Why Regular Digital Detoxes May Save Your Life

After reading endless studies about how our screen addictions are hurting us, millennial Kate Unsworth founded Vinaya, an organization comprising neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers who conduct experiments to determine exactly how we’re being transformed by modern technology. (The company also makes jewelry that allows you to put your smartphone aside, alerting you only in urgent situations. Pretty cool, right?) Last year, Kate took 35 CEOs and entrepreneurs to the Moroccan desert and made them leave their technology behind. Among them were five undercover neuroscientists who observed their behaviors and found that after just a few days, they had better posture, deeper connections, improved memory, better and longer conversations, more efficient sleep and life-changing revelations about their lives. While we can’t all unplug so completely on a regular basis, we’ve compiled some research of our own to help convince you to put down your phone, turn off your computer and just be for some period of time each week—the mental, physical and social benefits of a digital detox are undeniable.

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How Your Biggest Addiction May Be Hurting Your Health

According to James Levine, MD, author of Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, "When you stop moving for extended periods of time, it's like telling your body it's time to shut down and prepare for death." Yikes. This leads to a lot of negative health effects, all of which you can see in great detail here. Highlights include the fact that sitting has been linked to breast and colon cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, swayback, "mushy abs," soft bones and decreased cognitive function.

Tip: If you drink a glass of water every 60 minutes, you should have to get up to walk to the restroom frequently. This habit will kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. We also suggest using the bulk of your lunch hour for a walk, and if you scarf lunch at your desk without taking a break, stop doing so immediately. For those of you who think this simple change sounds like an impossible feat, here are some ways you can work out at work without anyone noticing.

Despite social media purportedly connecting us more than ever, research by the American Psychology Association found that Internet use can be associated with reduced family communication, social-circle declines and increases in depression and loneliness. Multiple studies have shown that frequent social media use increases unhealthy feelings of inadequacy and envy. (This editor quit social media for months for precisely that reason and felt infinitely better as a result.)

Tips: Check in with yourself. If looking at social media is making you uneasy, respect that and unfollow whoever needs to be unfollowed. Initiate a no-phones rule at dinner—unless you're on call for your job or have a baby (that isn't with you), there's no one trying to reach you that can't wait at least one hour, right? Decide to call one person each week with whom you normally text, and note how different the connection is when you can actually hear his or her voice. Finally, try to ban your phone and social apps for at least some period of time each week. Sit through the discomfort—if you couldn't bear to be without a glass of wine for one hour each week, that would signify something problematic, right? Think of your phone the same way, and try practicing restraint.

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Think, Read and Remember, says the Internet is turning us into "scattered and superficial thinkers." He claims the structure of information and the multitasking it encourages (how many tabs do you have open right now?) are ruining our ability to focus, causing a deterioration in the "richness of our thoughts" as well as our memories and even personalities. You can read about his findings in depth and read the widely circulated Atlantic article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" here.

Tips: Of course, there are two sides to every story, and in many ways technology can enable education and grow intelligence. Check out Time Magazine's guide to which aspects of the digital world are helping you and which are hindering you here. (One study found that "those who divided their attention between e-mail and other tasks experienced a 10-point decline in IQ." Yikes!)

According to the Vision Council, 65% of us suffer from what's known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. Just two hours in front of a screen can cause problems, and most of us are spending quadruple that amount of time daily. Symptoms include dryness, itchiness and a "fuzzy feeling" that causes you to rub your eyes. Some research also shows the absorption of blue light over time can lead to cataracts and more serious eye issues.

Tips: You may not be able to avoid staring at a screen at work, but you do have control over what you do in your off-hours. Try limiting yourself at night and on the weekends. While at work, remember to blink frequently, adjust the text size and brightness of your screen to avoid squinting, and try staring at something at a distance for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.

Research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 9 out of 10 adults used screens in the hour before bed. Of those studied, those who interacted with the screens (iPhone, computer) were more disturbed in their sleep patterns than those who passively watched them (TV). However, it's also been found that TV raises your heart rate, making it harder to nod off. According to Sleep.org, the blue light emitted from phone, computer and TV screens restricts the production of melatonin.

Tips: Apple's newest iOS includes Night Shift, which automatically dims the blue light on your iPhone and iPad. You can enable it to do the same on your MacBook using f.lux, and on your TV using the Drift box. If you truly suffer from sleep disturbances, however, we suggest you ban all electronics from the bedroom and invest in an old-school alarm clock. This change will transform your health and, possibly, save your life, as sleep deprivation has been linked to diabetes, depression, heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancers.