We’ve all heard about “smartphone addiction” and may have even wondered how our usage compares to others.
Well, a recent observational study from King’s College in London found that 39% of people show signs of smartphone addiction and that this addiction was negatively impacting their sleep.
But sleep isn’t the only negative health outcome associated with smartphone addiction. A meta-analysis on smartphone addiction found that folks who are addicted to their phones are more likely to be anxious, suffer from chronic neck pain, are at greater risk of being involved in an accident, and may even develop neurological issues later in life.
These issues are even more pronounced in digital generations, who have grown up around smartphones and screens. Here’s how that addiction is impacting them now.
What is Smartphone Addiction?
Smartphone addiction is difficult to assess. That’s because, unlike other forms of addiction like smoking or alcoholism, people don’t become addicted to a chemical like nicotine or alcohol. Instead, smartphone addiction is a “behavioral” addiction that is reinforced by our daily and hourly usage.
But this doesn’t mean that smartphone addiction isn’t powerful or dangerous. Smartphone addiction has a devastating effect on our brains. Folks who are addicted to their phones report feeling depressed or anxious due to social media, and users feel a genuine sense of separation anxiety when they are separated from their phones for a prolonged period.
Recent research on adolescents and smartphone addiction found that teens who spent more than three hours a day using social media on their phones were at a heightened risk for mental health issues, and were more likely to develop conditions like anxiety, depression, and obsessive behaviors.
Smartphone addiction holds a powerful sway over users — particularly for younger generations who may have a hard time regulating their usage. This harms their sleep patterns, mental wellbeing, physical health, and sociability.
Plenty of folks want to get a better night’s sleep. But, what if your sleep problem isn’t caused by old pillows or mattresses, but is, in fact, your phone? Research suggests that blue light — the kind of light emitted by our phones — can make it harder to switch off and get a good night’s sleep.
This is a problem, as poor sleep quality is associated with conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Poor sleep quality can also lead to a higher risk of heart attacks and stroke and a weakened immune system, as the body needs sleep to rest and recover from the day. This is almost certain to catch up to digital generations who report higher overall screen time.
You can improve your chances of drifting off for 8-10 hours by ditching your phone at night and setting a bedtime routine. This can include things like going to bed at the same time every night and treating your bed as a sacred space for sleeping (sorry, but you’ve got to stop watching Netflix in bed). These behaviors will help you form a healthy sleeping habit and can help you drift off.
Smartphone addiction has a scary effect on the physical health of users — particularly in younger folks who are still growing and developing. A recent survey on students found that smartphone addiction reduces physical activity, which in turn reduces muscle mass and increases unwanted fat.
Smartphone overuse also has a terrible impact on our posture, as we’re often hunched over while looking at our phones. This might seem inconspicuous at first, but poor posture over several years can lead to chronic health conditions.
For digital generations, who will likely spend much of their lives craning to see screens, poor posture can cause issues like breathing difficulties and incontinence. This is because poor posture can place an unusual strain on our spine and organs. Over time, these strains impact our normal bodily functions and undermine our physical health.
Folks from every generation use social media to connect with their friends and family in a virtual space. By and large, this sense of connection helps us stay in touch, and is useful if we can’t physically interact with one another.
However, for digital generations, smartphone addiction and social media overuse can negatively impact sociability and in-person interactions. In young adults and adolescents, this corresponds to lower emotional intelligence, increased irritability, and social isolation.
While it’s not fair to say that digital generations “no longer know how to socialize”, we may need to reconsider how we view sociability. In particular, we should be cautious about replacing real, physical interactions with digital ones, as the former doesn’t seem to give us the same healthy boost of energy and happiness.
Dealing with smartphone addiction is difficult — and it’s even harder for digital generations. So much of our lives are conducted and choreographed via social media, and the pandemic has entrenched unhealthy screen time habits in us all. However, by being mindful of smartphone usage, it may be possible to strike a healthy balance between our digital and physical lives.
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