Results in sleep deprivation alters brain structure and affects brain function
The Screens have become an integral part of our lives. Any average 9 to 5 job will involve working with a desktop computer or laptop. And a good part of our days are now spend browsing content on smartphones or tablets. According to a study by Nielsen adults in the United States spend an average of more than 11 hours in a day using a screen. Closer to home, in 2015 a report titled ‘Global Media Intelligence’ by eMarketer, an independent market research company, found that 606 million people in the Middle East and Africa region have at least one mobile phone with the figure said to cross 789 million in 2019. The UAE comes first in the region having the highest per capita mobile phone penetration with approximately 80.6% of the population having a mobile phone.
“While technology has helped bridge the gap between countries and brought with it countless advantages, the excessive exposure to screens has resulted in several health issues,” said Dr. Arun Kumar Sharma, Specialist Neurologist at Medeor 24×7 Hospital, Dubai. “Smartphones, tablets, laptops and computers emit blue light, which contains more energy than warmer colors on the visual light spectrum.”
Seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes, with remarkable sagacity called the pineal gland as ‘the principal seat of soul.’ Light inhibits secretion of melatonin by the pineal gland whereas darkness exerts a facilitatory influence. The protracted exposure to light inhibits melatonin and another compound called ‘pinoline’. The deficiency of these neurotransmitters may lead to depression, lethargy, and neurodegeneration.
“In abundance, blue light is known to increase alertness. However, constant exposure can prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep. Our constantly wired lives result in cognitive stimulation which causes our brains to become more active which is the opposite of what should be happening before we fall asleep. Also, the constant ‘glow’ of screens passes through our retina to the hypothalamus in our brain, which controls sleep activities. These small amounts of lights activate the hypothalamus into delaying the release of the sleep causing hormone melatonin,” he continued.
As our body adjusts to sleeping late on a consistent basis, delayed sleep phrase syndrome sets in. Another alarming effect of excessive exposure to screens is the damage to the gray matter area of our brain. A research paper titled “Gray Matter Abnormalities in Internet Addiction: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study” in the European Journal of Radiology found atrophy or loss of tissue in the gray matter areas of our brain in those suffering from internet addiction.
“The studies found shrinking of the gray matter areas of our brain that are responsible for the body’s executive functions such as planning, organization and impulse control. One of the alarming findings of the study was the long-term damage to the insula area of our brain which helps people develop empathy,” said Dr. Arun. “In the long run, such damage to our brain can result in violent behavior and will also affect the quality of personal relationships.”
A study titled “Impaired Inhibitory Control in ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study” published in the Psychiatry Research Journal found that those addicted to the internet lessens efficient information processing. Another study by the Cambridge University found that children who spend two hours more than the average on screens dropped a grade in four subjects at their GCSE exams.
“These studies are further testament that excessive screen time can reduce brain function,” said the Doctor.
“While it is impossible to completely divorce ourselves from computer screens, it is important to exercise caution when using screens. If your job involves sitting in front of a computer screen, observe the 20-20-20 rule where you take a break from the screen and look at an object 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds,” Dr. Arun advised. “Thirty minutes before going to bed put aside all electronic devices and take time to unwind to ensure you get a good night’s rest. Also during our free time, we automatically reach for our phone or tablet to browse through social media or watch random videos online. Take time out to pursue brain developing activities like puzzles and quizzes instead.”
“Technology has taken over our lives and even though it has many benefits, it also has many detrimental effects on our health. We believe in raising awareness about these issues as part of our commitment towards the betterment of the health of our community,” said Dr. Mohammed Berer, Medical Director at Medeor 24×7 Hospital, Dubai.