Screen Time After a Concussion or Injury: How Much is Too Much?
In a world of smartphones, tablets, computers, and dozens of cable channels, trying to avoid screens has become nearly impossible. But if you’re in the recovery stages of a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI), staying away from screens may be one of the single best things you can do for your health.
How to Reintroduce Screen Time Safely
After you’ve suffered a concussion or TBI, sensitivity to light is one of the most common complaints. Avoiding sunlight is fairly easy to do by remaining indoors and wearing proper sunglasses when you go out, but staying away from screens can be much harder.
Unfortunately, the blue light from smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs can all exacerbate your symptoms and make the underlying condition worse.
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As Children’s Hospital of Richmond explains, “Blue light is a type of visible light that can be found all around us. Blue light is emitted from LED light bulbs, fluorescent lights, as well as computers, TV, and cell phone screens. Blue light can be problematic for individuals that have a sensitivity to light and can cause symptoms to worsen after a concussion.”
In theory, avoiding screens might sound easy. But in reality, it’s a major challenge in the digital age. Work, entertainment, and communication all rely heavily on screens.
If you don’t have a plan for how you’ll reintroduce screens into your daily life after your concussion or brain injury, you could unintentionally prolong your recovery process. And if you’re involved in a pending lawsuit or insurance claim, this could delay or compromise your case.
Keeping all of this in mind, here are several tips you can use to ensure your technology usage doesn’t hamper your recovery.
1. Phase in Screen Time
You should gradually phase in screen time after your concussion or TBI. You’ll want to take at least 24 to 72 hours completely away from screens. Use this period for rest, and focus on stabilization.
After the 24-to-72-hour window passes (or when your doctor gives you clearance), it’s all right to phase screen time back in increments. Start with five minutes, then 10, and then 15.
Once you’re able to enjoy multiple 15-minute increments per day consistently without negative consequences, you can scale up in 15-minute increments … though you should cap your screen time at 60-minute segments for at least the first 30 days.
2. Avoid LCD Screens
The type of screen you look at is critical. Pay very close attention to this detail as you re-integrate devices into your life.
For example, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), are featured in many older TVs, smartphones, and tablets, and they can create issues.
“The light bulbs that illuminate LCD screens refresh or ‘flicker’ at a rate that is invisible to the naked eye but that is still picked up by the brain,” Children’s Hospital of Richmond explains. “This strobe-light type-of effect may cause symptoms to increase during use.”
You might ask what other options are out there. LED and OLED are the most common. You’ll find them in newer TVs, smartphones, and tablets.
3. Dim the Screen Brightness
In addition to selecting the right screen, pay careful attention to screen brightness settings. Most are set far more brightly than necessary.
You can dial them back a couple of notches and reduce the amount of exposure. Screen brightness is especially important in a dark room.
Viewing a bright screen for extended times in low-lit rooms can increase your chances of experiencing eye strain (regardless of whether you’ve suffered a concussion or not). Get familiar with device settings and adjust as needed.
4. Limit Screen Time Prior to Bed
Exposing yourself to screens immediately prior to bedtime is a bad idea for multiple reasons. First off, it increases your chances of eye strain (for the reason discussed above).
Second, blue light exposure suppresses the secretion of melatonin, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay at rest. Because sleep is such an essential piece of recovery, too much screen time at night can have a direct negative impact on the healing process.
It’s simply not worth it!
Adding it All Up
It’s not realistic to avoid screens 100 percent of your daily life. But by planning ahead and accounting for the types of screen, timing, brightness, and other factors, you’ll dramatically reduce negative symptoms and give yourself the ability to reach a faster recovery.