Six Strategies to Develop Healthy Screen Time Habits

April 15, 2021

If you’re an iPhone owner, you probably dread the Sunday morning ‘Weekly Screen Time’ notification. That’s because it may signify you may be scrolling a little too much. No doubt, our screens have been a saving grace for a lot of us during the COVID-19 pandemic by helping us stay connected. Still, growing evidence points to the negative effects of too much screen time on our physical and behavioral health. Experts suggest there could be a connection between extended screen time and depression, and even an increase in suicidal behaviors. As we approach a post-pandemic world, now is the time to reexamine our relationship with screens and begin to develop strategies to better balance screen time. Read below for a few strategies to start building a healthier lifestyle with your digital devices.

Bedtime, Not Screen Time

You tell yourself you’re going to sleep. Moments later you’re back to scrolling because you may feel like it relaxes you. Cleveland Clinic Sleep disorders specialist Dr. Harneet Walia says otherwise. “Checking your phone stimulates the brain so, we are more active and awake. Even just a quick check can engage your brain and prolong sleeplessness,” she said.

Difficulty sleeping ends up delaying rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, leaving you wondering why you can’t fall asleep. REM sleep is important because it’s the time when new learnings from the day are committed to your memory. Those who struggle achieving this stage are known to have trouble remembering things. Dr. Walia recommends cutting off screen time between 30 and 60 minutes before bed to relax your mind and body and prevent feelings of anxiety that can be brought on by your device.

Log Off and Get Your Move On

How many hours a day does the average child spend with a screen? The answer may surprise you. According to Dr. Daniel Pelzer, a pediatrician with the Iowa Clinic, it’s seven or more hours. Due to today’s digital world and new learning environment largely driven by the pandemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics no longer has a fixed guideline on the number of recommend hours of screen time. The organization now says it’s up to parents to set their own guidelines with their children, such as setting aside a specific time of day when no technology is allowed.

It’s especially important for children to get active and develop healthy habits from the start. Dr. Pelzer says, “A child who has regular activity will have better cardiorespiratory fitness, strong bones and muscles, higher energy levels, an enhanced sense of emotional well-being, and better weight control.” Whether it’s playing in a sports league or just going on a bike ride, there are many ways to replace a screen with a healthier lifestyle.

For adults, getting up and moving is a healthy way to take a step (or even 10,000 of them if you use a pedometer or fitness tracking device) away from the screen. Exercise can help ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety according to the Mayo Clinic. We know it’s especially important to manage your behavioral health during this isolating time. Try these four socially distanced activities during the warm weather discussed in The Blueprint.

Enjoy Your Meals: Don’t Look at Your Screen

Not surprisingly, the use of phones during a meal leads to a “modest but noticeable decrease in diners’ enjoyment” according to a study from the University of British Columbia. Start enjoying your meals anew and the people you eat with, too. Screenless dinners also model a healthy behavior for your children to follow. Looking for more ideas on sharing more nutritious meals with your family? Blue KC Executive Chef Kyle Williams offers his own tips in The Blueprint.

Turn Off Both Sound and “Lock Screen” Notifications for Apps That Aren’t Important

Ever heard of “Phantom Pocket Vibration Syndrome?” It’s a scientific phenomenon that describes sensing a vibration or hearing a sound from your device when neither is there. We’ve become so accustomed to the vibration and sounds of our phone that many of us have begun imagining them. To scare away the phantoms, modify the way you receive notifications. The ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting can be your best friend. Have apps and contacts that you don’t use every day? Turn off the sound and notifications so you don’t get distracted.

It’s Black and White: Switch Your Phone to Grayscale

How many times a day do you think you check your phone? A Deloitte survey said Americans check their phone 47 times a day on average. One way to potentially decrease device overuse is to curb the colors on your phone. Former Design Ethicist at Google, Tristan Harris, suggests enabling grayscaling on your phone. Instagram without the colorful photos will seem a lot less appealing. Additionally, going gray will help switch your eyes from the artificial colors of your device to the real-life, beautiful colors of our natural world.  

Call, Don’t Text

More than 24 billion text messages are sent a day. That’s a lot of time spent staring at a screen and texting a friend or loved one. That said, less screen time doesn’t have to mean less communication with friends and family. Take it old-school and encourage your support system to give you a call instead of texting.

Are you ready to take back some of your time? Learn more health and wellness tips on The Blueprint.

If you need assistance from a behavioral health expert, whether because you are feeling isolated or otherwise not at 100 percent, help is here for you 24/7. Blue KC’s Mindful Advocates, licensed behavioral health clinicians and support specialists, are experts at navigating care and crisis management and can help connect you to the behavioral health resources right for you. They’re only a call away with the number on your member ID card. You can also visit MindfulBlueKC.com for more information.