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What can families do to help reduce their time on devices and improve sleep and mental health?

 

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From smartphones and computers to televisions – screens are everywhere. They are in our homes, bedrooms, offices, vehicles, pockets, and purses.

Have you ever considered how much time you or your family members spend looking at a screen? While these electronics are helpful or entertaining, the amount of time we spend on them can become a problem.

A new study has found that excessive blue light exposure from smartphones, televisions and computer screens may impact basic cellular function and accelerate ageing.

The study published in the “Frontiers of Aging” discovered highly elevated levels of important metabolites – chemicals essential for cells to function correctly – in fruit flies exposed to blue light for 14 days, suggesting impairments in energy production and signs of neurodegeneration.

The findings showed that cells exposed to blue light operate at a suboptimal level which may lead to premature death and accelerate ageing.

Study author Jun Yang from Oregon State University said, “Our research shows that long-term exposure to blue light could cause energy reduction in mitochondria which is detrimental to cellular health.”

What can families do to help reduce their time on devices and improve sleep and mental health?
While some electronics are helpful or entertaining, the amount of time we spend on them can become a problem. Picture: Pexels/Lisa Fotios

Research shows that South Africa ranks fourth in the world for the most time spent on the internet at 10 hours and 6 minutes per day, while another study shows that South African in the 18 – 26 age group check their smartphones almost 30 times an hour.

Health expert Vanessa Ascencao said research highlighted the negative effects of excessive screen use on health. Ascencao encouraged South Africans to create healthier habits such as taking regular digital detoxes, setting up tech-free areas in the home, and getting out into nature as often as possible.

What can families do to help reduce their time on devices and improve sleep and mental health?
Practice deep breathing techniques to reduce stress, exercise regularly, keep the bedroom free of electronic devices and get at least 8 hours of restorative sleep every night. Picture: Pexels/Karl Solano

How? Below she shares a few tips.

  • Try the 20–20–20 rule whereby every 20 minutes you look away from the screen and focus on an object 20 feet (about 6 metres) away, for 20 seconds.
  • Practice deep breathing techniques to reduce stress, exercise regularly, keep the bedroom free of electronic devices and get at least eight hours of restorative sleep every night. Blue light exposure before bedtime may impact your circadian rhythm and sleep quality.
  • According to research, an acceptable amount of screen time for children in the 2 – 12 age group is one hour and for teenagers and adults, two hours a day. Too much screen time can cause over-stimulation which can lead to a lack of focus, mental depletion, aggression, and frustration. Try to limit screen time in a realistic and intentional way by creating phone-free zones in the home ; do not allow devices at meal times; encourage children to read or go outside as it increases endorphins, improves mood and physical health; help them to find out more about themselves; allow them to make their own decisions and encourage them to try new things; switch off devices at least two hours before bed and mind your own screen time as parents and set screen-time limits as a family.
What can families do to help reduce their time on devices and improve sleep and mental health?
Eat lots of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. Picture: Pexels/Viktoria Slowikowska
  • Eat lots of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats which are high in omega 3 fatty acids and may help to reduce inflammation, improve eye health, reduce depression and manage blood sugar levels.

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