Screen Time Fatigue: Why It’s Real, and How to Cope

By Vivian Li, Staff Writer, May 2020

It is now unavoidable to experience an increase in screen time, as classes, entertainment, and connecting with friends can only occur through screens.

In a survey of 68 responses from the Nobles community, 27.7% reported that they spent 5-7 hours on their phones every day, while 21.5% reported that they spent over 7 hours on their phones each day. 94% reported that they had an overall increase in screen time during quarantine.

“I’ve been on my computer and phone a lot more...because I have so much more time on hand, and not many other things to do,” Jordyn Julien (Class VI) said. Fellow middle schooler Hunter Patterson (Class V) said that his screen time has increased in the absence of the “phone jail,” where middle schoolers typically leave their phones during school.

The noticeable increase in screen time has caused “Zoom fatigue” among many students. Catie Asnis (Class II) said that, through attending classes and connecting with friends, “there are days when I’m on my computer all nighttime, I feel really worn out.”

Credit: nadia_snopek/Adobe Stock

Research has shown that virtual interactions are tiring. They require people to work harder to understand non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language, so we become mentally taxed. In addition, people feel more self-conscious due to the feeling of constantly being on camera, and they often spend more energy controlling their behavior (BBC).

Some of this fatigue is offset by the fact that there is more time for sleep during quarantine. Katherine Jennings (Class IV) said that she has been getting more sleep due to shorter class days. “Before, I thought that feeling tired and rundown was normal…but now I feel very well-rested throughout each day,” she said.

However, while some students may be getting more hours of sleep, many are still going to bed later and simply making up for it by getting up later. Over 70% of survey respondents said that they had been doing this as a result of spending more time on screens during quarantine. Sammy Guerrero (Class I) explained the science behind this phenomenon, saying that the use of screens and blue-light interferes with our natural circadian rhythms. “When you use blue-light, you’re telling your body that it’s still daytime, so your body doesn’t want to go to sleep,” he said.

This is problematic, as Guerrero explained that “we have an internal clock that’s about 24 hours and 15 minutes long...we’re supposed to be awake when the sun is up...we’re not nocturnal creatures.” To counteract this shift in sleep schedule, Guerrero suggested trying to go to sleep a little earlier each night. “If you usually go to sleep at 3 am, but tonight you go to sleep at midnight, your internal clock will slowly move back an hour a night on average, so in about a week, you will be on the right track.”

Another strategy for combating the negative effects of screen time is wearing blue-light glasses, which has become extremely popular during quarantine. Mary Connors (Class III) was getting more headaches before going to sleep, as she was born with an eye condition that makes her eyes naturally sensitive to light, and staring at screens was particularly strenuous for her. But, she started wearing blue light glasses and said, “I find that my headaches go down.” Jennings struggled with headaches due to post-concussion syndrome, and she also reported that “wearing blue-light glasses makes my headaches much more bearable.”

Some students have found ways to limit their screen time altogether by keeping their phones physically distant from them. Patterson said, “If I can see my phone, it distracts I either leave it outside my room or behind my computer during classes.”

Others are literally scheduling non-screen time hours into each day. Asnis said, “I set aside at least an hour a day for exercise, an hour a day for family time.” During that time, she does activities like playing driveway tennis with her brother (see: the article “Quarantined Humans of Nobles: Installment 2” from last Wednesday), family board games, and sewing masks with her dad.

Many are combining the goals of healthy sleep and limited screen time by avoiding screens before bedtime. Asnis said, “An hour before I go to bed, I try to do something non-screen related, so I’m not going to bed right off of my laptop and phone.”

Going outside is another widely used strategy for limiting screen time. Patterson said, “I’ve started taking a lot of walks after class’s nice to get outside and be away from technology for a bit.” Similarly, Jennings said, “I’ve been taking my dog for a lot of walks, and I’ve been taking bike rides without my phone.”

Connors has been finding ways to stay connected with friends beyond virtual interactions while maintaining social distancing rules: “My friends and I will drive to each other’s houses to practice [before] getting our licenses and wave to each other through the windows or the driveways, obviously being six feet apart...We’re [also] planning on walking a marathon this weekend as a nice way to get active but still staying six feet apart.”

As the school year comes to a close, focus on limiting screen time as much as possible and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Take advantage of the free time opened up by classes and consider non-screen time related activities to fill up the time. As made clear by this pandemic, preserving one’s health is paramount.


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