Electronic Screen Syndrome

You’ve probably experienced being physically tired at night but when you try to go to sleep your mind is racing and you can’t seem to rest. I’ve heard it referred to as “wired and tired.” There are scientific explanations for all this.


According to Dr. Victoria Dunckley, “Electronic screen devices irritate the brain and overstimulate the nervous system.” Dr. Dunckley refers to this as Electronic Screen Syndrome, or ESS for short.

In her book Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time, Dr. Dunckley says, “One way to think about the syndrome is to view electronics as a stimulant (in essence, not unlike caffeine, amphetamines, or cocaine): electronic screen device use puts the body into a state of high arousal and hyperfocus, followed by a ‘crash.’ This overstimulation of the nervous system is capable of causing a variety of chemical, hormonal, and sleep disturbances in the same way other stimulants can.”


This continual connectivity to our devices which cultivates what Dr. Gary Small, author of  iBrain, refers to as “digital fog.” It is a form of mental fatigue that is hard to just turn off when you are physically tired and turn off the lights to go to bed. Your mind keeps racing.


Dr. Small explains why this happens, “Our brains were not built to maintain such monitoring for extended time periods. Eventually, the endless hours of unrelenting digital connectivity can create a unique type of brain strain. Many people who have been working on the Internet for several hours without a break report making frequent errors in their work. Upon signing off, they notice feeling spaced out, fatigued, irritable, and distracted, as if they are in a digital fog. This new form of mental stress, what I term techno-brain burnout, is threatening to become an epidemic. Under this kind of stress, our brains instinctively signal the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol and adrenaline. In the short run, these stress hormones boost energy levels and augment memory, but over time they actually impair cognition, lead to depression, and alter the neural circuitry in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex – the brain regions that control mood and thought. Chronic and prolonged techno-brain burnout can even reshape the underlying brain structure.”


Those are a lot of strange words describing various regions of the brain that are impacted by techno-brain burnout. The real challenge is not about understanding all the words but figuring out how to give our brains a break from screens more often. It will be worth the extra effort.