Unplugging From Technology – Why it needs to be a priority
My job is very interesting and is one I very much enjoy. Next month I will be directing an initiative called “Wellbeing Month” at work and it is designed to get people focused on things that promote personal wellbeing within themselves. This effort is designed to help people move past the general aspects of physical fitness and embrace the larger, more holistic concept of overall health and wellness. One aspect of wellbeing I will be focusing on will be unplugging from technology – and why. Since I’m doing this at work, I may as well share a little bit of that information with you here as well. I know! I know! The fact that I have a photo on here saying “digital detox” doesn’t make the most sense considering I needed a technological device to take the photo, but hey, every blog needs some photos. I hope you like the article.
Time spent using technology can be detrimental to your health
YoungAh Park, a researcher at Kansas State University has determined that there are a number of ways in which “staying connected” through the use of technology can negatively impact a person’s health. Whether it be friends blowing up your phone at all hours of the day and night, or co-workers communicating about work related issues, this constant state of technological connectedness and intake of immense quantities of information can be stressful to our bodies and brains. Work issues tend to be those we stress about, we dwell on them and they keep us from relaxing, breathing deeply and recharging. Friends, family, the drama on Facebook and the constant desire to know everything that is going on is actually doing more harm than good. In fact, a relatively new condition known as nomophobia has developed over the past few years.
Nomophobia – the fear of being out of mobile phone contact
Work, family, friends, social media, life…it all adds up into one big ball of stress. Out of this comes the need to feel connected and to do your part to keep the wheel of chaos and urgency rolling on. This leads to multitasking, something people in the business world often take pride in doing well. The problem is, a growing number of research studies show that despite thinking you’re good at multitasking, you’re actually not. I’m guilty of this myself. In fact, Sanbonmatsu et. al. (2013) found that people who think they are good at multitasking are actually really bad at it. The body and the mind just don’t work optimally when you’re trying to juggle things. Beyond this, most things in your daily life do not need your immediate attention. To test this, I went without my phone all weekend and missed absolutely zero work, fun or important messages. I must admit that I drank a bit too much Friday night and lost my phone so this 3-day study came to me somewhat organically, but I chose not to run off to get another one right away just to see how I got on – and despite managing over 30 people and 2 business locations while finishing my Ph.D., blogging and living an extremely active lifestyle, I actually didn’t miss anything important. Some emails popped into my inbox, but I took care of those from my home PC each morning and afternoon and some people took time to track me down in-person instead of online and it made for a jolly good weekend. I must say that it was extremely enjoyable! Instead of taking selfies (as you can see from the photo, my friend took care of that for me), updating statuses, texting endlessly and responding to every silly little thing going on in the cyber world, I actually enjoyed my weekend and the people in it. I think you will too if you make it a priority to unplug and go without that constant state of connection. Try it! It’s good for you.
When your sleep suffers, everything suffers
It is now well known that the light put off by cell phone, computers and tablets can reduce brain serotonin levels for at least two hours. Serotonin is considered by some to be the “sleep hormone” and plays a tremendously important role in getting a good, restful sleep although its full impact is not yet understood. Also, Japanese researchers led by Shigekazu Higuchi from Akita University School of Medicine concluded that our body’s melatonin production is significantly and negatively affected by the level of brightness displayed on the screens that we look at. Melatonin is also directly associated with sleep quality as it plays important roles in depth of sleep and time of waking. As we age, our bodies tend to produce less, as it does when we look at bright screens, and we tend to get less restful nights of sleep which speed the aging process. A quality night of sleep is considered by most to be at least seven (7) hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Lack of sleep may pose even more significant risks to young people. New research out of Norway suggests that more than 90% of girls and 80% of boys ages 16-19 report cell phone usage right before going to bed with laptop use also being common. This is strongly associated with “sleep latency” in this group of people which simply means it takes them longer to go to sleep. It is also associated with shorter sleep durations. So not only does use of technology through screens make young people get to sleep later, it also disrupts their quality of sleep and keeps them from sleeping longer. All around bad news for young, developing minds and bodies. And don’t fool yourself! This research is being conducted using teenagers, but if you’re like me and past your teen years, you can tell that your sleep quality and duration is also compromised on nights when you’re sitting in front of a computer doing whatever it is you do. To keep it simple, we might think of this phenomena as self-induced insomnia. It turns out that people with insomnia have greater levels of both anxiety and depression than people who do not have insomnia. Additionally, these people are “9.82 and 17.35 times as likely to have clinically significant depression and anxiety, respectively (Taylor, et. al. 2005).” Even more reason to unplug hours before bedtime and get that restful sleep your brain and body need.
If that isn’t enough, it turns out that there is a strong correlation to sleep disturbance and young people who go through with planned suicide. As it turns out from the research of Goldstein et. al. (2008) and others, young people who follow-through with their plans for suicide also had higher incidences of disturbed or interrupted sleep. The researchers had this to say. “These findings support a significant and temporal relationship between sleep problems and completed suicide in adolescents. Sleep difficulties should therefore be carefully considered in prevention and intervention efforts for adolescents at risk for suicide.” Pretty scary to think about! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for the collection of data on the mortality rate in the U.S., which includes deaths from suicide. In 2013 (most recent year that full data is available), there were 41,149 suicides reported. This makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death for people in the U.S. This means that someone from the U.S. died by suicide every 12.8 minutes in 2013. Taken together, the body of research begins to create questions and provide insight into some of the factors that may contribute to such things are depression, suicide and other psychological disorders that may be caused or affected by a person’s environmental aspects including their quality of sleep. Do yourself and everyone in your life a favor and take time to unplug. Give your mind and body a rest, feed it healthful foods and allow it to engage in regular exercise. You’ll be better off for it!
Challenge yourself and be well!
My challenge to you is to always be the best version of yourself that you can be. Consider giving this challenge a try and I think it’ll do you a world of good. Get a friend involved and help to keep each other accountable.
Challenge #1: Disconnect from all technological devices by 8:00PM each day this week. You’ll discover that yes, it can wait.
Challenge #2: Remove your phone from your room while you sleep. Put it in the other room on silent. Nomophobia be gone!
Challenge #3: Do at least 60 total minutes of planned exercise on 5 days this week and do it without any technological devices. Yea, no iTunes!
Challenge #4: Share some of the information you found useful in this article with someone else. Don’t keep the good stuff to yourself.
Park Y, Fritz C., Jex S. (2011). Relationships between work-home segmentation and psychological detachment from work: the role of communication technology use at home. J Occup Health Psychol. Oct; 16(4), p. 457-67.