Friday, August 11, 2017

Is Screen Time Impacting your Health?

by Dr. Leena Athparia, ND


The use of cell phones, tablets, computers and other electronic devices has multiplied dramatically over the last decade at work, school and at home. We are witnessing the first generation of children that are growing up with continuous screen exposure in their environment. While there are numerous benefits and conveniences of technology, we are beginning to realize the long term health implications of screen exposure. This is an area that is often overlooked and is best addressed in early years to set healthy patterns later in life.

The prolonged use of cell phones in younger children is raising concerns on many fronts including the impact of electromagnetic radiation, sleep, posture and other problems. 

Behaviour issues, ADHDimpulsiveness and temper tantrums have all been linked to increased technology use and frustrated parents often resort to prescribed medications to help control the behaviour problems, leading to other side effects. The effects of electromagnetic radiation is largely underplayed but can have significant impact on health. Especially in children where the brain, skull and nervous system system are still developing and hence they are more vulnerable to radiation. 

We are just beginning to understand the effects of radiation on mucous membranes leading to gut permeability and digestive issues.  While the effects of radiation may not be instantly noticeable, there are long term effects which may include digestive issues, mood changes, behavioural issues and more. Other concerns of technology use include neck & shoulder tension, leading to headaches and more serious concerns in children & adults alike. Eye strain and vision issues are directly related to the amount of screen exposure and radiation from electronics is raising concern. 

If your child is struggling with insomnia, restlessness, headaches, eye-strain, neck pain, digestive issues, low self-esteem or experiencing mood changes, speak to your naturopathic doctor to assess if digital technology is impacting their health, and what can be done to reduce the negative long-term impact.

How Screen Time Impacts Health:

1. Cognitive function:

Despite claims that say that computer games will make your child smarter, the reality is that they only develop certain aspects of brain function, and it may not be well-rounded learning.
  • Children who spend more time in front of a screen may develop increased restlessness, impulsiveness and decreased attention span. 
  • The ability to focus, pay attention to others and communicate with them with verbal & non-verbal cues can be reduced when replaced with too much time in front of a tablet or cell phone screen.
  • Developmental concerns such as ADHD are on the rise, and naturopathic medicine can help support your child's nervous system and brain development through supplements such as fish oils, nervine herbs and a whole food diet. Especially in the first few years of life, a child's brain is sensitive and develops rapidly. They need a supportive environment to grow in a healthy manner.

2. Sleep:

It is a known fact that the light emitted from electronic devices affect the brain. When it is dark outside at night, the body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep. In the presence of blue light emitted from electronic screens, the body's production of melatonin declines making it more difficult to fall asleep and have a deep, restful sleep. 

  • If you (or your child) is having difficulty sleeping, ensure there is no screen time at least 1 hour before bedtime. Speak to your ND on options to filter blue light on your screens and other natural supports for a restful sleep.
  • Children should not speak on cell phones directly as the radiation easily passes through to the brain and they should never sleep with cell phones or other electronics next to them due to the constant radiation that they emit. 
  • Ensure all gadgets are turned off at night such as wifi, cell phones and computers. Aim to keep all electronics that can't be turned off at least 3' away from you or your child.

3. Posture:

Most people struggle with healthy posture. In addition, when you are sedentary at a desk or fixated on a screen, your attention generally goes to what is happening "there" vs. "here" in your body. 
  • As an experiment, stand in public transit or in a public place and just notice how many people are looking at a screen and observe their posture. Chances are that you are in ta similar forward-bending posture during screen time, causing neck strain, raised shoulders and caved-in chest. When this posture is constantly repeated, your muscles begin to adjust to that posture. This results in chronic neck/shoulder pain, headaches, tendonitis and more. If left ignored for a long time, it can take longer to treat. 
  • Regular breaks and stretching can help reduce tension and bring awareness back to your body. There are various tools to help you with this as well as other naturopathic therapies to help release neck stiffness such as acupuncture, cupping and massage.

4. Eye-strain:

More children are needing prescription glasses due to short-sightedness than 50 years ago, and struggling from headaches due to eye strain. 

  • When you look at any screen for long periods of time without a break, the eye muscles naturally begin to adjust permanently to focus on nearer objects, while diminishing the ability to see in the distance. You may naturally blink less often if you are engaged in what you are watching. 
  • When using any electronic device, ensure you take breaks frequently to look into the distance and rest your eyes. There are many naturopathic treatments for eye strain, and your ND can guide you on eye exercises & treatments to strengthen the eyes.

5. Mood & Behaviour

Unfortunately, many young adults and children are struggling with anxiety, low mood and low self-esteem. Oftentimes, there is a clear link to excess technology use and mood. 

  • Children who spend more time on the computer, replacing live play time with other children and adults may have slower development with social skills and empathy. They may become more irritable and agitated and develop low self-confidence. 
  • Observe your child's behaviour and ensure valuable play time is not replaced with tv or computer for long periods of time. 
  • Parents needs to set rules for balanced screen time use so that children understand they can enjoy digital technology within a limit. To help you understand healthy technology use, below are guidelines by the Canadian Pediatric Society.

Guidelines by Canadian Pediatric Society on Screen Time:
  • Screen time for children under 2 years old is not recommended.
  • For children 2 to 5 years, limit routine or regular screen time to under 1 hour per day.
  • Ensure that sedentary screen time is not a routine part of child care for children younger than 5 years old.
  • Maintain daily ‘screen-free’ times, especially for family meals and book-sharing.
  • Avoid screens for at least one hour before bedtime, given the potential for melatonin-suppressing effects.
Adults should model healthy screen use:
  • Choose healthy alternatives, such as reading, outdoor play and creative, hands-on activities.
  • Turn off their devices at home during family time.
  • Turn off screens when not in use and avoid background TV.
Reference: Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world:
http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/screen-time-and-young-children


What Can you Do to Reduce Negative Effects of Screen Time?

As children and young adults return back to school, you need to help them understand reasonable limits for screen time. Parents can set a positive example of screen time, by taking breaks from electronic for mealtimes or family time to promote bonding. Based on age, you can set a limit of screen time for children per day so that everyone understands that these tools can be used, but within a certain limit. Avoid using cell phones as toys for infants & toddlers and use the speakerphone under supervision if it is necessary to speak with family members on the cell phone.

Encourage activities outdoors and physical activity where children and adults can interact and socialize. Plan breaks at the computer desk to stretch, look into the distance, and set time aside in the evenings away from screens during family time. 


Your naturopathic doctor can help assess postural issues caused by prolonged screen time and give you tools to help reverse postural misalignment. In the clinic, we have various tools for healthy posture and can customize treatments for muscle and joint discomfort using acupuncture, cupping, laser and massage. Herbs, homeopathics, nutraceuticals, along with dietary and lifestyle changes can help strengthen you from the inside out. Your ND can also help you prevent neck tension, headaches, eye strain, support mood and promote healthy brain development. Understanding how to enjoy technology while minimizing associated health effects can help you and your child enjoy a healthy transition back to school. Further reading:
http://www.naturopathicfoundations.ca/files/9814/3578/2038/Vital_Link_IRL_Summer2015.pdf

Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor with a special interest in muscle, joint pain-related issues and has additional training in Ayurvedic treatments, acupuncture & cupping therapy. Please contact Naturopathic Foundations at 905-940-2727 or email lathparia@naturopathicfoundations.ca to book an appointment with Dr. Leena Athparia ND.


If you would like to hear her speak more on this topic, she will be speaking at the Ayurvedic Conference in Toronto at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine Oct 21-22, 2017.