If you can’t put down your cellphone, you’re not alone. In fact, a poll by the National Safety Council found 8 in 10 people believe cellphones are addictive.
There are many good reasons to stay connected. But people who spend a large part of the day staring at their cellphone say they feel distracted, nervous about missing something and less useful at their tasks.
Over the 20 years that the public has used cellphones, we’ve learned that too much screen time can harm a person’s health. Heavy cellphone users often suffer from eyestrain, neck pains, trouble sleeping and more.
There has been some concern about cellphone use and cancer due to radiation exposure. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says research hasn’t found a connection between cellphones and cancer.
However, heavy use can cause many other problems.
Using your phone in the car may be handy, but the National Safety Council has found about 25 percent of car crashes are linked to distractions from cellphone use. Some states have banned the use of cellphones and texting while driving or require hands-free use while driving. But even hands-free gadgets are a risky distraction.
Drivers aren’t the only ones at risk for cellphone use distractions. People using cellphones while walking are at greater risk, too.
For example, children distracted by a cellphone while walking:
- Were less careful near traffic
- Left less time between their crossing and the next arriving car
- Waited longer to start crossing the street when traffic was clear
- Had more collisions and close calls with traffic
Cellphone use can also distract us from important tasks, like studying. Some college students spend as much as 10 hours a day using their cellphones. About 60 percent said they may be hooked, and some even worry when their phone is not in sight.
More people are using their cellphones to play music, but many play it too loud. About 13 percent of children and adolescents and 17 percent of adults have suffered lasting harm to their hearing from excessive noise. Bear in mind that sounds louder than 85 decibels can harm hearing, and headphones used with a cellphone may reach 100 decibels. Turning down the volume helps.
Ties to Anxiety and Depression
Some young adults who use their cellphones nonstop might be anxious or depressed. A University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study of more than 300 college students found heavier technology use was tied to greater risk.
That was especially true for those who use the phone as a “security blanket” hoping to avoid unhappy feelings. But it was not the case for those who used their phones as a distraction from boredom or for entertainment.
About 87 percent of Americans spend two or more hours a day using digital devices, according to the Vision Council. And 50 percent say they use two digital devices at the same time.
This type of use can cause digital eyestrain, a physical pain caused by prolonged exposure to digital devices. This type of eyestrain is related to the close- to mid-range distance between our eyes and the screen when using digital devices.
Signs of digital eyestrain include dry, irritated eyes and blurred vision. It can also cause headaches and neck and back pain.
People often feel this way after they spend two or more hours staring at a device. Symptoms of digital eyestrain are usually temporary, but longer-term effects are possible.
Many of us sleep with our cellphones in or near our beds. Experts say that is not a good idea. The light from the phone may interrupt deep, restorative sleep.
To get the most out of our sleep, both the amount and quality are vital, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The number of hours you need varies by your age. Teens, for example, need at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep to refresh their bodies and minds.
What happens if sleep is cut short? The body doesn’t have time to go through all the steps that fix muscle, consolidate memory and rule hormones controlling growth and hunger. That’s why someone who hasn’t slept enough may struggle to concentrate and make decisions.
But there is a way to improve your sleep, experts say. Just turn off the TV, computer and cellphone at least one hour before bed.
Need to cut back?
If you think your cellphone use may be putting your health or productivity at risk, take steps to keep your tech in check. There are many low- to no-cost resources that may help. Check out these tips on setting clear boundaries and apps to limit your cellphone use.
Sources: 8 in 10 Americans believe cellphones are addictive, says National Safety Council, National Safety Council, 2015; Radiation-Emitting Products: Current Research Results, U.S Food and Drug Administration, 2014; What Noises Cause Hearing Loss? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017; Study links mobile device addiction to depression and anxiety, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 2, 2016; The invisible addiction: Cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students, Journal of Behavioral Addictions, December 2014; Effect of Cell Phone Distraction on Pediatric Injury Risk, Pediatrics, February 2009; Digital Eye Strain, Vision Council; Three ways gadgets are keeping you awake, National Sleep Foundation