What would we do if we did not watch television or access any mobile device during the weekend? Surely, more than one would be nervous. Taking them from us at once could mean an amputation of a good part of our freedom or of our enjoyment. Eudald Carbonell, co-director of the Atapuerca excavations, argues that technology makes us more human, since it frees us from monotonous tasks, allows us to dedicate time to more idle tasks and, incidentally, helps us to be closer to our loved ones . “The first time I made a video call in my life was when I was hospitalized with covid. I couldn’t speak much, but at least I could see my family and appreciate their words of support and affection, ”says Antonio Ortiz, an 82-year-old patient who spent a month in the hospital. Possibly, many of us have overcome uncomfortable loneliness thanks to connecting with people we care about. Devices have made us more free and allowed us to stay more connected. But all that coexists with another side of the coin.

In 2004, neurons camouflaged in the retina were discovered that tell our brains when to prepare for sleep. If we expose our eyes to screens before sleeping, the message we send to our body is contradictory: we tell it to stay awake, which affects our circadian rhythm or internal clock and the generation of melanopsin, a fundamental substance for rest. We live immersed in an excess of blue light emanating from devices, and that influences our moods, explains Celia Sánchez Ramos, professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and an expert in vision. The risk is heightened even more when it comes to children and adolescents.

Various studies warn of the impact of the excessive use of screens in the little ones. It can affect them in different ways: from difficulties falling asleep to the development of impulsive behaviors. In Spain, for example, children under the age of six spend an average of two hours a day in front of a screen, while adolescents spend more than 136 days a year connected to a device. And as adults we are not able to go without WhatsApp for more than an hour at a time, according to Empantallados, an initiative aimed at helping mothers and fathers in the education of their children in a digital world.

Technology seems to connect us, but it also hooks us. The solution is not to eliminate the devices, because we need them, but to answer the question with which we started: what alternative do we have to screens. In psychology it is known that it is easier to abandon an uncomfortable habit if we replace it with a healthier one.

During the day we lean on white light. Green light, as it has been called, is what surrounds us when we are in contact with nature. Well, in moments of so much use of screens, we would need to make a diagnosis of what activities we do that have white or green light and what percentage of the time we dedicate to it, such as going for a walk, listening to music relaxed, having a conversation without consulting any screen , read a paper book, cook …

On the other hand, we must learn to set limits with the use of the devices. We need to assume that we cannot evade our work in front of the computer by spending our leisure time in front of a screen again. We need to define what part of the day we are going to dedicate to being in front of devices and what to white and green light activities. To disengage, it is advisable to identify a compelling reason, such as setting a positive example for our children. Or enjoy a small recognition that excites us if we manage to fulfill our agenda: have an ounce of chocolate, take a foam bath, make a relaxed call … In that agenda, we also have to include the necessary disconnection of devices at least two hours before sleeping so that our brain is adequately prepared for sleep. And, of course, limits affect others as well, which means reducing the number of virtual meetings as much as possible.

Greater exposure to green light has very positive consequences for health. Recent research from the University of Adelaide in Australia shows that children and adolescents up to 18 years of age who decreased their exposure to screens and engaged in more outdoor activities improved their mental health, cognitive functions and academic results. So, let’s put more white and green light to improve our mood and our rest. –

Jericho Pillar She is the coordinator of the EL PAÍS Happiness Laboratory blog.