When You Stare At A Screen For Too Long, This Is What Happens

It's almost impossible to avoid digital screens in the 21st century. From reading the daily headlines roundup e-newsletter on your phone, to our work computers, to winding down with some Netflix in the evening, it's surprisingly easy to spend most of your waking hours in front of a screen. So what is all this time staring into the digital abyss really doing to our health?

The scary truth is it's too soon to tell. Like vaping, living a significant amount of time in the digital world is a new development for the human body and we won't know exactly how it's affecting us for many years. However, scientists have been studying the effects of too much screen time and do have some idea of what it does to our bodies.

The most obvious effect is a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome, which many of us have likely experienced after too many hours lost down a Reddit black hole. According to the American Optometric Association symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and pain in the neck and shoulders. Conditions like long hours without a break from the screen and how you sit while using the computer can affect the severity of the symptoms. Screen use may also be linked to nearsightedness, cases of which have doubled in the US since the 1970s.

Other causes for concern

The blue light emitted by our screens has also been shown to cause issues. According to the Harvard Health Letter blue light wavelengths "boost attention, reaction times, and mood" during the daytime, but too much exposure after the sun goes down can be disruptive to our natural sleep cycles. The effects of this are laid out in an article in Business Insider by David Anderson and Rebecca Wilkin, who report that there may be a correlation between blue light exposure before bed and both difficulty falling asleep and difficulty maintaining REM sleep, which is essential to waking up feeling well rested.

One of the biggest areas for concern for those studying the effects of screens are how children who are growing up with screens as a regular part of their life are being affected. Healthline Parenthood describes some preliminary studies which may indicate a link between too much screen time in children and lower academic performance, sleep disruption, and symptoms of depression. However, as a specialist in adolescent medicine said in an interview, it's important to keep in mind that these studies are early and only show that "two things are happening at the same time. But it's hard to tell whether one caused the other."