Our widespread adoption of technology may have fooled us into thinking we are tech-savvy. The truth is, most of us are so dependent on our smart devices that it is costing us our health and productivity.

For most of us, technology has become a prerequisite for our daily lives to run smoothly, and nothing has shed quite as much light on the utility, indeed the necessity, of technology as the current COVID-19 outbreak.

The power of technology

As every facet of life has had to adjust radically to a new normal of lockdowns and isolation, parts of the economy and society that are able to remain operational have communication technology to thank for their ability to survive this enormous disruption.

Computers and smart devices with their array of apps designed to allow conference calls, messaging and high-speed data sharing have empowered companies big and small to transform their mode of communication, execute operations, survive and even thrive.

They have given those of us fortunate enough to remain employed the luxury of working from home and staying in touch with our families and loved ones even if we may be physically separated from them.

As much as our lives have been affected in 2020, if this pandemic had struck even a decade ago, the world would not have coped nearly as well. Countless companies would have disappeared overnight and those of us in isolation would have felt even more alone. But during the COVID-19 crisis, as we become savvier with the available technologies, we are learning to adapt and are staying digitally connected for longer periods of time. Such is the power of technology.

With that said, let’s ask ourselves this: Are we truly making the best use of these technologies or of our time? Unfortunately, for many of us, the answer is, no. Why? Our device dependency may be to blame.

Savviness vs Dependence

It feels like we use our smart devices for everything doesn’t it?

We use them to document life’s most precious memories, get access to information instantly, keep track of our fitness journey, order food, clothes and everything in between. Each aspect of our lives fits nicely into the tiny app boxes in our phones and tablets, so much so that these pieces of technology start feeling like extensions of our bodies!

Being device dependent is exactly this; it is characterised by being over-reliant on your digital devices, to the point of feeling like you are unable to function without them.

That sense of dread that fills you when you realise you have left your house without your phone? That feeling of panic when the ‘battery level low’ notification pops up on your phone and there’s no charger in sight? These are all examples of being device dependent.

The dark implications of device dependency

Device dependency can cost us our health. Research shows that excessive dependency on digital devices, particularly smartphones, can lead to internet addiction and increases the risk of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Beyond the toll device dependency can take on our mental health, it can also negatively impact our physical health. Long periods of smart device use on a daily basis can lead to muscular pains and strains which include, rounded shoulders, tenderness, stiffness, soreness and weakness in the neck, back and shoulder muscles, as well as reduced neck mobility, among others.

And naturally, in the long run, as our bodies and minds fall short of performing at their best, our productivity at work suffers. Ultimately, the technology that was created as a tool of empowerment for all of us, handicaps us by impeding on our health and efficiency as a result of the unhealthy relationship we form with it.

Tech-savviness on the other hand, is all about empowerment.

Being tech-savvy entails harnessing the power of technology to elevate our processes. That means effectively adopting technology to add value to every aspect of our lives – communicating, creating, learning, sharing and working.

And when it comes to productivity in the workplace, it pays to be savvy. Savviness breeds efficiency and in this day and age, efficiency is the name of the game – whoever can put out their best work in the least amount of time has the competitive advantage and will thrive. The key to being efficient is having a healthy relationship with technology. This means:

i. Cultivating a love for technology

ii. Investing in learning how you can best capitalise on the opportunities technology can create for you

iii. Creating well-defined boundaries with technology that ensure that you do not cross over into dependency. This entails adhering to the device-use guidelines which include: taking breaks between periods of device use (15-minute break after 2 hours of device use), adequate face-to-screen distance, i.e. at least 60cm between the face and computer screens and 30cm when using smart devices, a screen location of 15 – 20 degrees below eye level.

Beyond that, especially during this period of nation-wide lockdowns, avoiding developing a sedentary lifestyle while working from home is a must. Stand (or dance) while working, do push-ups in between periods of long hours behind the computer screen – whatever you can do to stay active.

Evolving from being dependent to being savvy

It is only when we are able to control our use of technology that we are able to unlock its benefits and maximise our potential. For many of us, the first step to this process is recognising that our widespread adoption of technology does not necessarily mean we are savvy; it just means we are over-reliant!

And until we are able to shift our perspective and take the appropriate steps to develop a well-balanced relationship with technology, it will continue to make tools of us.

These days, back to school means Home-based-learning (HBL). For parents, part of conquering this new territory should also entail effectively managing children’s screen time.

Last Wednesday, the Singapore Government kickstarted a month-long Home-Based-Learning (HBL) exercise as part of its measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Like Singapore, nations worldwide have implemented new HBL measures, using technology as the primary tool to facilitate the successful transition.

Conquering new territory

The move to HBL signifies a whole new lifestyle change for children and parents and can be quite challenging. A big part of conquering this new territory is getting familiar with information and communication technology.

And it doesn’t just end there.

Parents also have to help their children manage multiple online classes a day, set up a daily routine which allows them to stick to their online lesson plans without any distractions, and know how to balance it all without compromising their mental and physical health.

Technology is helping everyone remain productive during their stay home notice, with our digital devices acting as an almost perfect proxy for our regular lifestyles; almost being the operative word.

The migration of our working and schooling lives to the online world, coupled with using screens for everything from entertainment to communication is naturally contributing to an increase in screen time for adults and children alike.

In fact, a subgroup analysis of the plano Time Machine’s cohort of youths, adults and children shows that for these age groups, average daily screen time has increased by an hour!

What does this mean for our children?

Think about your children’s daily routine these days. Are they spending hours on end taking up a permanent spot on the couch, mobile devices in hand? If their day looks like this, their mental and physical health may be significantly affected in the long run.

A four-year study by the University of Hong Kong found that children who spend more than 2 hours a day on screens have a higher chance of developing behavioural issues and being overweight. Beyond that, excessive screen time is linked to musculoskeletal disorders and significant eye health problems like myopia and digital eye strain.

As such, it is imperative that we manage our children’s screen time, and to do it now, especially in light of the current stay-home measures.

Overcoming the challenges 

What can you do to help your child develop a well-balanced HBL routine? 

1. Create a routine that is holistic

A holistic HBL routine entails allocating time slots for your children to get up and move and engage in physical activity, art, and music sessions.

If your children’s teachers have already created lesson plans that include these sessions, ensure that they stick to them. If these screen-free subjects do not require your children to submit any assignments or be quizzed, it is especially important that you take the lead and encourage your children to complete these sessions each day.

2. Remember that HBL doesn’t just mean e-learning 

HBL includes both e-learning and offline learning. According to the Ministry Of Education’s (Singapore) Parent Kit, HBL can also include hard copy assignments (worksheets or textbooks) and E-mail messages (notes or worksheets through e-mail).

Hence, it is not necessary for your children to spend an entire day on their computers.

When they do have do their e-learning, ensure that they follow these eye health guidelines:

  1. Adequate face-to-screen distance, i.e. at least 60cm between the face and computer screens and 30cm when using smart devices.
  2. Take at least a 15-minute break after 2 hours of device use
  3. a screen location of 15 – 20 degrees below eye level 

3. Keep it simple 

Do not be too hard on yourself or your children if they are unable to stick to their HBL routine. If your children find their days too packed with lessons, it would be worthwhile for you to take a second look at their workload to make it more manageable.

Each child is different, so take this opportunity to learn how your children work and tailor their routine to their needs.

Setting up a holistic learning and play environment is key

By now, your children’s initial excitement at the prospect of staying home would have died down. As they look for more ways to entertain themselves, you may be struggling with finding device-free ways to occupy their time, especially if you are stuck indoors.

For many parents, streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus have become attractive ‘digital pacifiers.’ As such, our children continue to rack up hours upon hours of screen time each day, greatly impacting their health in the long run.

In order to effectively avoid such a scenario from unfolding, it is up to you to set up a holistic, engaging learning and play environment at home. It should empower them to maintain a balanced and safe relationship with their devices.

Take advantage of this time period; your little one’s HBL this month may turn out to be just the opportunity you needed to set them up for a lifetime of healthy eye care and device use habits!

Work looks a little different these days. Navigating your new remote life is not without its challenges. How do you make work-from-home work for you?

The new normal: You no longer have to put up with long, dreary commutes. You do not have to stay cooped up, working behind your designated desk in your stuffy office building all day. Work meetings are much more efficient and comfortable. Lunch consists of delicious home-cooked food (which no one can steal) and you now have the freedom to show up to work in whatever outfit you please.

On paper, working-from-home is fantastic. Yet, why do so many of us feel overwhelmed by the transition?

Not without its challenges

Granted, the perks of working-from-home are vast – but as with most things in life, if you are not adequately prepared to adapt to the changes, you may find yourself sinking beneath the weight of the downsides, real or perceived.

Identifying the major challenges that you may encounter and the steps you should take to overcome them can make all the difference in reducng your stress and anxiety levels.

What are some of these challenges?

1.Overworking

One might think that the lack of managerial oversight coupled with the seemingly inherent nature of human beings to be lazy would spell disaster when it comes to productivity. However, this could not be further from the truth.

In fact, as your personal and professional worlds collide, it might be harder than ever to untangle yourself from work obligations even after you have put in the hours for the day. And in the long run, not knowing when to stop and switch off work-mode can take a toll on you, mentally and physically. A sedentary lifestyle which comprises working for long stretches on your digital devices increases the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, eye strain and mental health issues, amongst other adverse health outcomes.

The solution? Get moving. Pencil in regular workout sessions daily – dedicate a space in your home for this if you can. A good exercise or yoga session is often just what the overworked mind needs to reset and recharge. If you can still get outdoors to go for a run or a brisk walk, your body and mind will benefit greatly from doing so. Just be sure to respect the social distancing guidelines established by your government. Consider doing this at times in which there might be fewer other people out and about.

Beyond this, draw a hard line between your personal and work life. During work hours, remember to take regular eye breaks; a 15-minute break every 2 hours of device use is recommended to protect yourself from digital eye strain.

Stick to your lunch-hour routine and eat healthy meals to fuel your body and mind for the rest of the day. And after the workday has ended, resist the pull of responding to work emails, messages and calls; make it a habit to turn off all your work gadgets – your computer, tablets, work notifications etc. I find the physical act of ‘switching off’ extremely effective in helping my transition to rest-mode.

2. Loneliness

We are inherently social creatures. Until recently, you might not have realised just how much of your daily socialisation is with your colleagues. During these long periods of isolation, the absence of watercooler moments, coffee breaks and office banter can naturally make you feel lonely.

What can you do to prevent developing cabin fever cooped up in your home?

Remote working does not mean you have to be iced out of your daily interactions with your colleagues. Beyond the daily Zoom or Skype meetings you may have, do not hesitate to have virtual meet ups with your colleagues for your daily communication about work or to even have ‘social breaks’ together.

Thanks to technology, the aforementioned watercooler moments, coffee breaks and office banter can still happen without interruptions – just virtually! But just remember that these virtual chats may contribute to your burden of excessive screen time, so try to have some of these conversations as just traditional audio calls to limit screen exposure.

3. Distractions

Unbeknownst to you, your home environment is rife with distractionsThese can be anything from the TV to household chores, family members, social media and anything else you would otherwise be separated from while at the office.

Prioritization is a key solution to avoid this. It is so important to create a schedule with realistic deadlines and goals, and which also accounts for your day-to-day domestic responsibilities and breaks. Finding a routine that works for the new work environmentyou are in can be challenging and may require a little trial and error. Give yourself time to work through this.

If you live with other people, you may find their presence to be distracting. A tool that many people (and I count myself as one of them) find helpful for blocking out background noise and staying focused on the task at hand is to put on some music. Use this time to catch up on some new Spotify playlists or throw on some old records that have been collecting dust.

A winning method to stay on task is to create a workstation that is as comfortable as possible. Comfort entails making your space ergonomically optimised. This optimisation includes:

i) reducing overhead lighting and using anti-glare screens to reduce screen glare

ii) a screen location of 15 – 20 degrees below eye level

iii) adequate face-to-screen distance when using devices i.e. at least 60cm between the face and computer screens and 30cm when using smart devices.

iv) a chair that allows you to adjust various aspects including the height and angle of the backrest

v) keeping your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body and your hands at, or slightly below the level of your elbows when typing

vi) minimising reaching for objects at your desk. If need be, stand up to reach anything that cannot be easily and comfortably reached while sitting down.

A new opportunity for growth

Take this period of time for the experience that it is, and as an opportunity to grow in all aspects – as a parent, spouse, friend and working adult. While the learning curve may be steep, the skills you will inevitably develop will stay with you for a lifetime. The biggest silver lining this period of isolation offers us is that it may be the best chance we get to master the ability to balance our mental and physical wellbeing, and our personal and professional lives.

Above all, let us remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. Pick up the phone, reach out to your friends and family and offer them words of encouragement and support. Support the doctors, medical staff and front-line workers who are working tirelessly by doing your part and staying safe and healthy at home.

We are alone together, and we will get through this as one.

As your kids spend more time on their phones these days, you may start noticing more complaints of ‘itchy’ eyes and headaches. They may be victims of digital eye strain, one of the many consequences of their unhealthy tech habits.

Eye strain is particularly tough on our children’s still-developing eyes. On top of headaches and eye irritation, it may cause other symptoms including – pain, dryness, burning, redness, sensitivity to light and a loss of the eye’s ability to focus correctly, resulting in blurred vision.

Eye strain is very common, and you may have already seen its effects in your own children – they may complain of dryness and you may have seen them incessantly rubbing their eyes, and by the time you’ve caught them in the act, their eyes have turned an alarming shade of pink.

It is very likely that those bright, flickering smart device screens that are often held for far too long and too close to our children’s delicate eyes are to blame for their suffering.

The good news is, there are simple solutions to your problems. Digital eye strain can be avoided with some simple behavioural changes. As is often the case, education is the first step. In order to know how to help your children to avoid digital eye strain, it will help you to first understand what causes digital eye strain, what it looks like, and what can be done to stop it.

Here are some of the common risk factors of eye strain and associated health symptoms and how to address them once and for all.

  1. Excessive screen time 

If left unsupervised, our children could go hours hunched over their mobile devices, scrolling through their endless feeds without any breaks. Why exactly is this bad for their eyes?

Research shows that three hours or longer of screen time per day is linked to an increase in the likelihood of developing dry eye in children, one of the symptoms of eye strain, by more than 13 times! Reasons for this are complex but include reduced and incomplete blinking while staring at screens.

The fix: Taking regular breaks in between periods of screen exposure is crucial. The American Optometric Association recommends taking a 15-minute break after 2 hours of device use. 

A helpful way for your children to remember this is by observing the 20-20-20 strategy (looking at objects 20 feet away for 20 seconds after 20 minutes of screen time). 

2. Prolonged blue light exposure 

Our children’s increased exposure to blue light from their screens also causes eye strain. How exactly does this happen? When blue light enters their eyes, it scatters and increases the effort needed by their eyes to maintain focus. This increased effort may contribute to eye fatigue and eventually eye strain. 

The implications of blue light don’t just stop at digital eye strain. As it turns out, blue light also impacts the quality of sleep. Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain that helps induce sleep. Think about all the times your child has woken up tired and temperamental. His/her routine of using the phone before bedtime could have been to blame for causing a poor night’s sleep and the eventual grogginess the following day!

Worse yet, research suggests that the lack of quality sleep causes your child’s blink rate to slow. This decreases tear production and increases tear evaporation – leading to dry eye and more eye strain!

The fix: It takes about 2 hours for blue light exposure to suppress melatonin production. As such, a digital curfew on all electronics 1 – 2 hours before bedtime effectively allows the body’s natural production of melatonin to kick in. You can also dim the brightness of your child’s device screens. Beyond this, consider using a parental management application* to automatically warm up the colour on their screens shifting away from harmful blue light to red and yellow hues. At these longer wavelengths, the effect on melatonin is less harsh.

3. Incorrect screen location

The next time your child uses their mobile devices, observe how they are holding them. For instance, are they lying down on their bed with their screens far too close to their eyes? 

When your child positions his/her screen higher than their eye level, it results in a larger opening of their eyelids, and thus greater eye surface exposure. This increases the amount of tear evaporation and increases their susceptibility to developing dry eye and eye strain.

The fix: Adequate face-to-screen distance and proper screen positioning is key. 

How close is too close? It is recommended that smart devices are held at least 30 cm away from the face. A screen location of 15-20 degrees below eye level is also recommended to reduce these problems.

How can you effectively implement these fixes?

While all these tips are extremely effective as preventative strategies against eye strain, actually integrating them in our children’s lives can be rather challenging. For this very reason, we have developed the plano application which effectively helps parents manage their children’s device use behaviour. 

At the end of the day, all we want is the best for our children. Protecting them from the pitfalls of excessive device use has to begin at an early age. As I often say, it isn’t technology itself, but the relationship we develop with technology that needs to be addressed!

Our research team has compiled the most up-to-date data about DES. Access the full report here.

As the world assimilates to the new normal – work-from-home mandates, school closures and quarantines – parents worldwide are confronted with the reality of spending 24 hours a day with their new co-worker and the accompanying question:

“How do I occupy my child’s time?”

A sizeable increase in screen time

This transition spells a significant change in many parents’ lives. Not only do they have to balance work and their household chores, they have to take care of their kids and worry about how to occupy them on top of it all. And for many parents, grappling with this sudden change can be all too overwhelming.

As such, it comes as no surprise that many are turning to mobile devices for their wealth of entertaining and educational resources as a quick fix to occupy their little ones’ time. Parents themselves may find that they are spending more time behind the screen for work and leisure purposes. 

In fact, a preliminary analysis from the Plano Time Machine cohort found that the average daily screen time of Singaporean adults has increased from 6.6 hours before the pandemic to 7.8 hours in only a few weeks during this period!

The collateral damage

While staying safe and protecting ourselves and our little ones in these trying times should be our primary concern, the current circumstances necessitate the consideration of the adverse secondary effects of the pandemic.

More time at home means a larger proportion of your day cooped up at home with your screens for company, more near-work (on mobile devices) and much less time spent on outdoor activities.

This can put you and your child through a world of hurt in the long run. Consequences of too much screen time include digital eye strain, musculoskeletal problems like neck, shoulder and hand pain, and myopia. As we spend more time on our devices, the risk of experiencing these adverse effects increases.

What can we do to shield ourselves from these health risks?

Under the current circumstances, all these health impacts on top of the pandemic can seem rather disconcerting. However, there are many actionable measures you can put into practice right now to protect yourself and your family.

1. Regular breaks from the screen and adequate face-to-screen distance is key

Ensure adequate face-to-screen distance when you or your child uses devices i.e. at least 60cm of distance between the face and computer screens and 30cm of distance when using smart devices like phones or tablets. Take regular breaks between periods of screen exposure i.e. take at least a 15-minute break after 2 hours of device use. The plano application’s face-to-screen distance tracker and eye break prompts can help you with this by keeping an eye on your child’s device use behaviour.

2. At-home alternatives to outdoor activities and screen time

Your home may feel deceptively void of fun activities to do with your little ones and as such, it is natural to feel at a loss these days when it comes to occupying their time. Creating a routine for your child is a useful way to ensure that their time is used productively and with purpose. This routine should include blocks of screen-free play time. If independent play is a struggle for your little one, set aside some time to engage in play with him/her. This can include storytelling, having a workout session together and even doing household chores together! 

Whatever you choose to do with your child, remember to use these moments as golden opportunities to spend some quality bonding time with your loved ones.  Now is the chance to get creative with your child, get to know one another, unleash your inner child and have a whole lot of fun while you’re at it. 

At the end of the day, we all want the best for our children. And while Netflix Nanny is a tempting alternative especially considering our professional obligations and domestic duties, let’s not forget to make the most of every precious moment with our little ones during these uncertain times.

In the last few weeks, the world has seen many changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – countries worldwide have implemented public health interventions including social distancing, self-isolations, lockdowns and mass quarantines, to name a few. 

Companies across industries are rolling out mandatory remote work policies and millions of people the world over are starting to feel the weight of being jolted out of their daily routines. 

The new normal: Working from home

For many of us, the new normal entails shifting our workspaces from our offices to our homes. For working parents, there is that added element of having their children present at home due to school closures and balancing work and taking care of their little ones.

The challenges

This major transition in our lives is not easy. The abrupt change in our working environment can take a toll on our psyche. Why? As working adults, we spend much of our day in skyscrapers, working the 9 to 5, and coming back home at night to unwind and connect with our families. 

Until recently, our homes served only as our sanctuaries; our havens of peace and relaxation. For that very reason, they do not lend themselves to work productivity as naturally as our office spaces. Hence, the change in setting and routine jostles us and the ample distractions make staying on task difficult. Beyond that, as we spend more of our day indoors, staying active is not as easy as it used to be. More time indoors means more time cooped up with our mobile devices. 

Unless we dedicate some time to treating our bodies and minds right, these challenges can get the better of us. Expect to experience work blues, and eye strains and back pains, all of which have the power to take a huge bite out of our work efficiency and overall health in the long run! So, what can we do?

The Schwarzenegger way

If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you may have seen Arnold Schwarzenegger’s incredible COVID-19 PSA (with a cameo from his mini horse and donkey no less). The 72-year-old gave useful tips to his 4.4 million followers on practicing social distancing and advised everyone to adhere to government health guidelines and recommendations. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger / Twitter / Via Twitter: @Schwarzenegger

He even took to Reddit to talk about a home workout plan that he will be releasing soon to help everyone in self-isolation maintain a healthy lifestyle while being “responsible during the pandemic.”

In these uncertain times, Schwarzenegger’s positive disposition is a refreshing, much-needed reminder that no matter how dire the situation is, a good attitude has the ability to keep our spirits up and will help us get us through it.

Proactivity is key

Like Schwarzenegger, we need to dedicate some time to figuring out how we can assimilate our bodies and minds to our new environment and to treat them right.

Some tips to get you started:

1.Create a home workstation that is ergonomically optimised. That includes: i)reducing overhead lighting and using anti-glare screens to reduce screen glare, ii)a screen location of 15 – 20 degrees below eye level and iii)adequate face-to-screen distance when using devices i.e. at least 60cm between the face and computer screens and 30cm when using smart devices.

2. Take regular breaks in between periods of screen exposure. The American Optometric Association recommends taking a 15-minute break after 2 hours of device use.

3. Get moving. Dedicate a space in your home to getting a regular workout session in.

4. Keep your workstation clean. Our digital devices have been found to host plenty of germs. In fact, computer keyboards have been found to be germier than toilet seats, so sanitization is crucial!

5. Don’t let anxiety get the better of you. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with news updates on the pandemic. COVID-19 has also formed the basis of the majority of our conversations with our friends and family. We need to constantly remind ourselves and our loved ones to remain calm and stay positive while being vigilant and responsible.

Be kind.

COVID-19 knows no geographical or social boundaries. It is so important to show empathy, kindness and concern for all those around you. A positive and hopeful mindset is a powerful thing; it strengthens our resolve as a society to weather this storm. Let us also not forget those affected by and who have lost loved ones to the virus. Support your local healthcare professionals, scientists, support groups and government bodies working around the clock to ameliorate the situation.

As the pandemic moves to the next phase, from containment of the disease to mitigating its consequences, we will need to tackle it with renewed vigour, as one people. We will need to move forward collectively, with unity of purpose to abide by national and international health guidelines and recommendations. 

If there is one thing we know about mankind, it is that we never give up; we always rise to the challenge, no matter how daunting it seems. This time, it will be no different. 

We will be back.

At the end of a long day of balancing all the stresses that modern life throws at you, once you finally get to sit down and put your feet up, how do you spend those last couple of hours of downtime before you go to sleep? And how do your children spend this time?

If you’re like most people living in the year 2020, there is a good chance you are drawn into the temptation of scrolling mindlessly through social media, or reading the news on your favourite news app. And just in the next room, your kids are probably playing their new favourite mobile game or poring over an endless stream of YouTube or Netflix videos.

Finally, after one or two too many hours of being glued to your device, you peel yourself away only to have to play a battle of wills with your kids to get them off their devices and to sleep. And then you realise when you head off to bed that you don’t feel particularly sleepy. At the same time, your child may be struggling to fall asleep in the next room.

As it turns out, your screens may be to blame for the ensuing poor night’s sleep and grogginess you both have to deal with the next day.

More specifically, the blue light emitted from the screens of digital devices has been shown to cause significant disruptions to sleep. Research has shown that this blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain that helps induce sleep. 

Melatonin – the ‘hormone of darkness’

Our body’s circadian rhythm or body clock enables us to stay awake during the day and go to sleep at night. Our brain’s cyclical secretion of melatonin facilitates this – i.e. during daytime its production is low, and as it gets progressively darker, closer to bedtime, its production increases, which makes us sleepy and signals to us that it is time to go to bed.

However, when we look at our screens before bed, the blue light suppresses melatonin production and tricks our brains into thinking it is still daytime. The effects of this disruption can be likened to jet-lag: your sleep cycle is disrupted, and you find it difficult to fall and stay asleep at your usual times, and you may find yourself waking up more frequently at night. 

No, you’re not intoxicated. You’re just tired.

Startlingly, research shows that even small amounts of sleep deprivation have comparable effects on brain function to those of alcohol intoxication: a 17 – 19 hour period of no sleep, which may be the same as waking up at 7am and going to sleep at 1am which many of us do regularly, is equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%.

Most of us are familiar with this level of sleep deprivation. Just a few extra minutes of mindless Instagram scrolling or YouTube viewing end up carrying us away until well past midnight because we lost track of time. We end up having a disrupted and restless sleep, with the consequences being that our brains’ response times slowing by up to 50%.

And when it comes to our children, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the effects of inadequate sleep are alarming. Children who do not get enough sleep find it difficult to wake up in the morning, become moody and irritable in the daytime and find it difficult to focus during school.

What can we do to ensure that good sleep and screen hygiene for ourselves and our children?

It is imperative that we assume the responsibility for facilitating the development of healthy tech-habits at an early age, and it is a good idea to lead by example for your own sleep quality as well as to create a culture of good sleep hygiene in your home. 

Consider implementing these guidelines in yours and your children’s night-time routines:

  1. Impose a digital curfew on all electronics 1 – 2 hours before bedtime to allow for the body’s natural production of melatonin to kick in. 
  2. In instances where 1 cannot be adhered to, dim the brightness on screens.
  3. Install an application that automatically warms up the colour on the screen shifting away from harmful blue light to red and yellow hues. At these longer wavelengths, melatonin production is not suppressed. The plano application’s ‘blue light filter’ enables parents to toggle the feature on your child’s phone. *Subject to device’s capabilities

Quality sleep is our children’s prerogative

At the end of the day, all we want as parents is for our children to lead successful and happy lives, and for this, they need to be sharp and stay functioning at the optimum level. At the crux of it all is sleep. Sleep is crucial for their neurological development, growth, memory formation and consolidation of everything they learn.

Unfortunately these days, the importance of sleep seems to be grossly overlooked. The good news is, just a few improvements to their night routine can make a world of difference to the rest of their lives and it is imperative that we start them off on the right foot early!

In today’s frantic world that prioritises productivity over almost everything else, many of us have adopted the philosophy that we should spend hours on end at our screens for fear of losing precious moments of productivity. 

However, one commonly overlooked consequence of staring at screens for too long may actually be hurting your efficiency to such an extent that it pays dividends to sacrifice short-term productivity and give your eyes a break.

Eye strain is at the heart of productivity loss.

The growing problem of digital Eye Strain (DES) is at the heart of this loss of productivity, and it now affects up to 20% of children and as many as 90% of university students and is particularly prevalent in adults who use computers and device screens professionally.

One study found that 90% of the working population in the US who use computers for 3 or more hours a day develop DES! Those who spend three or more hours on screens per day are at a whopping 13-fold greater risk, showing just how much even small amounts of excessive screen time can affect your eyes.

Symptoms of DES include eye irritation, burning, dryness, redness, sensitivity to light and a loss of the eye’s ability to focus correctly, resulting in blurred vision and headaches.  

The productivity loss associated with the condition is staggering, with research showing that the economic costs related to the management and treatment of dry eye are US$3.84 billion annually in the United States alone. At an individual level, people with DES take, on average, 20% more time to complete tasks, so you really aren’t helping your productivity, or the economy, by spending hours glued to your computer or smart device.

So what about those of us who cannot avoid spending hours on screens each day? Is there anything we can do to reduce our risks?

Solutions for a ‘strain-free’ digital life

The answer, thankfully, is yes. Below is a quick guide on how to manage a digital life strain-free.

Some quick ergonomics tricks to fight DES

  1. Taking regular breaks in between periods of screen exposure: the American Optometric Association recommends taking a 15-minute break after 2 hours of device use. Observing the 20-20-20 strategy (looking at objects 20 feet away for 20 seconds after 20 minutes of screen time) has also been shown to be an effective strategy for preventing DES.
  2. Limiting smart device screen time and engaging in more outdoor activity: It is recommended that children spend 2 to 3 hours outdoors per day to maintain good eye health. This may also reduce their risk of developing myopia.
  3. Increasing text size to reduce squinting of the eyes while using devices.
  4. Reducing overhead lighting and using anti-glare screens to reduce screen glare.
  5. Adequate face-to-screen distance when using devices: It is recommended that smart devices are held at least 30cm from the face, while there should be at least 60cm of distance between the face and computer screens.
  6. Location of screen: A screen location of 15 – 20 degrees below eye level is recommended

DES is unequivocally a pervasive problem in the workplace. As working adults, we have the professional obligation to work behind our screens daily. At Plano, we believe that it is every company’s responsibility to create a culture of healthy screen engagement to ensure that their employees’ eyes are well taken care of.

How we can help

For this very reason, we are proud to have developed our  plano@work consultancy programme which brings vision health to companies and industries across Singapore. Each specially tailored workshop aims to empower participants in 4 key ways: 1) increasing productivity and reducing sick leave, 2) increasing knowledge on the nature and management of DES, 3) improving the working environment and greater job satisfaction and 4) improving staff retention and employer-employee relationship.

Let’s stop putting unduly blame on technology for our eye health issues. As I often say, it is our tendency to form unhealthy relationships with technology that needs to be addressed. It is only then we can enjoy all the benefits they offer without having to suffer the strain of avoidable screen-related health problems!

Our research team has compiled the most up-to-date data about DES. Access the full report here.

“Should we ban our children from using smartphones?”

It is a question that has been at the heart of several contentious global discussions surrounding our youth’s excessive device usage, especially in recent years.

In fact, a mounting body of research has linked excessive device use with numerous mental health conditions. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is now officially recognised by the World Health Organization as a mental health problem and is considered an emerging public health crisis, particularly for young people. 

Hot on the heels of such developments, international think-tank, the DQ Institute launched the first-of-its-kind 2020 Child Online Safety Index on Safer Internet Day last week. The insights have been nothing short of daunting. 

Exposure to cyber risk increases to 70%

Among its most alarming revelations is that on average, children between the ages of 8 – 12 years are spending 32 hours per week behind their screens. It also found that children who owned a smartphone and engaged in higher weekly screen time had a 70% chance of exposure to at least one cyber risk. These risks include cyberbullying, disordered use of technology (uncontrolled video game playing or social media use) and risky content (exposure to violent and sexual content), among others

The report noted that British children spend almost two days a week staring at their screens, the 2nd highest among the 30 countries results were compared across. Unsurprisingly, the UK comes 19th out of 30 countries for child online safety, lower than any other developed country in the study.

In light of the damning research by the DQ Institute on the thorny consequences of our children’s excessive screen time, banning smartphones altogether is a tempting stance to adopt. However, this accomplishes very little when it comes to getting to the heart of the issue.

It is not the act of using their smartphones, rather it is a matter of education and awareness – are our children equipped with the necessary skills to protect them from exposure to cyber risks or to know what to do when confronted with these risks?

Who is to blame?

In fact, why don’t we look at the source of the problem for a moment? Smartphone companies all but hand smart devices freely to the masses, paying little heed to who their consumers are, only caring about whether they can afford them.

Should the onus of educating our children on the pitfalls of excessive device use lie on the smartphone manufacturers i.e. the Apples, Samsungs, and Googles of the world? What would that entail? Perhaps a child-friendly digital literacy manual that comes with every phone is the solution. This hypothetical manual would contain all that our children would need to know about how to be responsible smartphone owners; including screen time management, how to address cyberbullying, media literacy skills and cybersecurity awareness.

Call me an idealist, but I do believe that there are socially conscious companies in the world that want their products to be used responsibly and regard online safety as a core business principle; Plano will be happy to work with these companies any day.

Education and awareness begins at home

Until then, we cannot ignore the critical role we play in helping our children develop healthy relationships with technology. Let’s ask ourselves this: Are we as the adults doing enough to prime them for all the cyber risks they will potentially be accosted by because of their smart devices? If the answer is no, perhaps we need to get back to basics and start our education efforts at home.

We’ve all been there – one minute you’re having a heart-to-heart conversation, a real moment with your significant other, when suddenly a ping from your phone interrupts you and several things happen at once: Your eyes instinctively flicker to your buzzing screen, you move to turn it off, but not before catching sight of the notification and feeling compelled to address it. You attempt to get back to the present with your significant other but, alas, the moment has passed, and you may have even ticked them off by choosing to shoot off a text instead of prioritizing your conversation. 

So common is this phenomenon of letting our digital devices interrupt and intrude our daily lives that the term ‘technoference’ was recently coined to describe it. We may not even be aware of it because frequently checking our devices has become such a normal part of our lives, but technoference is one of the main reasons why we may be jeopardising the very relationships that we hold near and dear to our hearts.

You are sabotaging your own relationship.

Research shows that by constantly allowing our devices to interrupt conversations, activities and precious time with our significant other, we are signalling to them that they are not as important as our devices. This naturally causes conflicts to arise in the relationship. In fact, a recent study revealed that texting behaviour that results in such conflicts could reduce the overall perceived quality of the romantic relationship over time!

Isn’t it laughably ironic that the very devices that empower us to connect with individuals from every corner of the world are stripping us of our ability to appreciate and prioritise the ones right next to us? We need to confront the uncomfortable reality that a significant proportion of our precious time with our loved ones has been and will continue to be sacrificed to our devices unless we wake up and smell the (Valentine’s Day) roses.

The uncomfortable truth you need to confront right away

For many of us who have become accustomed to the constant engagement with our devices, addressing this may not seem as important as it should be. To truly internalise the implications of our addiction, we need to gain insights on our personal trade offs as a result of our relationship with our devices. That’s exactly what motivated our team at Plano to develop the Plano Time Machine – an online platform that calculates exactly how much time each of us stands to lose over the course of our livesbecause of smart devices.

Beyond that, the transformative aspect of Time Machine is that it makes personal recommendations on the time we can regain if we modify the amount of time we spend on our devices. For the thousands of people the world over who have already used the Time Machine, the revelations have not been pretty. However, these insights are a necessary first step in addressing our unhealthy relationships with our devices and reprioritising the things that matter – our loved ones!

Don’t lose sight of what matters.

This Valentine’s Day, I urge each and every one of us to recognise what we are essentially forgoing for those extra hours behind our screens. Our real-world connections are sacred and irreplaceable and give the fleeting gift of life its true depth and meaning. Let’s remember to engage with the present moment fully and to treat the people that matter to us with the love we know they deserve. After all, our smart devices can never love us back, not in the way they can.