Confession: the other day, I was at Target grabbing a few things, and happened to leave my phone in the car. My plan was to be in and out of the store in 15-20 minutes because I had somewhere else I needed to get to. Five minutes into my trip, I found myself reaching in my pocket for my phone – for no good reason other than to likely scroll through something or check for a text message or Snapchat. I was EMBARASSED! I wondered how many times would I have done that absentmindedly had I not caught myself doing it. So it got me thinking – how do I detach from my cell phone? Don’t get me wrong, cell phones bring a ton of value… we have the world at our fingertips! But setting limits and boundaries is key, and according to experts, vital to our wellbeing, both cognitively and emotionally.

The Research

Research done by Dr. Dan Kaufer, MD, UNC Health neurologist, found that the use of smartphones impairs cognition in humans. In simple terms, this means that our ability to absorb and use the knowledge received through thought, experiences, and senses is thwarted by the consistent use of smartphones. He says that with information available at the tip of our fingers, we are less likely to connect the dots and use cognition to remember information. By relying on screens for information, we reduce information processing in our brains that conventional methods of learning rely on. Note that he says this logic applies not only to smartphones, but to TV screens and computers as well.

The impact doesn’t stop at cognitive function; it also has ripple effects on social and emotional health in people, from reduced patience to difficulty with interpersonal relationships.

“If you give people the ability to store information remotely, outside of their brain, they become more dependent on that, which actually can have a negative effect on people’s memory,” Dr. Kaufer said. “Because they become too dependent on that external aid, they lose that skill of being able to remember things as freshly as they could, absent that external aid.” – Dr. Kaufer

Limiting Screen Time

Although the research can be overwhelming, there are small ways that we can reduce our dependency on our smartphones and devices by making little changes. One change to make is using the time limit feature on apps; this feature allows you to set a time limit for yourself on any app – once the time is up, it grays out the app until you manually adjust the time again for that app. This is an effective way to monitor the time spent on apps that you may not even realize you are doing. Another way to limit screen time is to keep smartphones or computers at a distance during times of the day when they could be a distraction. This could be during meal time, during workouts, during homework or work time, and even chores. By putting your device on a charger or in a different room forces you to focus on the task at hand and not get distracted by aimless screen time.

With all of this in mind, it is widely understood that smartphones and devices are incredibly useful, and when used in a limited capacity, provide entertainment and instant access to useful information.

The Challenge

Starting today (the day you read this!), set your phone in a different room for thirty minutes a day. Make a point to do something productive without your phone near you for those thirty minutes – it could be walking your dog, doing chores, working, studying, cleaning, reading, or just spending time with others. It’s tough – our team is trying this challenge now and has said the first few days are the hardest!

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