We routinely use apps on our smartphones and tablets to establish good habits and break bad ones. But what you may not realize about the array of apps, tools, and widgets on your mobile devices is that they can also encourage you to adopt new smartphone-enabled habits that, in some cases, put your heath at risk.
From habits that strain your mental health to those that disrupt your sleep patterns or have a negative impact on your posture, read on for seven tech-related habits that you’ll want to break as soon as possible. You probably already know that most of these aren’t good for you, but sometimes we need a little boost — perhaps from another app that’s more mindful of your health? — to replace the bad habits with behaviors that are better for our bodies and minds.
1. Binge-watching TV shows or movies
It’s common sense that binge-watching the new season of House of Cards or watching multiple Harry Potter films in a sitting isn’t a great choice for your health. But apps like Netflix and Hulu somehow get you to act against your better judgment and spend long periods of time in front of your tablet, computer, or television. A 2013 survey conducted by Netflix found that many people define “binge-watching” as watching anywhere between two and six episodes of a show in a sitting, and almost three-quarters of respondents said they had positive feelings about binge-watching television shows.
“I found that binge watching has really taken off due to a perfect storm of better TV, our current economic climate and the digital explosion of the last few years,” said Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist who worked with Netflix to trace the evolution of binge-watching. “But this TV watcher is different, the couch potato has awoken. And now that services like Netflix have given consumers control over their TV viewing, they have declared a new way to watch.”
In addition to wasting time, binge-watching also puts your health at risk. NBC recently reported that if your bing-watching cuts into your sleep time, it could have a serious effect on your mental health (not to mention your productivity the following day). Evidence also suggests that watching more television puts you at risk of gaining weight or becoming overweight, perhaps due to our tendency to consume unhealthy snacks while watching. Excessive TV time can also increase your risks of weight-related diseases like Type 2 Diabetes. And if your Netflix habit has gotten so out of hand that you regularly find yourself postponing or forgoing exercise for the company of your favorite characters, you’re only exacerbating the problem. As for the antidote? It’s pretty straightforward: make an effort to turn Netflix off after one episode, no matter how addictive it is.
2. Eating junk food regularly
While watching your favorite shows and movies on Netflix may let you skip the fast-food advertisements you’d otherwise see on television, you’re not out of the woods yet. There are plenty of ways to get your hands on some less-than-healthy food, and delivery apps like GrubHub and Seamless let you do so without even leaving your home.
You probably know that takeout isn’t the healthiest option, but it’s still the easiest way to take care of dinner when you’re tired, busy, or just not feeling up to cooking a meal from scratch. (And we know that you don’t need a lecture on the effects that too much greasy or salty food has on your health. Or a reminder that when you’re overweight, you’re at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health problems.) Buying fresh food and preparing a nutritious meal takes a lot of planning, and convenience takes precedence over nutrition in our food choices more often than we’d like to admit.
While you can certainly seek out healthier options within your favorite food delivery apps, you can also try out health-focused delivery options like HealthyOut, or Zesty if you’re looking to feed your entire startup. They’ll help you to adhere to your nutritional preferences and goals even when you’re ordering takeout. You can also keep yourself accountable by paying more attention to your nutritional goals, whether you’re cooking or ordering in, with an app like Fooducate, which will help you make smarter choices with all of your meals. Alternatively, try one of the several subscription services that deliver fresh ingredients to your door; you’ll still need to cook to turn them into a nutritious meal, but the recipe selection and grocery shopping is already out of the way.
3. Getting notifications all night
You probably already don’t get enough sleep, so why are you letting your smartphone light up and buzz with notifications all night? No one wants to miss an urgent call or message from a close friend or family member, but when just about every app is vying for your attention with push notifications, there’s an endless number of opportunities for your sleep to get interrupted. And the disruption isn’t limited to the moment when you sleepily check your phone and roll over to go back to sleep.
A report from (unfortunately now-defunct) GigaOM last year noted that nighttime exposure to the blue light of your smartphone or tablet disrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythms by suppressing the normal production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that does more than make you sleepy; it’s also an antioxidant that seems to slow the progression of cancer and other diseases. And if you don’t have enough of it, you’re more likely to develop diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer.
So what can you do to cut back on your smartphone’s effects on your sleep and your general health? Start by considering keeping your phone somewhere other than your bedside table. If that’s not an option, evaluate which apps you really need to send you push notifications. And finally, figure out how to use your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” mode or even its Airplane Mode to keep it from interrupting you once you put it down for the night. On iOS, for example, you can configure your iPhone’s “Do Not Disturb” mode, which silences calls and alerts that come in when your phone is locked, to allow calls from specific contacts or to ring when someone calls you repeatedly. You can even schedule “Do Not Disturb” mode if you won’t remember to turn it on each night.
4. Hitting the snooze button too often
On a related note, here’s a problem that comes up when you use your smartphone as your alarm clock: you’re likely to hit the snooze button too many times. You might assume that hitting snooze and getting a few extra minutes of sleep is good for you, but in fact, the opposite seems to be true. CNN reported last year that when you doze off again after your alarm goes off in the morning, you’re likely to feel less alert and less productive later in the day.
And when you hit the snooze button repeatedly, the additional sleep you get is fragmented and of poor quality. You’re also starting a sleep cycle that you won’t get to finish, which can result in grogginess throughout the day thanks to sleep inertia, which can slow down your decision-making abilities and impair your memory when you do drag yourself out of bed. You might be tempted to hit the snooze button because of chronic sleep deprivation, which over time puts you at risk of having a higher body mass index or of developing diabetes.
The solution? Get more (and better) sleep by unplugging from your devices in the bedroom. And consider choosing an alarm clock that’s not an app, which might make it more difficult to hit snooze. If you’re set on using your smartphone as your alarm clock, you have a couple of options. A simple hack may help: instead of leaving your smartphone on your bedside table, keep it across the room on a dresser or chair. Not only will you be less likely to stay up scrolling through Facebook, but you’ll be less likely to hit snooze if you have to get up and walk across the room to shut your alarm off. If that doesn’t work for you, look for an alarm app that won’t let you perpetuate the snooze cycle. Mathe Alarm Clock, for example, forces you to solve math problems to shut off your alarm. That means that you’re likely to be more awake by the time you shut your alarm off, and less likely to go back to sleep for another 10 minutes.
5. Looking at your phone too much
Most of us realize that we probably spend too much time on our phones. But did you know that all of that texting, emailing, Snapchatting, and Facebooking can pose a problem for your body and your posture? Tilting your head down to text, scroll through Facebook, read emails, and complete all the other time-intensive tasks that keep you glued to your smartphone can actually cause quite a few problems.
Staring at a screen strains your eyes, sitting still can cause a number of health problems, and keeping your head tilted perpetually downward as you text and email causes significant strain to your neck and back. Continually resting your elbows on a table can also cause damage to your nerves. Your joints, muscles, circulatory system, and eyes all benefit from taking a break from your screen once in a while.
The remedy? Put the phone away. If you’re having trouble staying away, consider downloading an app like Forest, which reminds you to stay focused on the tasks you can’t complete with your smartphone by putting down your phone down for just 30 minutes at a time. Spending less time hunched over your phone will likely help your body and your social life.
6. Obsessing over your health
While the ever-expanding array of health and fitness-focused apps, you have more tools than ever at your fingertips to keep track of your diet, your workouts, and your general health. But an app-enabled obsession with your health can be harmful, perhaps as harmful as neglecting your health and fitness.
As Tech Cheat Sheet recently reported, a study published in The BMJ, a British medical journal, compared the viewpoints of two doctors to debate the benefits of health apps for users who are, overall, already pretty healthy. In the paper, Des Spence, a general practitioner in Glasgow, argues that while the majority of health apps are mostly harmless, they encourage a health and fitness obsession among members of a “worried well” generation. He writes, “Our technologically advanced society is avoidant, fearful, insecure, and worried about anything and everything. We have an unhealthily health obsessed generation who will seize on these new health apps and devices.”
He argues that diagnoses are properly made with readings taken in symptomatic, high-risk individuals by doctors who can accurately interpret the results,”not by young, asymptomatic, middle class neurotics continuously monitoring their vital signs while they sleep.” Using a wearable device or a health app or two to motivate yourself to stay on track is fine, but if these tools are making you anxious, you may want to dial it back a notch. As Spence notes, the body isn’t a simple machine, and it can’t be measured like one. You can always have a conversation with your doctor about what’s normal and healthy for you, but you should think twice about spending disproportionate amounts of time and energy checking and updating health apps instead of exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular checkups with your doctor.
7. Texting while driving
It bears mentioning that your favorite apps can encourage not just unhealthy habits, but unsafe ones as well. Perhaps the worst of these is texting (or Facebooking, calling, Instagramming, etc.) while driving. Many of the thousands of accidents that occur on the road each year involve drivers who are distracted, often by their smartphones. Text messaging, talking on the phone, or even just looking at your phone when it lights up with a notification can take your attention off the road at crucial moments.
According to the statistics on the U.S. government’s official site for distracted driving, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013. At any given daylight moment across the United States, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating other electronic devices while driving. When you text while driving, your eyes are off the road for an average of five seconds; if you’re traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field.
The solution to this problem is pretty simple: just don’t use your phone while you’re behind the wheel. Put your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode if you have to. Some Android phones enable you to turn on a Driving Mode, as well, or you can try out an app that will silence incoming calls and messages while you’re driving.