digital media is associated with obesity, leading researchers to believe it may play a key role in the recent obesity epidemic.[3] Another found that people who have access to tablets at night tend to go to bed later and are less alert in the mornings.[4] And yet another study concluded that heavy users of screens make less healthy dietary choices.[5]

It is important to note that screen use is problematic for the whole family – kids and adults alike. In children, higher levels of screen time are linked to harmful health effects like obesity, depressive symptoms, unhealthy diet, and lower quality of life. Screen time may also negatively affect things like self-esteem, cognitive development, behavioral problems, and more.[10] 

The benefits of limiting screen time

As you can see, there are many negative health effects of overusing our digital devices. Everything from our weight to our mood can be impacted if we don’t have healthy boundaries with screen time.

So what if one simple thing you could do to dramatically improve your health and wellness was to cut back on your screen time? Spending less time on your digital devices – and spending more time doing activities that support your physical and mental health – has tremendous potential to make a big difference in your life.

Some possible benefits to take advantage of include:

  • More time spent with your family, friends, and loved ones
  • Deeper connections
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep
  • More energy and time to put towards activities that you are passionate about
  • Higher levels of physical activity
  • More productivity, in both your professional and personal life
  • Greater well-being
  • Better health
  • More living in the moment and enjoying the present

Ultimately, less screen time equates to more of all the things that allow you to live a healthy, happy, fulfilling life.

Are you in need of a digital detox?

Take a moment to check in with yourself. How many times per day do you check your phone? How many times per hour? Do you spend your leisure time scrolling through social media, watching TV, playing video games, or reading articles online? 

You might be surprised by how much of your day is actually spent on one digital device or another, whether that is your laptop, work computer, TV, smartphone, or tablet. Many people reach for their phone first thing in the morning, spend all day working on a computer, fill their evenings with TV, and end the day scrolling through their phone before going to sleep and repeating the process all over again.

If this sounds like you, then it may be time for a digital detox. You could likely benefit from bringing some intention to your daily habits and taking some concrete steps to decrease the time you spend on your devices. Doing so might help you to experience better health and wellbeing and open up time and energy to put towards more fulfilling activities.

9 tips to help you limit your screen time

If you are spending too much time on your devices every single day, then it is time to make a change. There are many tips and tricks that can help you to let go of your devices and make more room for screen-free time.

Give these strategies a try to get started:

  • Make “no screens allowed” spaces in your home. 

Choose a few rooms or spaces that everyone agrees should be free from devices. You might include the kitchen, the dining room, or the bedroom. It’s up to you.

  • Put your devices in a dedicated space during down time.

Physically removing your phone or other devices from within your reach can help you resist the urge to pick them up and start scrolling. Put them into a bin or basket, or place them on a dedicated table away from where you are hanging out. Then, tune into the present and enjoy what you are doing, whether that be playing a board game with your family, tasting and enjoying your dinner, or journaling and stretching before bed.

  • Charge your cell phone outside of the bedroom.

Try out a ban on bedside table phone charging. By taking your phone outside of the bedroom at night, you can keep it from being the first and last thing you reach for every day. If you aren’t comfortable having your phone completely out of the room, plug it in across the room so it’s not right next to you.

  • Choose screen-free activities at least 30 minutes before bedtime. 

You don’t have to cut out TV watching or social media completely from your life. But if you want to make a big difference, avoid any activities like those at least 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed. If you can, increase that to an hour or two for best results. Instead of screen time, opt for quiet and relaxing activities like stretching, journaling, taking a shower, reading a book, meditating, or deep breathing.

  • Turn off or silence notifications. 

Is your work constantly pinging you on your cell phone? Can you just not help it when a news article pops up on your screen? Use your notification settings to your advantage, making it so that only the most urgent of alerts pop up.

  • Opt for print books rather than e-Books, especially at night. 

E-books, while they may be convenient, still involve you looking at a screen. And for that reason, it’s sometimes better to go with the good old fashioned version. One study found that people reading e-books take longer to fall asleep, secrete less melatonin, and are less alert the next morning compared to people who read print books.[11] Try to stick with real books at night before bed so you can truly stay off all screens.

  • Play with your phone’s settings to limit your screen use. 

Most phones these days have preferences that allow you to keep yourself on track with your digital detox goals. For example, you can set a schedule for time away from certain apps where you will only be able to access crucial functions. Or you can set daily limits for time spent on specific apps to give yourself built-in boundaries.

  • Go all in with a full digital detox. 

Once you’ve experimented with cutting back slowly on screen time, try a full digital detox for a day or two at a time. For example, you might try a weekend free from all social media scrolling, texting, news consuming, and TV watching. Turn your phone on airplane mode or “Do Not Disturb” if you can to reinforce your commitment.

  • Make vacations device-free getaways. 

Set intentions with your vacation partners to use digital devices only as necessary while you are traveling. Time away from home is a great opportunity to give yourself a true digital detox so that you can enjoy the people, places, and experiences more fully.

Remember, too much screen time can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Unplugging and disconnecting from your devices with simple tips and tricks like those listed above can help you reconnect with yourself, your loved ones, and a healthy lifestyle that supports your peak performance.