Inspired by World Mental Health Day, RTÉ's Wellness Week has invited experts to share their top tips for developing physical and mental health. We caught up with Niamh Hannan, a Chartered Psychologist from MindWorks about the benefits of putting your devices aside.

Q.1 How can digital devices affect our everyday mood?
We are more globally connected than ever before. We are also more frustrated and anxious than ever before and, possibly, more disconnected from both real people and from nature.

We are constantly being distracted - one UK measure suggests we are checking our phones every 6.5 minutes. We have a short attention span which is leading to higher boredom and frustration rates, increase in anxiety, lower mood.

High social media use can trigger an increase in loneliness, jealousy and fear. In fact, one out of ten Americans has reported depression, with heavy internet users 2.5 times more likely to be depressed.

phone
High social media use can trigger an increase in loneliness, jealousy and fear.

Q2. How can digital devices affect our sleep?
Artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22%
– negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood.

It also may take longer to fall asleep and may disturb sleep patterns.
 
Q3. How much screen time should primary-school kids be allowed?
This is debatable because of the many different types of screen time: Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music.

  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  • Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music

Child development experts recommend limiting children’s daily screen time. This is because real-life interactions with you and others are much better for your child’s wellbeing, learning and development.

child on tablet
Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day

Dr Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University says that it's more important to limit the stretches of time children spend in front of screens rather than worry about the total amount each day.

Frequent breaks stop the brains from becoming over-stimulated and combat screen addiction. Kids need to switch off without stress.

Rosen suggests a limit of 40 minutes then an hour's break for under 10's. For older pre-teens that should be a maximum of an hour, then an hour off. For teenagers, it should be a maximum of an hour and a half.

Give kids a five-minute warning before their allotted time is up, and take away future screen time if they don't switch off. You can give bonuses for good screen behaviour but be aware that this goes against the overall message of moderation so use it sparingly.

Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day, and children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours a day. That's a tough call for teenagers, especially with homework often requiring computer time. But remember that the real danger is non-educational, leisure screen time, so you may wish to discount homework screen time.

teen on phone
Children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours screen time a day

Q4. What are your top tips for cutting down on screen time?

  1. Keep track of how much time you are currently spending, on average, on your phone, on social media, on particular apps, etc.
  2. Set yourself a reasonable daily allowance 
  3. Begin to reduce your dependancy – eg. During lunchtime; when at home with the kids; when outside – slowly eliminate technology from different parts of your day, break the habit
  4. Switch off all social media notifications. Do you really need email notifications? Could you switch off the sound and just have visual? Or perhaps make a rule that you only check every two hours?
  5. Take away temptation to reduce the struggle. Value your attention, take control.
  6. Do a spring clean! Get rid of any extra Apps.