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Is it time to switch off your phone?


I don’t know about you but my phone is always in my hand. Or in my pocket. Or on my bedside table right next to where I’m sleeping. I don’t think it’s ever more than a few metres away from me at any given time.

But I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about this and about how healthy these habits are.

I definitely don’t think that having a smartphone is a bad thing. Without mine I wouldn’t be able to keep up with friends and family around the world, listen to podcasts when I’m on a long train journey, or even just keep up with what’s happening in the world. But, I do think that sometimes our relationships with our phones can become unhealthy.

Have you ever been in a room of people where everyone is staring at their screen, rather than interacting with the people sitting right next to them? How many meals with friends are accompanied by the presence of iPhones on the table next to your cutlery? When did you last have a conversation with a friend that wasn’t interrupted by the pinging of a WhatsApp, Snapchat or Facebook message?

My guess is that we’ve all experienced these things – and are even guilty of doing some of them ourselves.

In 2015, research found that 92% of teenagers went online daily – and nearly a quarter of them were almost constantly online (http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/). But, psychologists say that our brains were never designed to be always on and permanently connected in this way (https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/what-happens-your-brain-when-youre-always-online). And, if we’re not careful, there could be very serious side effects to using our smartphones so much.

Researchers found that even just having your phone nearby can be distracting ( https://www.blog.theteamw.com/2016/11/15/any-cell-phone-in-the-room-messes-with-rapport-what-you-need-to-know-about-people-120/). They say that it represents all these other possible conversations that we could be having, rather than the one right in front of us. And it’s not just when we’re awake that it’s a problem – a survey of teenagers last year found that almost half of them wake up to check their phones at least once a night and 10% admitted to waking up at least 10 times to check their phone when they should be sleeping (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37562259).

Not only is it worrying that we can’t go for eight hours without checking our phones, it’s also really bad for our bodies to be checking phones and devices in the middle of the night. The light that comes from the screens confuses our brains into thinking it’s morning and that we should be waking up – making it harder and harder to get back to sleep.

So, with this all in mind, I’ve got a couple of challenges for you.

  1. Stop multi-tasking. I know we think that we’re capable of juggling multiple tasks and doing a million things at once but scientists say that’s just not true. Actually, multi-tasking is more about task switching – and it can take up to 10 minutes to get back on task each time you switch, meaning that really you’re just taking more time to do lots of things less effectively. So if you’re supposed to be studying, log out of Facebook, leave your phone in another room so you’re not tempted by Snapchat and get to work.
  2. Have a phone-free dinner. Next time you’re going out for dinner (or lunch, or even just coffee) with your friends, leave your phone in your bag. Spend your time focusing on and chatting with the people in front of you, instead of being distracted by other conversations.
  3. Introduce a device curfew. Stop looking at screens half an hour before you go to bed. This will help your body to understand that it’s bedtime, meaning you should get to sleep quicker. And don’t check your phone overnight – not even to see what the time is (those notifications will just be too tempting, even at 3am), instead invest in a bedside clock that will let you know when there’s still time to sleep or if it’s time to get up.

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