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Stop These 7 Bad Smartphone Habits Right Now

Save your immune system, your mental health—and maybe even your life.

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Your cell phone: It's the best of devices, it's the worst of devices.

On one hand, that incredible little machine allows you to access the sum total of human knowledge in an instant. On the other hand, it might hurt your neck, disrupt your sleep or give you a raging case of cheek acne.

So, what are the health consequences of using your iPhones and Androids incorrectly, and how in the world can you prevent them? Read on for a list of bad habits, plus smart tips on righting those wrongs.

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1. Constantly checking your phone

Between texts, alerts and notifications, you're probably tempted to look at your phone about every five seconds. Problem is, checking too much can chip away at your overall ability to concentrate.

In a Canada-based study, Microsoft discovered that human attention spans have slipped, from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2013. Researchers attribute some of the drop to cell phone use, especially among younger adults. Increased digital consumption, including heavy web browsing and social media use, were particular culprits in "eroding" long-term focus.

If you have a problem, turn off your notifications and try not to text after a certain hour. Your brain will thank you.

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2. Obsessing over social media

Whether it's being bummed about your pal's perfect Instagram life, or feeling guilty that you blew two hours(!) on Tumblr, social media can affect your mood. And the more you use it, the worse it may be. One 2016 study found that young adults spending the most time on social media are likelier to be depressed than those who spend the least. The American Academy of Pediatrics discovered a similar excess-use effect for kids—and they even give it a name: "Facebook depression."

The solution? Either delete your Twitter account entirely, or download an app restricting your overall social media usage. They don't cost much, and could save your mental health.

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3. Scrolling before bed

If you're feeling unrested lately, your smartphone could be the culprit. Recent studies found that using a phone within an hour of bedtime may disrupt sleep, making it difficult to drop off and stay snoozing. This is due, in part, to two things:

  • The light coming out of the device, which suppresses the brain chemical melatonin and keeps you alert.
  • Smartphone interactivity, which is more likely to keep you awake than something passive, like watching TV.

Instead of checking texts, set your device aside and read a book. A good novel will probably lull you to sleep faster than your iPhone, and—hey—you just might learn something.

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4. Not cleaning the screen

Searching for a good place to grow bacteria? Look no further than your phone, a.k.a. your personal petri dish. One small study found smartphones are dirtier than toilet seats, and when you combine those germs with the oil and sweat generated by placing a device against your face, the predictable result is: acne. Smartphone users often report breakouts on one cheek.

To prevent this, try two things: First, clean your screen using a "soft, lint-free" cloth. If you must use a liquid solution, don't spray it directly on the device unless you feel like buying a new phone. Second, get your phone away from your face; earbuds with a microphone are inexpensive and available at electronics retailers. 

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5. Hunching over to type

If your parents ever told you to sit up straight at the dinner table, you might want to thank them. Sure, it's polite, but it also taught you good posture, key to keeping your back, neck and shoulders pain-free.

Those muscles have been under attack lately, thanks largely to smartphones. Orthopedic specialists are reporting more patients coming in with "text neck"—the strain caused by hunching over a device. Especially alarming? Many of those suffering are kids.

Happily, the solution is simple: Instead of hunching over to read your BFF's text, keep your head upright and bring your phone to your eyes. That should help ease immediate pain, and keep you safer long-term.

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6. Shutting out your surroundings

Remember that guy who was hit by a car while he was staring at his cell phone? And the kid killed by a truck doing the same thing? And the woman hit by a… 

You get the picture. The National Safety Council reported over 11,000 distracted walking injuries between 2000 and 2011, largely due to phones. They can split our concentration and lower our awareness of our surroundings, damaging everything from our driving skills to our ability to hold conversations.

So, when you're doing something requiring undivided attention, put your phone away. To avoid temptation, stash it in a hard-to-reach place before you even begin.

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7. Staring at your phone for hours

Your smartphone obsession might not blind you, but it isn't good for your vision. According to the American Academy of Opthalmology, extended screen time prevents us from blinking as much as we should, leading to dryness, eye strain, blurred vision and plain ol' fatigue.

Children, whose eyes are still developing, are also at risk for dry-eye disease. In one Korean study, kids who used their smartphone longer and more often than their peers were more likely to show symptoms. When they stopped for four weeks, the symptoms went away.

To prevent strain, take breaks every 20 minutes or so, and opt for wearing glasses over contact lenses, which can aggravate irritation. 

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