Increased Screen Time From COVID-19 Social Distancing: Should We Be Worried?

Between remote, online classes and Netflix’s release of addicting shows like Bridgerton and Never Have I Ever, our eyes have been glued to screens this past year more than ever before as we stay at home and follow social distancing protocols. Following COVID-19 guidelines and stay-at-home orders as much as possible is crucial right now to reduce the number of coronavirus cases in the United States, but what toll is it taking on our vision and brain function when exposed to excessive screen time? 

Physicians and scientists are expressing great concern for the long-term ramifications of increased screen time on eyesight. According to a study led by Dr. Chee Wai Wong at the Singapore National Eye Center, ophthalmologists suspect a rise in myopia cases, especially among children. Commonly known as nearsightedness, myopia is known to put a heavy strain on the eyes and cause headaches. While the findings of one study may not seem daunting, Dr. Wong’s study is only one of many that have looked into the relationship between increased screen time and myopia. 

Woman in white shirt working Photo by Bruce Mars from Unsplash

UNICEF is expressing similar concerns as well. Even when virtual classes are completed for the day, many children will log on to popular gaming websites or their favorite apps afterward. UNICEF highlighted how excessive screen time and the lack of exercise from remaining sedentary for too long can affect child obesity as a major concern. 

Whether you’re in college or have already graduated, experts say increased screen time is something people across all age groups should be aware of and actively address. Increased screen time and fewer in-person interactions have a significant impact on our mental health according to a study from 2019 in the International Journal for Mental Health and Addiction. This study additionally underscores how excessive screen time can lead to premature neurodegeneration, or neuronal function loss. A study on Chinese college students’ habits surrounding screen time found that students who spent significant time on their computers or watching television experience poor sleep quality and mental health problems related to depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

Woman staring at phone at night Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels

Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate stress on the eyes and brain from increased screen time. Feel like you’ve been sitting down all day staring at your computer or scrolling on Instagram? At the end of a long work or school day, plan to go for a walk before or after dinner. Feel like the brightness from your laptop is affecting your vision? Lower the brightness on your laptop or opt for some blue light glasses. Experiencing migraines or headaches? Consider consulting with an optometrist to get FL-41 migraine relief glasses.  

With all this in mind, don’t beat yourself up for binging the latest season of The Crown all in one (very) late night. Instead, find ways to occupy your time that allow you to step back from the screen. Hiking, reading, going on a picnic, walking your dog, or picking up a new craft are all healthy ways to establish distance from the screen while also following COVID-19 safety protocols.