I’ve written elsewhere how screen-time stresses and detunes the body clock, brain chemistry, and reward pathways, as well as how tech addiction can actually damage the brain’s frontal lobe. I’ve also shared how an electronic fast can reset and resynchronize the nervous system, improving a child’s mood, sleep, focus and behavior in a matter of weeks.
In contrast, this post offers evidence-based practices to buffer against some of the changes seen with overstimulation from screen-time. These methods either counteract screen-time’s effects directly (such as by helping to synchronize, strengthen, or protect the body clock) or indirectly (for example by facilitating deeper sleep or discharging pent up energy). While this information was originally written with children in mind, these principles apply to adults, too!
Similarly, studies show exposure to sunlight can reduce attention deficit symptoms, while abundant bright light first thing in the morning can help restore disrupted circadian rhythms, improve mood, and enhance restorative sleep.
In addition, varied and regular movement throughout the day helps develop core muscle strength, stimulates the vestibular system, and discharges pent-up energy—all things that foster learning and mood regulation. And free play is not just for fun—it encourages brain integration, mastering of new skills, grasping others’ mental states, cause-and-effect thinking, and managing conflict.
You can facilitate more restorative sleep and boost melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) by establishing a consistent sleep-wake routine (including on the weekends), keeping ALL screens out of the bedroom, using a sleep mask and blackout curtains to make the sleep environment as close to pitch-black as possible, avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime, and keeping the temperature of the room cool. Research suggests that parent-set bedtimes are associated with better sleep and improved functioning. To visually send the brain the message that it’s time to sleep, the bedroom should be uncluttered, void of reminders of tasks to be done, and cozy-feeling.
Meanwhile, studies show screen-time stunts imaginary play. When the brain is fed a constant stream of stimulating entertainment that saturates the senses, it deadens the creative drive, as does viewing a 2-D screen with flat, unnatural light. In contrast, reduced levels of stimulation enhance creativity, and varying depth of field and the interplay of depth and shadow found in the natural world stimulate the mind to wonder and imagine.
Research suggests that meditation is associated with increased thickness of the cortex—the exact opposite of an effect found in tech addiction. Another study showed that second and third-graders who were taught mindfulness techniques showed an improvement in executive functioning, particularly in those with pre-existing attention problems.
Other research has shown that expressing and feeling love and compassion helps stimulate the frontal lobe and facilitates executive functioning and self-regulation.
Also, energy-efficient bulbs (both CFLs and LEDs) emit poor light quality and have been shown to raise stress levels and negatively impact mood. Switch to incandescent bulbs (halogens are closest to the old-style incandescents) to create a more soothing and natural environment.
While we can’t get away from screens entirely, incorporating these practices on a daily basis—along with taking systematic breaks from screens altogether—can go a long way toward protecting the brain and bolstering its resilience, especially over time.