The widespread use of mobile devices across all age groups has given rise to symptoms that were rarely seen with any other technology in the past. From eyestrain to sleep deprivation, excessive use of mobile phones is not without consequences. Sometimes these symptoms go unrecognized for long periods of time as there is still al lack of awareness of the effects of overusing mobile phones.
How long should a person use a phone?
There is no specific recommendation for how long a person should use a phone. It is known that eyestrain can arise within 20 to 30 minutes of staring at an object at a fixed distance. The brightness of the screen also plays a role in eyestrain.
Prolonged use can also mean that a person has less sleeping time, suffer with poor posture, may miss meals and even limit sunlight exposure. This can then lead to a host of problems like sleep deprivation, headaches, fatigue, and even vitamin D deficiency respectively.
The focus should not just be on mobile phone use but rather on excessive use of these devices. Today mobile phones are almost an indispensible part of modern life. While it does have a purpose in communication, the devices are often used for other reasons leading to prolonged use.
What is mobile phone addiction?
Mobile phone or cell phone addiction is a relatively new concept. It refers to a compulsion to check and use a mobile phone to the point that it leads to symptoms, affects daily functioning and even relationships. There is often a loss of sense of time and when a person is forced to discontinue using the device there are withdrawal symptoms including anger, restlessness, irritability and even depression.
As yet mobile phone addiction is not considered along with other addictions like substance abuse or gambling. There seems to be some reluctance to apply the label of addiction to mobile phone use. Instead the term mobile phone overuse syndrome is often used to indicate excessive use of these devices to the point that it causes symptoms and affects a person’s life.
Signs and Symptoms of Overuse
The signs and symptoms of mobile phone overuse are not specific to this activity only. Therefore mobile phone overuse may sometimes not be immediately diagnosed. There are a number of psychological symptoms that may also arise with mobile phone overuse but this varies among individuals.
This is one of the most common symptoms associated with device overuse. As previously mentioned, it arises from staring at a fixed distance for a prolonged period of time. The brightness of the screen also plays a role and is worsened if looking at the screen in a dimly lit or dark room. Reduced blinking is another factor that contributes to eyestrain, which may also lead to eye dryness or excessive tearing (watery eyes).
Loss of Sleep
Mobile phones can be entertaining and this can lead to people skipping sleep for longer hours of phone use. However, it has also been found that using a phone before bedtime can affect sleep in various ways – from falling asleep to having a good quality sleep. This may also be related to the screen brightness which affects the sleep hormones like melatonin.
Looking over a mobile device leads to stooping. This causes neck and upper back strain which presents with pain in these areas and even headaches. The stooping and strain is also referred to as “texting neck”. It may even alter a person’s posture over time especially if the causative activity (looking over a mobile phone) is not stopped.
Hand and Arm Strain
At one time the thumbs were the main fingers used for operating mobile phones but newer devices may also involve other fingers. This causes a repetitive strain injury which is known as “texting thumb”. Holding a device for long hours may also play a role in straining the hand and arm and this could also lead to other conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Dark Eye Rings
Darkness around the eyes or dark eyelids may be consequence of both eyestrain and reduced sleep. It is often referred to as “panda eyes” due to the appearance. The blood vessels in the eyelids dilate and fluid leaks out of it into the surrounding tissue. This leads to darkening of the skin and also causes puffiness. Scratching or rubbing the eyelids due to the irritation and strain further worsens the darkening.
Headaches arise for several reasons with mobile phone overuse. It is partly due to eyestrain, lack of sleep and neck or upper back muscle spasm but may also arise with poor eating habits and even dehydration that can arise from distration with a mobile device. For migraine sufferers the use of mobile phones with bright flashing screens and long use in dark rooms can also trigger attacks.
Fatigue is a consequence of poor sleep habits that may occur with mobile phone overuse. It is particularly a problem when a person uses their excessively at bedtime or skips normal sleep duration to use their mobile device. Poor eating habits that may arise from preoccupation with mobile phones can also contribute to fatigue. This may be more pronounced as morning fatigue.
Prevention of Mobile Phone Overuse
The way to prevent mobile phone overuse may seem obvious. The key is to reduce mobile phone use. However, many people are unaware of how much and how often they use their phones. Stopping mobile phone use altogether may not be possible since these devices have become essential communication tools these days. Therefore some of these measures to reduce mobile phone overuse may be helpful.
Do Not Use Before Bedtime
Mobile phones should not be used for at least one hour before bedtime. It should be shut off and kept away from the bedside. Children with mobile phones should be made to hand over the devices to parents until the next day as children are often unable to show self-restraint.
Apply Phone Curfews
A dedicated time should be set aside for using a mobile phone, especially within the home where phone communication may not be necessary. Phones should be locked away or kept in a place that is convenient to access should it ring. Devices should not be kept in pockets or nearby. Children may require curfews where the phone is taken away after a certain time.
Remove Unnecessary Apps
Certain apps tend to be more of a preoccupation than others. If these apps are not vital then it should be removed from the mobile phone. This will reduce the attraction of utilizing the device and keep it for its primary purpose which is to communicate with others. Gaming in particular should be discouraged on mobile phones and left for other devices like game consoles where time can be more effectively monitored.
Reduce Screen Brightness
Although reducing use of the handset should be the main priority, other measures may also help in preventing symptoms. The screen brightness should be turned down to the lowest practical setting. It is also important that where available, phones are left to automatically change the brightness to ensure that the screen is not too bright in a dimly lit or dark room.