“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live” (Jim Rohn)

This month, we are going to be zooming in to some of the ways that various forms of technology impact our relationships and daily life. This series of blogs is going to be entitled “You’re Missing Out.” We will be focusing on the holistic nature of this issue and how we can specifically identify and combat it’s negative effects in our lives and families. You can check out part one here. Today, we are talking about some ways that technology can negatively effect our physical health and some ways practical things we can do to take better care of our bodies.

The human body is amazing! It is highly resilient and able to adapt very quickly. This is good because some of us have done a lot of damage to our bodies- but the positive news is, we can still change, heal, and return to a greater level of health. There has been a lot of fascinating research done on some of the negative effects that technology can have on your body. Here are three current physical health issues to look out for, and some of the ways we can avoid and change our bad habits.

1. “Sleep Debt”

In June, the Associated Professional Sleep Societies held their 29th Annual Meeting in Seattle. Huffington post recently published an article highlighting some of the findings from research conducted by this organization as well as others like it. In children and adults alike, sleep is the most important need that we have next to eating. Our bodies depend on it for survival. Why is sleep so important? Here are some findings:

  • “A team of scientists at the University of Rochester found that during sleep the brain cleanses itself, essentially flushing out its own waste. It does this through a network of specific channels similar to a plumbing system, which fully “open up” in a state of sleep. Researchers think that this cleanup process is energy-expensive, and that’s why the brain may be waiting until bedtime to take out its own trash.”
  • “Other recent research reinforces the idea that uninterrupted nighttime rest is particularly vital for kids, because the growth hormone needed for tissue and muscle development is released primarily during sleep.”
  • “Scientists have long known that sleeping was critically important to the development of brain functions, such as learning new information and storing long-term memories.”

Scientific American Journal defines “sleep debt” and it’s effects as follows:

Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get. It’s a deficit that grows every time we skim some extra minutes off our nightly slumber. “People accumulate sleep debt surreptitiously,” says psychiatrist William C. Dement, founder of the Stanford University Sleep Clinic. Studies show that such short-term sleep deprivation leads to a foggy brain, worsened vision, impaired driving, and trouble remembering. Long-term effects include obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease. And most Americans suffer from chronic deprivation.”

We, as a society, are not prioritizing adequate sleep and being consistent about sleep routines/schedules. According to the research, sleep debt can also lead to misdiagnosis of ADHD in children, put us at higher risk for obesity, and makes us more susceptible to illness (which effects our ability to go to work, which effects our finances, which causes stress, which causes restless sleep, which makes us more susceptible to illness… and so on.)

A huge contributor to sleep debt is the use of devices and screen time before bed. Check out these three digital detox suggestions for combating a lack of sleep and getting the rest you and your family need!

Tech Free Zones: Make the bedroom a tech-free zone, especially for children. Move electronics out of your place of rest. If you use your phone for an alarm clock but lack discipline, go to the thrift store and buy a cheep old fashioned alarm clock as a substitute. The National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll (2014) found that 75% of American children have at least one electronic device in their room!

Wi-Fi-less Nights: Change the wi-fi password or shut it off completely at bedtime. Most of that screen time is spent browsing, surfing, and scrolling the internet and social media. Turn off the wi-fi and limit accessibility to the internet at bedtime.

Sleep Hygiene: The dictionary defines this term as “ habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis” (Webster). This is basically the cultivation of a pre-bedtime routine that can be done consistently to encourage more regular sleep. Things like drinking warm tea, putting your children to bed at a consistent time, taking a bath, avoiding large meals before bedtime, setting the temperature to a comfortable level, etc… can all be practices that contribute to better sleep.

2. Acne and Illness

Here is one you may not have thought of that is, frankly, pretty gross if you think about it too long. Here’s the truth- most people take their cell phones to the bathroom with them, put them in dirty pockets or purses, sweat at the gym or during a workout with them… and never even think to clean them. If I’m honest, I’m guilty of all of this too.

Dr. Ava Shamban wrote an article recently outlining some findings from “Petri dish imprints of cell phone bacterial growth done by students of U.K. molecular biology lecturer Dr. Simon Park.” Here are some additional statements from the article. *Warning- there is definitely a “yuck” factor in the following sentences:

  • “While most of what they found are not harmful, germs such as the infectious bacteria Staphylococcus aureus most definitely are.”
  • “Other bacteria and viruses- including fecal contamination (hello food poisoning!) from those who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom – thrive in the germy soup of oils, cellular debris, makeup traces and dirt that gets deposited from your face to your phone to your fingers and back again with every use.”
  • “For the acne and eczema-prone, this can mean a non-stop circle of infectious triggers.”

Basically, researchers found that our phones and devices are potentially riddled with hundreds upon thousands of bacteria and germs. The reality is that germs are all around us, but we can play a role in taking care of our own personal health, the health of our children, and contributing to disease-control in our communities by following these digital detox suggestions (from Dr. Shamban):

– “Sterilize your phone every day, and twice a day if you have an active breakout, rash, cold, flu or any other contagious condition.  Personally, I’m a fan of the Violight UV Cell Phone Sanitizer that uses ultraviolet light to kill germs in every nook and cranny.  Or, you can use touch screen wipes such as Wireless Wipes Anti-Bacterial Cell Phone Wipes.  I suggest carrying extras with you in your bag or briefcase.”

– “Go hands free whenever possible.” Challenge yourself to leave your phone in another room when you use the restroom.

– “Use hand sanitizer gel or wash your hands thoroughly every time you use the bathroom.  Remember, contaminants don’t just come from you (although they can) but from everyone else who has used the facilities before you.  If you don’t care for the gel, wipes such as Purrell Wipes work just as well as long as you are thorough on your hands, fingers and around (and under) your nails.”

3. Obesity

I recently read an article flashing this headline: Obesity In America Comes From Inactivity, Not Too Many Calories: How Technology Has Led To Widening Waistlines.” Author Sabrina Bachai writes: “A new study [from the American Journal of Medicine (AMJ)] recently found that the obesity rate in America has nothing to do with the amount of calories that we consume, but rather the lack of exercise that many people are now getting. While this might be true, an even bigger adversary of the American diet is technology.

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers from Stanford University found that “from 1994 to 2010, the number of physically inactive American women grew from 19.1 to 51.7 percent. As for the men, their numbers went from 11.4 percent in 1994 to 43.5 percent in 2010.”

This is staggering research, and although this study concluded in 2010, even more current statistics demonstrate that the inactivity and choice to engage in the excessive use of technology trend that contributes to obesity in 27 countries around the world, America included, has continued to rise. We have become a nation that is simply too distracted to exercise, go on a walk, or take the time to cook a healthy meal. More frightening is the fact that too much screen time for kids may add to unhealthy habits that could potentially last a lifetime. Here are some digital detox suggestions for this issue:

Make a plan: Before we know it, a week can pass by without any scheduled time for play, recreation, dates, or quality time (away from media). We must be intentional with our calendars to set aside time for these things! Begin by committing to just 20 minutes per day.

Create a menu: Technology is awesome for ordering delivery/take out, but the truth is that it can make us super lazy if we abuse this privilege. Learn to cook! Even if it’s simple meals. Then, try to create a quick menu every week to keep you committed to eating healthy and not giving into the temptation of regular delivery from restaurants. This will help save you money and will contribute positively to you and your family’s health!

Make family exercise a habit: The family that plays together stays together. The family that consistently lays around lazily together immersed in their “tech of choice” becomes obese, lethargic, and complacent. Do something as a couple or family to exercise regularly! Go on a walk, jog, swim, throw the football, do crunches, hike, bike, play laser tag, go climbing, etc… there are ENDLESS possibilities, especially in the state of CO to stay fit, healthy, and active. Your body and family depend on it.

We all need to take steps towards “digital detox” and develop healthy behaviors to combat the negative effects that technology can have on our bodies. “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live” (Jim Rohn)