How to reduce screen time in the digital age?




Singapore is such a digitally-acclimatised society that spending too much time on digital devices has become a very common problem amongst children and adults alike.

“I’m just getting work done”, you might say, but chances are that all the excess screen time you accumulate could translate into health and sleep problems in the near future. Excess screen time has been proven to be detrimental to both the young and old, so it’s important that we learn how to cut back on the amount of time we spend staring at screens.

How to reduce screen time 1Photo: Active Health

Do I really need to cut back on my screen time?

Given that most of us engage in lots of screen time while we work, communicate with others and consume information, the answer is most definitely a “yes”. The total amount of screen time (both productive and leisure) we accumulate every day can add up to a lot more than most of us realise, and our health bears the brunt of these extra hours in the following ways:

• Physical aches and posture problems

Spending long hours bent over a mobile phone or craning your neck to watch the TV can lead to neck and back aches, possibly even damaging your spine in the long run. Screen time also strains your eyes, especially when you don’t take enough breaks to rest your eyes.

• Issues with weight control

Engaging in screen time is a largely sedentary activity, which means you burn very few calories for all the time you spend glued to the screen. Naturally, this increases the chances of weight gain and the risk of obesity, and we all know that obesity comes with a host of unpleasant physical and mental side effects, from weak joints to low energy levels to poorer self-esteem.

• Increased risk of chronic health conditions

Research studies have found that the sedentary nature of screen usage also puts you at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and even type 2 diabetes. This makes cutting back on your screen time all the more important in promoting long-term health.

• Less sleep and poorer sleep quality

A lot of us are guilty of sleeping later in favour of spending more time scrolling through our social media feeds or playing a few rounds of our favourite game. Not only are we depriving ourselves of precious sleep time, we are also increasing our exposure to blue light from the screens, which upsets your body’s natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Consequently, you may find it harder to fall asleep or even experience wakefulness during the night.

• Mental lethargy

While using digital devices is a physical sedentary activity, our minds are in fact concentrating and processing whatever information that's flying our screens. It’s no wonder that spending long hours staring at a screen tires your mind out and causes you to lose concentration and focus. When your mental energy starts to plummet, your work productivity will almost definitely take a hit too. The effects of too much screen time on one’s mental health are even more serious when it comes to adolescents and teenagers. In the case of children, excessive screen time has been found to negatively affect cognitive function and learning abilities, while teenagers who engage in excessive screen time typically display a higher risk of depression and other related disorders.

• A vicious cycle of addiction

The nature of digital screens makes it very easy to get addicted. It’s so easy to tune into your devices anywhere and anytime that we start finding it hard to put our devices away, and we take every opportunity that comes along to fill our spare time with their usage. As this wears on, it develops into a full-fledged addiction that is very hard to break out of.

Without a doubt, less screen time will benefit just about anyone. Not only does cutting back on your screen time reward you with extra time to spend resting or bonding with family and friends, but your physical and mental health also gets a good boost. In the long run, you will definitely feel the difference in your quality of life. Reducing screen time can begin at anytime, and here’s how to do it!

How to reduce screen time 2Photo: Active Health

Top 5 ways to reduce screen time (for yourself)

1. Go out and socialise more

We spend a huge portion of our time interacting with our friends on social media platforms. Go with the analogue option instead by initiating and planning outings with your family members and friends. Boredom and loneliness are usually what cause us to turn to social media, and quality face-to-face interactions can help you overcome this. To further reduce your screen usage, make it a point to avoid using your digital devices during social occasions and get the people around you to do the same too – everyone will benefit from the lack of digital distractions! Another way to reduce screen time otherwise spent on online social interactions is to opt for phone calls instead of text messaging – you get to say a lot more in a shorter period of time and bond better with the person you are interacting with.

2. Develop new or existing hobbies

Investing time in hobbies is a great substitute for your unproductive screen time. Simple activities like reading a book, cooking or taking a walk may help you beat boredom, but working on a serious hobby is the best way to reduce the amount of time you spend on a screen in the long run. Hobbies are great because they redirect your focus, thus forcing you to spend your time more productively and outside of a digital environment. Furthermore, hobbies are a great opportunity for self-improvement, especially when you pursue activities that you are passionate in or those that improve your physical or mental well-being.

3. Avoid bringing work home

We spend enough time on our devices at work already. Bringing work home to do will only exacerbate the negative effects of too much screen time, so don’t let work eat into your rest time. If need be, head in to office earlier the following to get a head-start. The homestead should be a place of relaxation and not drudgery.

4. Keep your devices away from your bedroom

Always try to keep your digital devices away from your bedroom – don’t even charge them in there! This removes the temptation to lie in bed and scroll through your social media feed for hours and also protects your brain from associating the bedroom with wakefulness. In other words, keeping digital devices out of your bedroom will help you sleep better and avoid insomnia.

5. Stay active to distract yourself

Instead of relaxing for long hours in front of the TV after work, engage in some exercise to unwind instead! Simple exercises like a light evening jog or a leisurely game of badminton not only helps you to keep fit, but also helps you de-stress after a long day of work and will boost your mood significantly. Find out more about the different exercises you can do at our Active Health Labs – we’ll definitely help you find something that suits your fitness level!

How to reduce screen time 3Photo: Active Health

Top 4 ways to reduce screen time (for your kid[s])

1. Supervise kids’ screen time

If you have kids, supervising their screen time personally will be the best way to manage their screen time habits and also regulate the type of content (such as videos and games) they consume. Discussing the on-screen content with your children also helps them practice their ability to process and interpret digital content, thus reducing the extent of cognitive impairment associated with excessive screen usage. There are many other ways to limit your time your children spend on screens that centre around an increased emphasis on real-life activities.

2. Setting limits

Timed curfews are the most straight-forward way to cutting the time your kids spend on their devices. Set the number of hours they can spend on their devices and keep to them – enlist the help of your other family members to keep them on track. If your kids are mature enough, you can even consider trusting them on their honour to not flout the rules. Setting specific times for screen time usage can also make it easier. For example, one hour of leisure screen time after dinner or schoolwork is a reasonable arrangement.

3. Talk about mindfulness

All in all, cutting back on screen time is largely an exercise in mental restraint and involves a lot of discipline. This makes being mindful extremely important if you want your kid to succeed in their screen-time reduction goals. Practicing mindfulness helps one to evaluate your feelings and actions better, while also facilitating better decision-making. Mindfulness also allows you to constantly reflect on your progress and your goals – are you on the right track to get to your ideal destination? Are you missing something that could be integral to your success? Take some time to talk to your kid about the importance of such a practice and introduce some of the simpler tools that can help them on their way; journaling and meditation are good places to begin.

4. Keep devices away in social settings

Whether your taking your little one for a stroll in the park or lining up to get food from the snack stand, resist the urge to whip out your phone. Kids learning through imitation and if they see you doing something, they'll think that it's okay for them to do as well. Parents need to lead by example when it comes to instilling good habits, whether it's during one-on-one time or in a large family gathering.

5. Develop new or existing hobbies

What works for the adults can work for kids as well! Don't be afraid to rope your kid in on whatever side project you might have brewing in the back room. At the same time, encourage them to branch out and find something that interests them. Being able to connect with an activity is an important milestone in life as it teaches them about passion and what it means to want to be good at something. Spending time in front of a screen might be fun, but it's ultimately an empty pursuit.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to avoid spending time on your digital devices when you live in a modern society like Singapore. This makes conscientious management of screen time all the more important and highlights the need for everyone to take active steps to take ownership of their digital activities. The health benefits of cutting back on your screen time far outweigh the inconvenience of putting our devices away, so start working on reducing your screen time now!

Topics: Screen Time, Rest Better