Yesterday we saw that digital technology is killing our minds. But it’s also killing our health by killing our sleep, our physical exercise, our mental health, and our lives.
Digital technology is killing our sleep
Screen technology is killing our health partly by its shortening, shallowing, and interrupting of sleep. Excess and late technology use damages quality and length of sleep. Kids are consuming 11 hours of media a day with huge impact on quality and quantity of sleep.
- Although teens need about 9 hours of sleep the average is now less than seven.
- 57% percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991.
- The change can be traced largely to when teens get a smartphone.
- Teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 28 percent more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep than those who spend fewer than three hours,
- Children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day.
- Sleep deprivation is linked to compromised thinking and reasoning, susceptibility to illness, weight gain, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.
I asked my undergraduate students at San Diego State University what they do with their phone while they sleep. Their answers were a profile in obsession. Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up. If they woke in the middle of the night, they often ended up looking at their phone. Some used the language of addiction. “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed.
Digital Technology is killing physical exercise
Many children are not accessing the outdoors, engaging in enough regular physical activity, and experiencing the benefit of child-led free play,” adds Vanessa Lapointe, PhD, a parenting author and psychologist in British Columbia. “This changes the chemical makeup of the brain and lead to increases in anxiety and related mood shifts.”
Digital technology is killing our mental health
Constant beeps, buzzes, and updates reduce undisturbed time for the brain to rest. Unlike other revolutionary media like radio and TV, the Internet is ubiquitous. We never get even a few minutes waiting in line with our own thoughts but turn to the smartphone to fill it up.
While iGens may be physically “safe,” their emotional and mental selves are often a mess. Today’s teens are more depressed; more prone to bullying, and being bullied; more likely to commit suicide. They often struggle with a FOMO (“fear of missing out”) so intense it affects their psychological wellbeing, the decisions they make, and the friendships they form. They struggle with body image and confidence. They struggle to foster healthy, wholesome friendships and romance.
6 million American teens grapple with an anxiety disorder of some kind. That’s probably an underestimate because it doesn’t take into account children under 12, whom therapists say are also increasingly facing anxiety that exceeds normal childhood fears and worries. The three main reasons given are “more pressure, more stimulus, and more trickle-down stress.”
They feel pressure to create and manage a digital identity. And they have endless information at their technological fingertips which has the potential to emotionally overwhelm them.
“They’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how to get away from.”
Instagram, an app that people use to share photos of their lives as seen through a series of flattering filters, was rated worst for the mental health of young people in a study by the Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K.
“Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol,” Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said in a statement. “It is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues.” (Indeed, one-quarter of millennials look at their phone more than 100 times a day compared with just 10% of baby boomers, a study released this week found.) Both Instagram and Snapchat “are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” she says.
Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.
Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.
Digital technology is (literally) killing our lives
9: Number of Americans killed every day from motor vehicle accidents that involved distracted driving, such as using a cellphone, texting or eating.
1 in 4: The probability that a motor vehicle crash involved a cellphone.
40%: The percentage of teens who say they have been a passenger in a car whose driver used a cellphone in a way that put them in danger.
33%: The percentage of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 64 who reported reading or writing text messages while driving in the previous month. In comparison, only 15 percent of drivers from Spain reported texting while driving in the same period.
341,000: Number of motor vehicle crashes in 2013 that involved texting.
4x: How much using a cellphone while driving increases the risk of a crash.
2: Number of seconds a driver can safely glance away from the road while operating a motor vehicle.
5: Number of seconds drivers take their eyes off the road to send a text message, on average.