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Should You Take Intermittent Breaks From Digital Devices?

Scheduled time off from phones and computers can improve life in many ways.

Dean Moriarty/Pixabay
Dean Moriarty/Pixabay

If you’re like the majority of Americans, you’re plugged into digital devices most of the time. We read, stay updated, shop, “window shop,” play games, research, manage our finances, get medical care, join clubs, make friends, create important digital connections, communicate with others, and often do professional work online.

But if you use your computer and phone more than you participate in real-life interactions and excursions, you may be suffering from severe information overload that can have both physical and psychological consequences. That never-ending stream of digital news, communication, marketing, and entertainment can cause you more anxiety and problems with focus and concentration than you realize, not to mention the confusion caused by defamation and manipulative disinformation campaigns, easier access to pornography, gambling, and other illicit or questionable activities, along with diminished personal productivity and loss of privacy.

So, how much is too much, and when and how do you take a break from it all when the habit is so ingrained, the entire world seems reliant on digital communication, and the technology has, in fact, made our lives easier in so many ways?

A 2022 Gallup poll of more than 30,000 adult men and women showed that more than half of adults, and more than three-quarters of young adults, feel they spend too much time on their phones, checking their devices as soon as they wake up and keeping their phones close at hand throughout their waking hours. In the same poll, men were just slightly less likely than women to feel overly attached to their phones.

While it’s obviously a personal decision to cut back, health experts and researchers have opinions on when it might be necessary for you to take a break from your phone and other digital devices. For instance, experts at Lifespan health care system, in partnership with Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School and Brown Medicine, suggest asking yourself these questions like these to help you decide if you should take daily breaks from your digital devices:

  • Do you leave your phone on all the time so as not to miss anything?
  • Do you need to check your phone before you can concentrate on anything else?
  • Do you suffer a fear of missing out (FOMO) on something if you don’t regularly check your social media?
  • Do you often have negative feelings such as anger, sadness, remorse, or anxiety after spending time on social media?
  • Do you constantly compare yourself to others you see or read about on social media?
  • Do you allow any of your devices to interrupt your sleep?
  • Do you allow the use of your digital devices to interfere with a healthy work-personal life balance?
  • Do you feel stress or anxiety when you can’t find your phone?
  • Do you prefer to interact with others through virtual contact rather than in person?

At the same time, you may respond to emails, social media, and other digital notifications immediately out of a sense of obligation rather than a personal need. The same experts say you can help yourself and enjoy both physical and mental health benefits by temporarily stepping away from your digital devices and turning your attention back to the real world. You may sleep better, feel less stressed, improve your focus and attention span, enjoy better interpersonal relationships, and find more time for hobbies and other things you enjoy doing. Using “digital detox” strategies can help prevent headaches, joint pain and other ailment that can result from poor posture often associated with constant phone and laptop use.

That’s not to say it’s easy to change your relationship with your digital devices or that you even should feel the need if they aren’t interfering with your health and happiness. But if you feel you would benefit from cutting back on your digital life, but don’t want to go “cold turkey,” there are a few steps you can take to reduce your use and reap the benefits:

  • Decide which digital device is having the most negative impact on your life, then focus on changing that.
  • If you’re constantly checking your phone or your watch for notifications, establish specific times throughout the day when you can read and respond to notifications and messages.
  • Stick to a device-free meal plan whether you’re eating with family or friends or having a meal or snack on your own.
  • If specific apps or sites cause you any stress or anxiety, turn off notifications and again, establish a specific time to check in, if you must, preferably not just before you’re ready to go to sleep.
  • Let important people in your life know that you are taking a break so they don’t expect fast and rapid responses from you. Let them know you are trying to live a less-connected life. Perhaps you can inspire them to do the same.
  • Remember that you are trying to break established habits and commit to new ones, but old habits really do die hard because any type of change can be scary and difficult. You’ve been doing something one way for a long time and now you’re trying to do it another way. It can take time to reinforce new habits.

After a period of time, you may notice feeling less stressed, experiencing less anxiety, sleeping better, feeling better in general, and more able to focus on real-life, in-person commitments while better balancing your work/personal life. If so, then you’ve clearly done yourself a favor by cutting back on your digital devices. When you can feel the benefits gained by breaking old habits and establishing healthier ones, you’ll feel less like you’ve had to give something up.


Draghici, Georgiana (2023). The Internet, Lifestyle, and Society. European Proceedings, In E. Soare & C. Langa (Eds.) Education Facing Contemporary World Issues. EDU World; 2022, 160-167.

Saad, L. Americans Have Close But Wary Bond With Their Smart Phones. GALLUP. June 20, 2022

Lifespan Living. What is a Digital Detox and Do You Need One? June 8, 2023

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