Health and Wellness

Why you should be reducing screen time and 3 simple ways to do it

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Worried that you're spending too much time on your phone? You're not alone.

In 2019, teens and young adults in the U.S. were found to clock up to a minimum of 7.5 hours of screen time a day on average, excluding time spent on digital devices in school-related activities and homework, according to a one study.

The same survey also found that teens spent the most screen time on videos, followed by gaming and social media.

Excessive screen time has been found to increase the risk of diseases like obesity, diabetes and sleep problems. Research has also shown that the overuse of devices and social media can be linked to an increase in loneliness as well as depression in teens. 

Clinical psychologist Dr. Nicole Beurkens told CNBC's Make It about the various health issues triggered by excessive screen time.

Impact on teens

With more time spent on devices, there is less time for physical activities. Prolonged screen time could also lead to worse eyesight, higher levels of anxiety and stress as well as issues with attention and focus, she said in a phone interview with CNBC. 

As relationships are important to teens, they can get more concerned about interacting with people online instead of in real life. This could be "isolating" with increasing amounts of time spent online, Dr. Beurkens said.

Indeed, a study released in 2018 — authored by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge and University of Georgia psychology professor W. Keith Campbell — found that teens who clock in more than one hour of screen time a day, are more likely to develop mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. These could have serious implications for teens, who are still in their developmental and formative years.

Impact on young adults

Prolonged screen time could also have adverse effects for young adults and working professionals. Apart from facing similar health issues, like poor sleep quality and physical health, working adults may also see a decline in productivity at work.

According to Dr. Beurkens, research has shown that prolonged screen time for working adults can affect their mental health in two ways — reduced productivity at work due to device usage, and in turn, stress created by a lack of productivity.

Here are 3 tips that can help teens and young adults manage their screen time, and foster digital well-being.

1. Track screen time

Monitoring how much screen time is clocked and what it's being spent on could be helpful as many people tend to underestimate the amount of time they spend on electronic devices.

This can be done by using in-built screen time functions in smartphones, said Dr. Beurkens. She added that that there are also dedicated apps that "block use of social media or certain sites for designated periods of time, or apps that track time and disable features once the time limit is up."

For instance, Forest is an app that rewards users for managing screen time through virtual trees planted with time spent away from the phone. In-game credits are earned with each tree planted, which can then be used to plant real trees, appealing to the environmental side of the user.           

Moment is another example of such dedicated productivity apps.

2. Switch off notifications

According to Dr. Beurkens, a "simple but important" way is to turn off notifications — because it's hard to focus when your phone is constantly buzzing with notifications from messages, or social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

"Many teens and adults find that turning off all, or almost all, notifications is helpful. At a minimum, notifications from social media apps should be disabled, or anything that is going to distract attention away from other things on a regular basis throughout the day," Dr. Beurkens said in an email to CNBC.

Looking at your phone when you are ready and finished with other activities also ensures you are not constantly distracted, she added. 

3. Create phone-free spaces

A phone-free space could be intentionally set up by designating activities and times where devices are not used. This could simply mean putting devices away while at work, during conversations and activities with friends, and not bringing them along for meals.

When it's time to sleep, it's best not to bring your phone to bed. If you must, set it to airplane or do-not-disturb mode.

"This helps create balance during the day and ensures that device use isn't taking away from important interactions and life activities," she said in an email.

While habits generally take a week to a month to form, Dr. Beurkens notes that once teens make these changes, it takes days to a week for them to see improvements. These improvements can motivate them to continue at it. Generally, it doesn't take a long time for health and wellness to increase after changes are made, she said.

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