(Un)wind your Neck In!
It’s been over 16 years since the release of the first ever iPhone.
We had mobile phones before then, but that was the start of what we used to call “computer phones”. They were so far removed from what a telephone used to be, that for us to have a computer in your pocket everywhere you go was amazing.
How often, while sitting at a restaurant or even at a family dinner party, have you looked across the room and seen someone who’s glued to their phone? Or when travelling in a packed train carriage or on the London underground and nobody’s talking to one another?
It is sad, but unfortunately is typical in today's modern world!
It is very easy to focus on how bad phones can be for society. This is even before we look at things like working conditions along with social and economic factors.
However, we cannot overlook the list of benefits that come with smartphones:
Being able to look things up in seconds - giving us near-infinite amounts of information in our pockets
Keeping in touch with friends and family across the world (without ever paying for expensive long-distance calls)
Huge opportunities and developments in things like e-learning, safety, navigation, and everything in between.
What if we put all those considerations aside for a minute, and focus on just one area:
Mobile phones (and other mobile devices) pose a considerable risk to your overall health.
Here are the 3 key health issues your phone usage could be causing, and some tips on how to prevent them from instigating long-term damages:
#1. Text neck
On average, we spend 2-4 hours per day looking at our phones, and studies suggest many children may be spending as much as 13 hours per day on their devices. This behaviour is leading to something being referred to as ‘text neck’.
On average our head typically weighs between 10 and 12lbs, and by every inch your head is bent forwards, a huge amount of additional strain is put on your spine, muscles, and nerves.
The graphic below shows just how big a difference this can make - where tilting your head forward at 60º increases the strain to a tremendous 60lb – which is 5 to 6 times more than when your head is upright.
That’s like allowing a 6-year-old to sit on your neck for several hours a day!
Over time, this poor posture can cause irreversible damage to the spine, with the effects reaching as far as your shoulders, hips, and lower back too.
To avoid this danger, you can simply be as conscious of your posture when holding your phone or tablet, by keeping it held at eye level so you don’t need to tilt your head when looking at your phone. Using a ‘pop grip’ type case on your phone can help with this too.
#2. Blue light
Our brains are remarkable when it comes to regulating sleep and feelings of tiredness.
Known as our ‘circadian rhythm’, this natural process relies on environmental input - i.e. light and darkness - to help us sleep at nighttime and stay awake during the daytime.
Without going too deep into science, there are different wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, which are processed differently by our brains.
Our phones, tablets and computers primarily emit a wavelength of light known as ‘blue light’.
Blue light, which also occurs naturally in smaller amounts, has been shown to have the strongest effect on human circadian rhythms.
Exposure to blue light during the nighttime or before bed has been found to hugely disrupt our circadian rhythms and play mischief with our sleep patterns and our ability to fall asleep.
As a matter of fact, blue light suppresses melatonin for twice as long as green light and can shift your circadian rhythm by as much as 3 hours!
How can we avoid it?
You can buy ‘blue light blocking’ lenses or glasses which can prevent the light from reaching your eyes, but the best advice is to come off your devices at least 1 hour before going to bed.
Why not make this part of your nighttime routine, and see what difference it makes to your quality of sleep and overall energy levels?
Dopamine, also known as the ‘feel good hormone’, is a chemical messenger used in the ‘rewards centre’ of our brains and in functions like memory, motivation, and mood.
It appears that seeing a notification on our phones causes us to release small amounts of dopamine. Thus, the dopamine boost is temporary and soon fades, leading us to seek more ‘hits’ by constantly checking for notifications on our devices. This leads us to not only be seemingly distracted or obsessed with our phones, but also causing dopamine addiction, and an unbalance of hormones in our bodies.
Worse yet, many apps and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and so on, are created to hook us in with these dopamine boosts.
Although, arguably a very hard habit to break, getting a handle on this can hugely improve our mental and physical health.
It’s often a case of changing our habits - by only checking notifications at set times throughout the day, turning off notifications where we can (or limiting them with ‘do not disturb’ mode), or deleting the apps we know we’re slightly addicted to
One thing we can definitely be sure about - mobile phones are here to stay. So let’s make sure we’re not allowing them to damage our health!
The color of the light affects the circadian rhythms (2020) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/color.html (Accessed: 12 August 2023).
Screen addiction affects physical and mental health (no date) Premier Health. Available at: https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/health-topics/screen-addiction-affects-physical-and-mental-health#:~:text=Screen%20use%20releases%20dopamine%20in,negative%20impact%20of%20your%20life. (Accessed: 12 August 2023).
"Text Neck", Physiopedia. Available at: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Text_Neck (Accessed: 12 August 2023).