Your smartphone could be killing you

01.28.16 |

Your smartphone habits could be slowly crippling your health. The power of our mobile devices means that we have instant access to friends, to email, to social media, and to the expanse of the internet. That convenience comes with a price: we are always connected. We get notifications and alerts. Lights flash. Buzzers buzz. We are compelled to check our phones at all times of the day.

We have become so addicted to our technology that many of us experience “phantom vibration syndrome,” which is a documented phenomenon where you feel a vibrating sensation in your pocket as though you just received a text or a notification, except you haven’t. Some people feel these vibrations even then their phones aren’t in their pockets.
But the health consequences go farther than that. Compulsively checking your phone at all times of the day can lead to:

  • Increased stress levels. Checking work email late at night can spike your stress response at a time when you should be relaxing, distracting you from your family and your leisure time.
  • Poor sleep habits. The light from your screen and the compulsive need to check for new messages or notifications can interrupt your sleep patterns, which in itself leads to a number of health consequences, including weight gain.
  • Strain personal relationships. For as much as tech companies talk about smartphones connecting us, using your phone excessively can distance you from your friends and family. When you should be giving the person you love your focus, you end up scrolling through Facebook instead.
  • Taint your self-image. Social media use has been linked with lower self-esteem. Since many social media users present a hyper-perfect version of their lives—sometimes to the point of outright fabrication—seeing everyone else’s “perfect” life can lead to you feeling worse about yours.

To be clear, smartphones and social media and other similar technologies aren’t inherently bad. They have a huge potential to do good, and they have enabled some incredible changes in our society. At the same time, we can’t let them control our lives. To protect yourself from the negative aspects of smartphone use, try these tips:

  • Turn off your notifications in the evening. If you can’t turn your phone off completely, disable email alerts when you aren’t at work so that you don’t end up worried about an email at 11pm.
  • Put your phone away at dinner. Have everyone at the table stack their phones in a corner of the table, facedown to cover up those pesky blinking lights. When everyone agrees to be present, the meal is more meaningful.
  • Download a nighttime app to automatically dim and tint your screen in the evening. A bright screen can trick your brain into thinking it’s daylight, which in turn takes your body out of sleep mode.
  • Develop a phoneless nighttime routine. Read a book. Take a bath. Turn down the lights and relax. Staring at a screen up until you close your eyes can overstimulate your brain and make it difficult to sleep.

Take back control! Don’t let your phone stunt your Habits of Health.