6 Common Sleep Myths

Sleep disruption is one of those symptoms that often gets pushed aside in stroke recovery. It’s understandable. You’re likely dealing with a lot of changes and getting better sleep is the last thing on your mind. But getting better quality sleep can help you recover.

Continue reading “6 Common Sleep Myths”

Why Do I Have Post Stroke Fatigue?

 This question was asked by me to the Strokefocus.net Forum and the answers come from my researching Post Stroke Fatigue. I believe you will find this information useful. So here goes:

Dear Me: 

I don’t want to take a nap. I need to take a nap. Why is that so?

Need, Not Want


Dear Need, Not Want:

In the world of acronyms, it’s called PSF, or Post-Stroke Fatigue. PSF is a given post-stroke. So what is the solution? Knowing that you need a nap, there are some suggestions on management. Follow along and track the 1) how 2) who, and 3) what respectively in these 3 recent studies.

The How

In the Chinese Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Yan et al wrote:

Issue: How you breathe makes a difference.

Findings: “Diaphragm training can significantly improve motor function and the daily life of stroke survivors. The mechanism may be related to improved respiratory function and decreased the severity of fatigue.”

Translated from medical jargon, that means you might take shorter naps, or even a 15-minute power nap, if you breathe the correct way. I took an armchair yoga class several times and each time, the instructor went over breathing: a count of 4 breaths in (inhalation), a count of 6 breaths out (exhalations). This breathing exercise is good for other things, like alone time for meditation and frustration moments. I try to do that breathing pattern all the time, and when I forget, I know, so I get right back on track.

The Who

In the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Cumming et al discovered a couple of things, among others, that might interest you:

Issue: Confirmation of link between FMS (Functional Movement Systems) and disability and depression

Findings: “Post-stroke fatigue was associated with lower limb mobility, while post-stroke depressive symptoms were associated with cognitive performance.”

Findings: “The current results underscore the importance of recognizing fatigue clinically, and the need to understand the underlying pathophysiology. Its importance is also highlighted by a high prevalence and persistence, remaining elevated in one study at 6-year follow-up.” 


The What

In Lenus, The Irish Health RepositoryKhan and Delargy found the following:

Issue: Rehabilitation can be severely affected by PSF

Findings: “Post-stroke fatigue is a frequently reported symptom by stroke survivors undergoing rehabilitation. This cross-sectional observational study was undertaken in a rehabilitation facility to look at its prevalence and relationship with various variables like personal factors, type of stroke, social context, hemispheric involvement on CT scan and mobility status. The results showed that PSF was present in 83% (25 out of 30) of the patients included in the study.”

Predictable, for sure. But when the medical researchers say it, you REALLY believe it. Please show this article to your family and friends if they say something negative like, “Get up already” or “Stop being lazy.” PSF is a real thing.

Brought to you by Strokefocus and one of its associations, Northwest Brain Network

    The Basics of Hemorrhagic Strokes

    Hemorrhagic strokes are the second most common type of stroke. They account for almost 13% of all strokes, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA).

    Typical Causes

    Hemorrhagic strokes are the result of a blood vessel that bursts and bleeds in the brain. This puts increasing pressure on the brain, and cell death can happen within minutes. Let’s look more in-depth at some common causes.

    Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure

    Blood pressure that is not well controlled can have serious consequences. High blood pressure can cause damage and weaken arteries. Weakened arteries in the brain can rupture and lead to a hemorrhagic stroke. This is why blood pressure management is so important.

    Aneurysms

    An aneurysm is a weakened blood vessel that ends up bulging and sometimes ruptures. The ASA notes that aneurysms develop over time and are more common in people over 40. They often develop due to constant pressure from blood flow.

    Aneurysms grow slowly and weaken as they enlarge. It’s unknown how to predict when or if they will rupture. High blood pressure can weaken arteries, and straining can increase blood pressure.

    Arteriovenous Malformations (AVMs)

    An AVM is something that people are usually born with. They occur in less than 1% of the population, according to Harvard Health. An AVM consists of an abnormal tangle of arteries and veins.

    • Arteries bring blood that is rich in oxygen from the heart to the rest of the body.
    • Veins transport the blood that has delivered the oxygen (and now needs to be oxygenated) back to the heart.
    • Capillaries are tiny vessels that connect arteries and veins. They also exchange nutrients from the blood to surrounding tissues.

    An AVM changes and disrupts this natural process. It connects arteries directly to veins and completely bypasses capillaries. These fragile, tangled vessels can become damaged over time. This leads to a rupture and resulting hemorrhage.

    Types of Hemorrhagic Strokes

    Intracerebral Hemorrhage

    This type of hemorrhagic stroke is two times more common than those caused by a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

    An intracerebral hemorrhage can happen deep in the brain or towards the surface. It occurs when thin-walled arteries in the brain burst and cause blood to flow into the brain tissue. This forms a hematoma: a clotted or partially-clotted pool of blood.

    The part of the brain that the ruptured artery served now becomes starved of oxygen. This is when brain cell death occurs.

    Pressure can also build-up and cause the brain to press against the skull. Surgeons may have to remove the hematoma to reduce pressure within the skull.

    Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

    This type of hemorrhagic stroke occurs in the subarachnoid space between the brain and the skull. This space is filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which cushions the brain.

    Subarachnoid hemorrhages are often caused by a ruptured aneurysm. This causes blood to enter the subarachnoid space, putting pressure on the brain. The area of the brain served by the ruptured artery begins to die due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients.

    This bleeding can also interrupt the normal flow of CSF. It can cause the ventricles to enlarge due to the extra fluid in the brain, aka hydrocephalus. The ventricles are cavities deep in the brain and are responsible for producing and transporting CSF.

    And that’s a wrap! We’ve covered the 4 main types of strokes, and the basics of ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on how the effects of a stroke change based on brain location and a series on neuroplasticity!

    Anger Encompasses This Person

    Dear Joyce:

     

    I am 32 had my stroke only a year ago, but I still have an angry mood. I argue with my wife, mother, and friends when I know they mean the best for me. Does this anger go away or will I have it forever!

     

    Angry is LA

     

    Dear Angry in LA,

     

    The answer is complicated, and some people get rid of the anger quickly, while some take longer. But no, you won’t have it forever.

     

    I have a theory: the better your life was before the stroke, the longer I will take you to get rid of the anger. There’s a reason for this theory: Let’s say you enjoy your job. You just got a promotion. You go shopping on the weekends and buy another new purse or an article of clothing. All is right with the world, and in a split second, no longer. You have a stroke, and everything goes in the reverse immediately. You no longer have the job, your promotion bit the dust, and you are not able to browse in stores as you once have.

     

    Only by looking back, you realize the anger is going away. But by asking your question, and realizing that an anger mood is not where you want to be, you have an awareness and are cognizant of the fact you don’t want to be angry any longer. Good luck as your anger is slowly losing its grip on you!

     

     

    Simple Pleasures for This Simple Stroke Survivor

    Looking back over my life, I had very complicated pleasures. For example, when I wanted to convince people in the office to maintain their opposition to a particular practice, it all depended on what other people would do. Crowd mentality indeed. Or when I celebrated holidays, the host would make what she liked rather than what the compan liked. Mom mentality.

    But as a stroke survivor, I found that my preferences transformed into simple. Here are the top ten, all of which I didn’t do before my stroke:

    Waking up to greet the day

    Waking up every day is my top simple pleasure. What do I do to achieve that goal? Well, there are no guarantees in life, but switching over to the plant diet almost a year ago gave me so many chances to stay healthy. In pretending about the pandemic, I maintain that eating high Vitamin C oranges somehow kept me immune from the coronavirus. That theory is not on the proven list, but eating Vitamin C is great for preventing or lessen the severity of so many other diseases anyway.

    Adding the perfect amount of water to my oatmeal

    I actually celebrate with an audible “Yes!” multiple times when my oatmeal comes out of the microwave perfectly. Of course, nobody is there to hear it, and I find that reassuring. It’s a game I play with myself, guessing which amount of water is suitable to add to the instant variety. Somebody who lives with one or more people doesn’t get it, but I get it. I am the only one I have to please.

    Watching the washer wash


    I like the sound of the washer wash clothes. I like the “Spin” cycle the best. Oftentimes, I find myself watching the washer wash the clothes–my clothes, mesmerized–which I could have worn over again but didn’t because the washer sound is relaxing, which I wouldn’t hear on re-wearing.

    Balancing my checkbook

    I used to balance my checkbook as drudgery, something I had to do to keep my sanity in check, often getting frustrated when I reversed numbers or got the period in the wrong place. Now, I welcome it every month because I remembered my math functions. And I like the way my handwriting improved in 11 years, keeping the figures inside the lines.

    Monitoring the vegan cooking


    I was always a participant, from jumping rope as a youngster, to playing my songs as a teen in the talent show, to throwing events as an adult. Now, cooking-wise, I’m still a participant. Clare, my nurse friend, who prepares all my meals, brings the pot over to me to check on the consistency or taste or color. I’d rather cook myself, but having got the handle on do’s and dont’s. this method is the next best thing.

    Observing the houses surrounded by nature

    Normally, in those normal times before the stroke, I went around the block and that was it, not noticing the fine points. Now, my friend and I find something new every time we go like a new fence, plants and trees in bloom, or a missing shingle or the roof. That’s the game we play, because remembering what we found a few days ago keeps my memory sharp.

    Making a schedule

    Every time my friend comes which are on weekdays, I present her with a to-do list of things that should be done. I can move the entries if she doesn’t have time to finish, and she likes to check off completed tasks. Most importantly, this system, too, helps me remember the current and future tasks.

    Pronouncing words until I say them perfectly

    I have trouble pronouncing some words. Sometimes, if I say it over and over in a day, that will be enough for future times. Sometimes, like with the “scr” words, as in prescription and subscription, having practiced for 8 years, I still get tripped up. I used to be a public speaker so it’s difficult I can’t do that anymore, but just saying words correctly is the next best thing in order to communicate effectively. When somebody says, “I can’t understand you,” my heart just breaks.

    Getting a coffee package from Amazon

    Not that trillionaire Jeff Bezos need free advertising, but I look forward to this Amazon coffee coming because it wakes me up with a jolt in the morning. A jolt equals instant awareness of my surroundings so that I have an uninterrupted and clutter-free path when I’m going to walk around. At $4.95 for a 12-ounce bag, you can sample all the flavors while staying alert. In a sense, priceless.

    Counting the birds that fly by in 10 minutes

    Birds, predominantly crows, fly by in groups. I never see one crow without another one to follow. Especially now that it’s mating season, the birds are frequent. And no, I don’t watch the birds “fornicating.” Sheesh! Birds, too, need a little privacy. And don’t think I’m a nerd. People need something to do in this pandemic.

    New Facts on COVID-19: “Don’t Come In Unless You’re Short of Breath” Doesn’t Apply Anymore

    I had an annoying, dry cough in the beginning of February. Then the cough roared like a hungry beast. No fever. Just the cough, with shortness of breath and fatigue that escalated quickly over a two-week period. Was it COVID-19, I asked myself repeatedly? I don’t know now, and maybe I wouldn’t ever know, unless the testing starts very shortly to all people, rich or poor, healthy (for the asymptomatics amongst us) or sick, despite what Jared Kushner, as a spokesman for President Trump, says about enough tests now. I haven’t had one at the peak of coughing/shortness of breath/fatigue. Have you? Just to make sure?

    But with Trump in charge, forget that option. “Coming up shortly,” or “Within the next two weeks,” or, my favorite, “Soon” is Trump-speak, when most people, after the passage of time, forget he made those promises in the first place. But I remember. You can count on that.

    WIRED had an article written by Megan Molteni who says that scientists are running like crazy to comprehend why some patients also develop neurological ailments like confusion, stroke, seizure, or loss of smell. Stories of other, stranger symptoms like headaches, confusion, seizures, tingling and numbness, the loss of smell or taste have been going on for weeks.

    “The medicines we use to treat any infection have very different penetrations into the central nervous system,” says S. Andrew Josephson, chair of the neurology department at the University of California, San Francisco. He is saying that most drugs can’t pass through the blood-brain barrier, a living wall around the brain. He also says if the coronavirus is penetrating the barrier and infecting neurons, that could make it more difficult to find appropriate treatments.

    When the virus first started in Wuhan, China, health records indicate that 214 patients admitted to the Union Hospital of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, 36.4 percent of the patients showed signs of nervous-system-related issues, including headaches, dizziness, confusion, strokes, prolonged seizure, and a slowly disappearing sense of smell, some before the fever and cough were apparent.

    “We’ve been telling people that the major complications of this new disease are pulmonary, but it appears there are a fair number of neurologic complications that patients and their physicians should be aware of,” says Josephson.

    Without that information, datasets in particular, there’s no way to know how to interpret reports on patients, and “single cases are tantalizing, but they can be fraught with coincidence,” says Josephson.

    COVID-19’s horrendous death toll, 61, 656 as of this writing, is other-worldly, science fiction-like worthy, and not many autopsies are being done. Only some pictures of the lungs, but a good chance that there’s some viral invasion of the brain.

    A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine examining 58 patients in Strasbourg, France, found that more than half were confused or agitated, with brain imaging suggesting inflammation.

    “You’ve been hearing that this is a breathing problem, but it also affects what we most care about, the brain,” says Josephson. “If you become confused, if you’re having problems thinking, those are reasons to seek medical attention,” he added.

    Viruses affect the brain, explained Michel Toledano, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The brain is protected by something called the blood-brain-barrier, something that Josephson says, too, which blocks foreign substances but could be penetrated if compromised.

    Since loss of smell is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, some have hypothesized the nose might be the pathway to the brain. But in the case of the novel coronavirus, doctors hold on to current evidence that the neurological impacts are more likely the result of overactive immune response rather than brain invasion.

    Jennifer Frontera, who is also a professor at NYU School of Medicine, explains documenting notable cases including seizures in COVID-19 patients with no prior history of the episodes, and new patterns of small brain hemorrhages.

    “We’re seeing a lot of consults of patients presenting in confusional states,” said Rohan Arora, a neurologist at the Long Island Jewish Forest Hills hospital, adding that more than 40 percent of recovered virus patients. “Returning to normal,” added Arora, “appears to be taking longer than for people who suffer heart failure or stroke.” [Apparently, Dr. Arora hasn’t worked extensively with stroke patients. After 11 years, I’m still recovering. Just sayin’.]

    Anyway, good advice if you have any of those symptoms–headaches, dizziness, confusion,  prolonged seizure, and a disappearing sense of smell–go to the doctor. Many doctors are seeing patients through tele-conference now. If you had a stroke as a result of COVID-19, you probably have already gone to the hospital where there are tests but not too many of them.

    One more thing. How about Trump supporters try injecting or swallowing disinfectants to see if they work or this headline: Online demand for hydroxychloroquine surged 1,000% after Trump backed it, study finds. I say that statement with sarcasm, but unlike Trump, he said it confidently when he recommended Lysol, Clorox, and hydroxychloroquine, despite his walkback when people were alarmed and others broke into peals of laughter. It’s on tape, Mr. President.

    Eyedrops After Cataract Surgery

    People who do not have someone to put drops in their eyes four times a day need help.  Task modification helped me succeed after my recent cataract surgery.  It is easy to drop and difficult to squeeze the stiff sides of a tiny 5 ml bottle.  I am glad I found the Autosqueeze Eye Drop Bottle.  The big wings are easy to hold and require only a gentle squeeze.

    Before I lie down on my bed I gather two bottles of eye drops and a Kleenex tissue.  I put a pillow on my chest (not stomach) and put my sound elbow on the pillow.  This support makes my hand remain steady instead of bobbing around as I hold the bottle in the air.  To stop myself from blinking I distract myself by looking through the opening formed by my thumb and index finger instead of the bottle.  I try to get the drop in the inner corner of my eye.

    When I put the cap back on I need to stop my hand from bobbing up and down and accidentally touching the tip of the bottle.  I keep my hand still by pressing my elbow firmly against the pillow.  homeafterstroke.blogspot.com

    Smartphone Use During Quarantine: Ways in which to keep it in Check

    As you read this article, potentially on your smartphone, you may wonder if you may be overusing your smartphone during the radical shift in schedule that is this quarantine.  Keep in mind that, in the US, 41 states, 3 counties, 8 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enacted abrupt and extreme social distancing measures.  This amounts to approximately 310 million people being asked to stay and work at home, except for emergency needs.  Know that while the USA is waiting this out in their homes, so too are countries worldwide restricting the movement of people.  This may mean a lot of people with more free time, or at least some time to kill, now that the commute times have been reduced to getting up from the bed and walking to your home office.

    What is likely to happen while we are sheltering in place?  While many of us have the best intentions to use this time to bond with our families at home, we still need to keep in touch with our work groups and our extended families who may live in other states or countries.  Additionally, more options are available for online learning, reading and video content options, including those with socializing elements, and they are getting more trendy as we hunker down.  While a smartphone can be a tremendous tool to allow us to venture virtually out of our houses and connect with distant family, it can also be emotionally isolating, physically harmful for us, and a disconnect to the family in house.

    What most people don’t realize is the negative impact of excessive use of smartphones. When one has difficulty regulating the amount of time they spend on the phone or have negative consequences from use such as relationship strain, financial issues, accidents and loss of productivity, smart phone use becomes problematic or addictive.  One study suggested that the prevalence of problematic smartphone use is common (about 38%). During this shelter-in-place period, you might be tempted to spend the better part of the day on your smartphone, or quickly realize that what started as a “quick check” just ate up more time than you planned.

    One common behavior seen with any dependence, including substances and devices, is that it becomes the first and last thing done each day.  When a smoker wakes up, there is a stimulus to use, as serotonin and dopamine deficiencies increase cravings and the brain triggers an action or a person goes through withdrawal.  Prior to going to bed, a smoker may take a cigarette to reduce withdrawal at night.  These behaviors are usually reflexive and outside of the realm of  conscious awareness.  Though they describe a pattern that is seen in dependence.

    Does this apply to you?  Do you find yourself looking at your phone the moment you get up and just prior to calling it the night?  You are not alone.  One survey of 536 online respondents in 2017 found that nearly half of those surveyed checked their phones just after waking up and half checked their phones just before going to bed.

     

    The World on Smartphones, the Brain’s Wiring and Where did all the time go?

    Over the last twenty years, there has been an expansion of internet use around the world.  Some of this has been fueled by smartphones and increased availability of Wi-Fi and satellite coverage.  It is estimated that approximately half of the world’s population has access to a smartphone.  With increased access comes increased use.  With increased use comes increased dependence.

    global internet usage

    In his thought-provoking book, “The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains,”  Nicholas Carr outlines the neuroscience of technologies like the internet and smartphones and how they affect the neurotransmitters and neural maps in our brains.  Essentially, our brains incorporate smartphones as if they were an appendage of our bodies.  That harkens back to that sudden visceral feeling we get when we think we lost our phones.  Interesting research discussed in the book is how our attention spans and memory are altered with smartphone use.  Essentially, the internet, and smartphone use, is dumbing us down.

    The problem with smartphone use is that it is insidious and can be hard to know when it has become too much – and even harder to limit.  According to research conducted by a senior living community provider Provision Living,  the average person spends approximately 5.4 hours on their smartphones each day, with millennials spending 5.7 hours a day.  Facebook and Instagram each took up about one hour daily.  While this is a substantial amount, people tend to underestimate their use.  When you put that time together, it makes up about 81 days a year, or about one and a half days a week on the phones.  Sure, some of the time may be work-related, but probably a lot less than you think.

     

    Side Effects of Smart Phone Overuse

    Here is a list of some of the known side effects of smart phone overuse:

    Neck pain or “Text Neck”

    Excessive use of smartphone can result in neck strain.  This occurs when the neck is flexed forward and there is rounding of the shoulders.  With normal posture, the neck supports the 10-12 pound weight of the head well.  Looking down at your smartphone flexes the neck and exerts a force on it that may be up to 60 pounds.  Since our smartphone use can be almost subconscious, we often don’t realize that we are forward flexed until we start noticing the neck tension and headaches.  The ongoing strain can eventually lead to degenerative disk disease and cause you increased pain issues and severe disability.

    Other than generally spending less time on the phone, taking care to look at the phone for shorter durations, doing neck stretches, and keeping the phone at a higher viewing angle may reduce the strain.

    pexels-photo-2364447
    Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

    Eye strain or “Computer vision syndrome”

    Also referred to as “digital eye strain“, eye strain is associated with the excessive use of mobile phones and tablets. It generally causes the following problems:

    • Blurred vision and eye fatigue
    • Pain and discomfort due to looking at a digital screen for more than two hours
    • Eye burning and itching from dry eye
    • Frontal headaches

    Eye strain and dry eye are worsened by a greater duration of smartphone use and a brighter intensity of light.

    Distraction

    Driving a car requires one’s full attention, and greater velocities require shorter reaction times for emergency stops.  The use of a phone while driving increases the chance of an accident 6 times more than driving while drunk.  Given the average person checks their phones once every 12 minutes, it isn’t unreasonable to predict that the brain would want to look at it anytime — even while driving.  But it’s a completely unreasonable behavior and anyone would agree.

    Yet, it happens and it can be lethal.  The National Safety council reports that phone use, whether talking, texting or checking, leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.  That’s nearly one in every four car crashes, and one in ten that are fatal.  An estimated 3,500 people (and probably more) die from distracted driving in the United States each year.

    And it isn’t just deaths from cars.  There is a growing list of sometimes bizarre, all of the times tragic, deaths caused by distraction from smartphone use.  Whether it is a person who falls to their death while taking a selfie or dies trying to rescue their phone, it begs the question:  was it worth it?

     

    Sleep issues

    Interrupted or Self-induced sleep deprivation.  Smartphone use can impact sleep in a number of ways.  The use of smartphone can reduce the duration of sleep and increase pre-sleep arousal, either from spending time binge-watching movies or checking social media in bed.  If the phone is not turned off or to silent mode, it can interrupt sleep with a chime, ring or buzz alert.    Even after you check the message and see that it wasn’t important – just an email about a coming discount at a store you only went to once – getting back to sleep is not always successful.  In one study, the majority (76.5%) of sleep disruptions that were caused by smartphones were outgoing message, while calls (21.7%) and Facebook checks (1.8%) occurred less commonly.  The interruptions were seen in 41% of subjects in the study period of month, amounting to at least one weekday in a four week period.  Those with frequent interruptions were also found to have less sleep duration and a higher  body mass index.

    Insomnia.  Computer screens, TV screens and phone screens emit a greater degree of blue light.  Our brains take in environmental cues to sleep, including a decrease in ambient light.  These signals trigger the release of melatonin from our pineal gland, which prepares the body for the sleep state.  When we see the blue lights of a screen, the body is receiving the light which causes mixed signals and impairs the ability to sleep.  Just a simple behavioral change of turning the phones off thirty minutes before bedtime made a significant improvement of sleep quality and duration.

     

    Mood alterations with increased risk of depression and loneliness

    Multiple studies have shown a correlation between smartphone dependence and depressive symptoms and reports of loneliness.  This is particularly prevalent in cell phone dependence in adolescents.  It is likely that the overuse of smartphones leads to destabilization and development of poor coping skills and reduced resilience that provokes depression, anxiety, loneliness. As with other dependent states, an imbalance of neurotransmitters, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate, is likely involved.

     

    Exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation

    The CDC does not report any definite evidence of cancer from smartphone.  However, smartphones give off radiofrequency radiation.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) does classify RF radiation as a “possible human carcinogen!” (cancer-causing agent).  It is possible to mitigate the risk of this possible carcinogen by using a hand-free headset, airpods, or headphones, using the speaker of the phone, and turning the phone in airplane mode or placing the phone in another room while charging.

     

     

    Strategies to Protect Yourself From Problematic Smartphone Use During the Quarantine

    technology-telephone-mobile-smart-1388947
    Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

    Anyone in their forties like me recalls the day that they bought their first smartphone.  I was in my early twenties and in my medical training.  Beside handy books for the white coat, many of us residents, interns and students used personal desktop assistants (PDA), which were aptly termed “peripheral brains.”  With the PDA, cellphone and a pager, we carried the devices to keep us informed and stay within-reach.  There was an immediate appeal to have an all-in-one device with a resource available at hand to review literature and link our curiosity to answers.

    Now children are getting phones at an increasingly younger age.  In one European study in 2015, 46% of children between the ages of 9 and 16 had a smartphone.  As parents we are unwittingly enrolling our children in a research study on how the smartphones affect the developing brain.  It is becoming increasingly harder to unplug, in part because of increased convenience, but more so because of dependence.

    The only time we can experience smartphone-free time (aside from powering down our devices!) is in locations where Wi-Fi service is unavailable, such as hiking or traveling – though I am amazed at many people I see toying with their phones even in remote areas.  In the year 2020, a child operating a device without Wi-Fi loses interest rapidly.   We are fast approaching a day when satellite internet access will be available in all reaches of the world – and people are working on this now.

    During the current situation, there are even less options to distract yourself from using your smartphone.  Other than breaking it, locking it away, or going off the grid, here are some of the ways everyone can still enjoy the benefits of smartphone technology while limiting excessive, problematic use:

     

    1. Set a daily time limit on the phone.

    Time use can add up throughout the day.  A check every 12 minutes could be a set-up for checking sites, responding to other’s texts.  Most smartphones have a program that does a daily assessment of your use and calculates an average usage during a week.

    Another way around counting your time is simply to change a behavior that you normally do.  For example, if you check your phone immediately when you wake up, use the bathroom, or fall asleep you could avoid that behavior.  This will likely cut down on the total time.  While it is hard to say an exact time of healthy smartphone use, it likely a “less is more” thing.

     

    2.  Set aside the smartphone and other electronics for one days each week and set that as an example for all family members.

    One important point is that children’s screen-time used is influenced by their parent’s use.  Techniques such as selecting one day a week without electronic devices, including smart phones, may be a welcome strategy for keeping overuse in check.  I have encouraged our family to do this once a week – I am calling it, somewhat ironically, “Sunday Funday.”  It is interesting to see how often topics of electronics and smartphones come up during the day.

     

    3. Set up some daily time-out routines with phone use.

    During this quarantine for COVID-19, there is much more time to fall into the use of a smartphone.  Setting up a routine, such as all the phones are switched off or to airplane mode by 8:00pm may prevent the time creep of evening use and sleep issues.

     

    4. Practice Mindfulness. Know when you might need to limit.

    One thing about human behavior is that it occurs below the level of conscious detection.  Yes your brain makes you do things that you don’t realize that you are doing. Although smartphone doesn’t seem to overlap with mindfulness, the use of this practice may help you by slowing down reflex decision-making to use or staying aware of the passing of time.

     

    5.  Get outside and power down.

    Aside from the (peculiar) behavior of using an outdoor smartphone app (e.g. Pokémon go), getting outside may provide a chance to power off your phone and connect to the present moment.  Smell the flowers, hear the birds chirp, and hear the wind.  Nature doesn’t know that there is a pandemic.

     

    5. Refer to a number of applications that are designed to curb phone addiction.

    There are a number of Apps available on Android and IPhone that can help regulate time and curb smartphone overuse.  Some of these include AppDetox  (free/android), Flipd (free/android/ios), Offtime (ios/android), ClearLock (paid/android), and QualityTime (free/android).

    It’s always a slippery slope when using an app on your smartphone to modify your smartphone overuse.  It is always possible to turn off the alarm and just continue to use it.  Nevertheless, they may be beneficial in creating mindfulness of the behavior.

    6.  Consider getting help if the above efforts don’t work.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has a role in the treatment of forms of dependence, including smartphone addiction.  The idea of CBT is to increase one’s awareness of how emotions and thoughts shape an action that leads to the dependence and how to break that arc.  There are several online conferencing CBT sites available as well.

     

    Summary

    At least for the next three or four weeks, the United States and other countries will continue these strict social distancing measures, which result in a change in the usual schedule.  If it hadn’t been a problem already, it is likely that this adjustment might come with it increased smartphone use.  Besides increasing the risk of physical problems, problematic smartphone use can lead to disrupted sleep, increases in anxiety and depression and relationship problems, and increase distraction.  An awareness and attention to this problem can ensure that this time is one of growth and productivity.

     

    Resources:

    Proposed Diagnostic Criteria for Smartphone Addiction

    Take the Nomophobia Test   Nomophobia  “No mobile phone phobia”

    Screen Time and Children:  Advice regarding setting limits on screen time for children

    Bank my cell website:  Informational Website regarding tools to manage overuse of smartphones

    Nurturing the Resilient Spirit: Ways to Support Mental Wellness during the COVID-19 Quarantine