Is Too Much Internet Use Making Us Sick? | Chris Kresser
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Is Too Much Internet Use Making Us Sick?


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The internet has revolutionized the way we live and work, but like many modern inventions, its benefits haven’t come without consequences. A growing body of research suggests that excessive use of the internet is detrimental to both physical and mental health. Read on to learn more and get my tips on how to protect your health without giving up the internet entirely.

Is too much internet making us sick?
Increased Internet usage has taken a toll on our health and activity level.

We’ve made amazing strides in technology and communication in recent decades. Most of us have either drastically increased our internet usage over the last 20 years, or we have simply never known a world without it. Forty percent of the global population has access to the internet today (1), and Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has a plan to make sure that 100 percent of the world is connected to this resource. (2, 3)

The internet has opened up the entire world of data and research to us, making the very resource that you are now reading not only possible, but a source of credible information for you in a place where literally anyone can write and share anything.

The internet provides the means to become self-educated, to gather information, to shop, to build businesses, to market services, to communicate with others via social media, to find mates, to seek entertainment, to make money, to manage money, and to share data, including personal information.

At the dawn of widespread internet usage in the mid-1990s, researchers were already beginning to examine the effects of internet usage on our mental health. The concept of “internet addiction” was first studied in 1996. (4) Since then, there have been many studies linking problematic internet usage to various psychological issues, including anxiety, ADHD, autism, depression, hostility, schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder, loneliness, and stress. (5)

Has the rapid expansion of internet access created a new environment that is detrimental to our health? Let’s take a closer look at the environmental loads and pressures that characterize internet use today.

Take these 10 steps to protect your health when using the internet.

We’ve Increased Our Screen-Time

The experience of internet use includes screen-time, and the number of hours spent staring at screens these days is ever-increasing. Researchers at Childwise, a UK organization that specializes in research with children, estimate that there has been a recent shift in what our children are consuming online. (6) Of their three to nearly five hours a day online, children are spending more time on social media and playing games than watching television shows. In fact, a documentary called Screenagers by director and physician Dr. Delaney Ruston (7) addresses the new problems that have risen in family dynamics, social dynamics, physical brain development, parental influences and controls, and emotional changes as a result of our children being constantly stimulated by a screen.

Looking at an artificially illuminated screen has an influence on the human body’s circadian rhythm. (8, 9, 10) In particular, the isolated blue light that emanates from electronic devices is shown to be disruptive to the natural hormonal fluctuations that we experience in concert with the day and night cycles. Unnatural light can delay melatonin secretion (the hormone that primes you for sleep) in the evening, which can lead to any of the associated chronic and acute health consequences of insufficient sleep, including weight gain, reduced immunity, cardiovascular health, metabolic disease, cancer, and reduced motor skill function. (11)

The environmental input from screen use goes beyond its artificial lighting and attention-grabbing nature. Screen-time creates a very near, static focal length for our eyes. The ciliary muscle in the eye relaxes when distance vision is engaged, and it contracts at shorter focal lengths. (12) Gazing at a screen for hours on end is effectively practicing constant contraction of the ciliary muscle. Near “work” in the absence of mid-range and distance “work” influences the progression of myopia. (13)

We’re More Sedentary

Prolonged internet use is closely associated with sedentary behavior and all of the associated health consequences. (14) There are numerous studies supporting the connection between sedentary behavior and cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality. (15, 16, 17, 18)

Sitting for excessive periods has been shown to reduce the natural glucose and insulin response in the body. (19) Recent studies demonstrate that prolonged sitting is a risk factor for hospitalization, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality independent of the amount of exercise one gets. (20, 21)

The cardiovascular system changes in response to sedentary behavior. Capillary growth (called capillarization) occurs only in moving body parts for the purposes of nourishing the cells that are in use. This is made possible by the presence of a protein called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor). (22) In non-moving body parts, VEGF is reduced and the capillaries retreat from those areas. The more non-moving parts we have, the less capillarized we are, and the less nourished our bodies will be. Studies have shown that this process can happen even if your body is moved passively. (23)

Hypertension is a possible health consequence of excessive internet use. The less we move, the less capillarized we will be, and the higher our blood pressure is adapted to be. (24) The model, explained nicely by Katy Bowman in her podcast called “Cardio & Natural Movement, describes your cardiovascular system as a container. All other things being equal, when that container gets smaller, your blood pressure must rise in response.

We’re Becoming More Socially Isolated

The internet was designed to connect us with others. It has certainly done this, but it’s also true that the internet can be a cause of disconnection in our lives. For example, a common scene in the modern household is for all family members to be present, with each person staring into their own screen, co-existing without sharing the experience of life. Likewise, it’s not unusual to go out to a café and see nearly every person there completely immersed in their digital device, or to go to a restaurant and see couples or groups of people at a table all staring at their phones.

Electronic communication has revolutionized the way we work and play and provided important social benefits. But when it comes at the expense of interacting with people in person (or even over the phone), there are consequences. Genuine social interaction has been part of the human experience for as long as we’ve been human, and it’s as necessary for health as a nutrient-dense diet, appropriate physical activity, and adequate sleep.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there have been many studies linking excessive internet use to increased social isolation. One study (25) discovered a relationship between the amount of time that adolescents spent online and the ability to connect with others. It was found that kids who self-reported as “low” internet users (less than one hour per day) had better relationships with friends and family than those who reported “moderate” (one to two hours per day) and “high” (more than two hours per day). The authors concluded that excessive internet use can interfere with face-to-face relationships.

Caplan (2003) studied a person’s preference for online interaction as a factor in the development of problematic internet usage and the psychological health consequences that can develop as a result. He found that those who preferred to connect with others online would tend to become lonelier and more depressed over time and that people who identified as lonelier and more depressed would have a stronger preference for online interaction rather than face-to-face interaction. (26)

Researchers are finding that persistent loneliness and social isolation should be given the same attention as chronic illness with respect to mortality. They have discovered that one of the most important predictors of longevity is a feeling of social connectedness. (27) Importantly, this feeling of connectedness can be actual or perceived, highlighting the effect of mindset on overall health. Ultimately, the isolating influence of excessive internet use may do more than distract a person from “real life”—it could potentially rob one of years of life.

We’re Stuck inside the Built Environment

Although we can access the internet from almost any environment, it is generally associated with the indoors. When this is the case, the health effects of excessive internet use can be extended to include excessive exposure to indoor environments and deficiencies in the nutrients provided by outdoor environments.

Exposure to an indoor environment is a burden on health when that environment contains inadequate ventilation. High concentrations of particulates from smoke, burning wood, cooking emissions, or overexposure to biotoxins such as mold are some of the most problematic factors with respect to indoor air quality; these factors have been related to the study of “sick building syndrome,” (28, 29) a non-specific condition that describes the poor health of a population of residents in a building. (30) Typical symptoms includes headaches and dizziness, flu-like symptoms, eye, nose, and throat irritation, cough, itching skin, asthma, allergies, fatigue, poor concentration, and even personality changes.

Excessive internet users may have a deficiency in outdoor nutrients, such as fresh air, sunlight, beneficial microbes, and a feeling of some sort of connection to nature. Studies are demonstrating positive physical, cognitive, social, spiritual, and psychological health benefits for those who spend time in nature. (31) It has been suggested that “nature contact” should be considered to reduce work-day stress and overall health complaints in the workplace. (32)

What Can You Do? Follow These 10 Steps

Awareness is key, and if you interact with the internet on a daily basis, you might consider the following opportunities:

  1. Recognize that there is a difference between “internet use” and “problematic internet use.”
  2. Make a point of looking away from your screen routinely to focus on mid-range and far distances.
  3. Make a point of standing up from your desk routinely to move your body.
  4. Crowd out unnecessary screen time to do things that bring you joy.
  5. Schedule face-to-face meetings with friends, family, and coworkers to cultivate community.
  6. Head outdoors to experience movement and natural environments.
  7. Question your indoor air quality and work to improve it.
  8. Turn off screens at a certain time each night; install a program like F.lux on your computer to eliminate blue light in the evening.
  9. To limit blue light on mobile devices at night, try an app like Twilight for Android or Apple’s Night Shift feature that is new with iOS 9.3.
  10. Put your wireless router on a timer so that the internet is “shut off” each night.

Despite all of these warnings, the internet may in fact be making you healthier. The internet was immensely helpful for me in my own recovery, and I know that’s the case for many of you reading this article.

Since I am absolutely positive that some people will misinterpret my intentions with this article, let me be crystal clear: I am not suggesting that you stop using the internet or that it’s inherently unhelpful. I am merely pointing out that excessive use carries proven and significant risks.

In this respect, the internet is not unlike alcohol and coffee. When used in moderation, they have health benefits, but when they’re abused … watch out!

  1. Some other negatives include the huge distraction factor when trying to work or study, etc. of something that did not exist in its current form 20 years ago.

    Another issue, loss of attention span, the speeding up of life, the constant clicking, the instant gratification or demand for an instant response. Too much time listening to podcasts, texting, talking instead of quiet time. The loss of a work day. These can all work as detriments.

    The same thing that is a negative can also be a positive, it can cut both ways, I think in general we need to be more conscious of this especially when introducing children to the internet/screen time.

  2. I think if anyone spends a lot of time on the internet, it’s what I would call a “soft addiction” as in… reading books or watching TV as opposed to a “hard addiction” as in… being addicted to things like alcohol/drugs/porn/gambling/smoking, etc.

    And as for soft addictions…. I would much rather be “addicted” to the internet than to being addicted to watching mindless television all day and or night. One can learn much if one spends quality time on quality websites learning things that will help them become more informed/educated about matters that improve the quality of their lives and that of their loved ones. Like visiting this website for example!

    If someone likes to read books… does that mean he/she is addicted to reading books? If one likes to spend a lot of time gardening does that mean he/she is addicted to gardening? I guess those would be called “hobbies”, but if you spend just as much time surfing for information and even entertainment on the internet then you’re “addicted”?

    As in everything in life…. it’s moderation that matters!

    • I might add…. if someone spends ALL their time on the internet at the exclusion of everything and everyone else (family and friends) then that person has what’s called an “addictive mind”, which is a serious issue. It’s not the internet’s fault that the person is addicted.

      And from what I understand… if a person with an “addictive mind” is able to stop an addiction to something, they end up transferring the addiction to something else! Their mind ends up searching for something else to take its place to fill that “hole”.

    • I agree. Internet usage allows you to exercise your brain and to be captain of your own ship. There is so much out there to learn! Also, I connect with Facebook nature groups, so other’s posts inspire me to get outside

  3. I have become addicted to the internet since a health crisis 7 years ago, and am now at the point where I won’t even go to the shops. Very socially isolated and lonely, yet I seem to sabotage my own good intentions – eg. signed up for a windsurfing workshop, only to pull out because I didn’t feel confident meeting people. How do we address internet addiction and get the help we need? My GP just smirks and wants to stick me on anti depressants.

    • Hi, Dale. I, too, am an addict (recovered alcoholic and in recovery from food addiction). I am having success with dietary modifications, under the guidance of my alternative/functional physician (an MD, but with added training), to increase my dopamine levels, which were scarily low. I am also on a very low does of a drug called naltrexone, the use of which is called, aptly, “low-dose naltrexone.” Dr. Kresser has spoken of it in the past–perhaps run a search on it. I am not saying this would be the course for you necessarily, but finding a doctor who can do food sensitivity testing and also organic acids testing might be very helpful in removing that “the other shoe will fall if I leave the computer” kind of feeling, if that is indeed what you are suffer with. (PS. I consider myself, now, a whole-food “pegan”–paleo-leaning, but using very little meat–only 3-4 oz 3-4 times per week–eating tons of veggies; limited fruit; beans, tofu, seeds, and nuts; and almost no grains, save oats and occasionally corn.) Good luck! (PS. Taking my major food sensitivities out of my diet has also dropped my resting heart rate 10 POINTS!! Amazing.)

      • Hi Dale and SL, I posted above regarding my brother’s internet addiction (I’ve just seen yours now). I’ve grown up with addiction and encountered it a lot in my life. I believe the answer to all addiction and the key to living a fulfilling life is found in training the subconscious mind. It really is the master controller of how we perceive, act and respond to the world. Our lives are the product of our thinking. As I said in my post above, addiction is a method of disassocation. The addict has to be willing to take that leap and look inward to gain insight into to what the nature of their thoughts are. You’re making the effort by signing up and reaching out Dale. That means you’re willing and happiness is within reach! There’s a very interesting video (ted talk) that discusses how your mind operates and how to train the subconscious mind. I hope you find it helpful and inspiring.
        I just watched an amazing interview the other day with a gentlemen named Roy Nelson. He’s developed a method for healing addiction. Here’s a link to his website:
        And one last thing, I agree with SL in regards to food sensitivities contributing to depression and anxiety. I’ve just embarked upon an Elimination Diet (Tom Malterre’s protocol). This is a lifelong game-changer that I’m grateful to have found. You should check it out as the success of the diet in treating all illnesses is simply astounding.
        I truly believe all of this combined will set you on a path to a brighter, joy-filled future, faster than you could have ever imagined. All the best to you Dale, and to you SL.

    • Dale, you might try cognitive behavioral therapy. I know, if you’re struggling with going out, finding a therapist might seem overwhelming, but it’s great that you’ve already asked your GP for help. Get him to give you a referral!

      • I completely agree, Holly! In my post above, I should probably have mentioned my CBT group therapy I attend. I also work a 12-step program (primarily Al-anon). The adjustment in thinking patterns and perspective is truly life-changing. Thank you for your comment!

    • How about getting a dog that you have to walk everyday? People talk to dog walkers. It would force you to get out and about. It might be a first step in the right direction if acquiring a dog is possible.

    • I have found yoga really helpful, in all forms – breathing exercises, the more passive/relaxed Yin, as well as Kundalini which includes meditation. You can start at home if that is where you are most comfortable, lots to follow on youtube (and yes, still the internet, but with the goal of getting into your body/ connecting with yourself and eventually going to class where you meet people). Search for a studio that is welcoming, not all about the “looking hot and being bendy”. If you have the financial means, you could also seek a private lesson or three to get you comfortable before making your debut in a public class. Yoga therapists exist as well, an alternative healing modality devoid of drug pushing! Believe in yourself! You are worthy! Ps- please smirk back at your GP while telling them where they can stuff their pills- a Dr. who acts smug and won’t help you in a collaborative way is one who should be dumped, in my humble opinion… (Of course, find a replacement first…)

  4. I have found that even an hour spent on screen affects my eyes with a dull ache behind both eyes, and my eyes are regularly checked by an ophthalmologist. I find it better to do just short stints on the screen, and to keep the light on my iPad turned to a duller setting.

  5. i set a timer to make sure that i get up every 30 mins and walk around outside for at least two minutes, focusing my eyes in the distance, seeing the sunshine and smiling at the day (even if it’s dead of Winter and no sun to be seen). At first this seemed prohibitively intrusive, interruptive and artificial (such as the ‘smiling at the day’ part—i’m not a ‘naturally’ smiley person), but now i do it automatically and can’t imagine not doing it; my body feels better and so does my mood (which tends to be increasingly serious as the hours go on, whether i’m on the internet, editing video or whatever). It keeps me from getting a sore neck, sore back, sore butt, or strained eyes or strained mind. And my brain now alerts me before the timer. It happened within just a few days of doing this. i was first alerted to this by reading your book, Personal Paleo Code.

  6. I have alarms set on my phone related to sleep hygiene. 9 pm alarm is labeled, “turn off wifi/internet/laptop/iPad, brush teeth/shower, put on pj’s.” 10 pm alarm is labeled, “writing in gratitude journal and review planner for next day” 10:30 pm alarm is, “turn off cell, lights out and tucked in bed.” I wake up at 6am and can’t bring my A game unless I get that much sleep.

  7. Reading this at 20.58 BST has freaked me out somewhat, so much so that I have decided to bookmark, print off tomorrow and continue reading from a sheet of paper!

  8. How much is too much? Where do you draw the line between “internet use” and “problematic internet use”?

    I’m definitely aware of the negative effects that internet and computers can have, but it’s difficult to know when is the time to stop (especially when you work online!)

    Did you find any research about what a reasonable daily limit is?

  9. Our wifi is on a timer to shut off at 10pm and come on again at 7am. That means no tv for us since we don’t have a real TV, just the capacity to stream and view on a monitor. It really has made me feel much more clear-headed to have this “forced” abstinence from the Internet.

    We are considering changing from wifi to wired in our home to cut down on EMF exposure and it will have the added benefit of reducing screen time because wires use is less mobile and convenient. This is our way of contributing to increased physical, social and mental health through mild deprivation and self-discipline.

  10. I tuned the Face Off now since about late February 2016. I just found that continually going there for basically the same people saying or doing the same things, got boring…and I felt like what is the point, I can go through life without having to have this be a point of interest daily. I liked when we had land lines, and we didn’t have to answer calls at any moment. Sure there are good reasons to have a phone, but this constant connection to everything I believe will be a passing fad, and eventually people will want to be come more disconnect from it all, and have some peace and quiet in their lives rather than filling it up with all the excess noise out there.

    • I agree Johnne! I do miss those days when it was just an old fashioned landline.

      However, I think it’s more of the new phones (i.e. iPhones etc) that are creating the issue- or at least is the much bigger issue other than the Internet itself.

      These phones make Access to everything just way too tempting. It’s too easy, instant, when information sits right at your finger tips at the click of a button.

      You know it’s not good when you go to cafe and look around as Chris mentioned. The point is to interact naturally. Not zonk out on your cell phone texting, and tweeting.

      Also, once you are used to that (and) it’s going on all around you – it gets hard to just shut off too.

      I am hoping that at the least the “all in one cell phones” become a fad.

  11. Thanks for this useful article, Chris. It all resonated with one exception.
    You listed Autism as one of the symptoms related to problem internste use.
    Can you please elaborate?

  12. the email intro to this suggested that the article would help us identify signs and symptoms of PIU – but I don’t see this specifically addressed? I guess that the fact that I’m wondering if I have a problem means that I probably do 🙂

    This is, however, an excellent description of potential hazards of too much internet use. Thank you!

  13. The internet is greatest example of a double-edged sword. The social isolation component especially.

    Many of my patients say that they are “connected but disconnected” at the same time because they sit on the couch together, each of them on both of their phones and computers.

    So, even though when you feel overwhelmed and like you want to just curl up next to YouTube or Netflix, force yourself to get off the screens and be present with your loved ones!!

  14. Wow, everybody should read this (before wifi-switchoff…)! I read on my phone when I wake up during the night, it helps me to get back to sleep within minutes and, unlime a book and a light, doesn’t disturb my partner. Since using NighShift and without changing anything else, I wake up once or twice during the night i stead of five times or more. Small change/big impact!

  15. Great reminder Chris. Our kids have grown up with the Internet and I cans see it’s changing the way they relate to the world. Really appreciate your reminders and suggestions to get outside and cultivate happiness from nature. Hope our kids can be prodded away from their gadgets. In health!

  16. We have our router on a timer and the “Internet” turns off at 10pm each night. Helps us remember to go to bed and get enough sleep.

  17. Great article, Chris!

    I totally agree with you.
    Personally, I find it helpful if certain sites are completely blocked for certain times altogether. I use StayFocused or ColdTurkey.

    This helps massively, as the danger of the internet are addictive sites such as Facebook, YouTube, or stupid news pages.

    Thanks for your article.

  18. This article hit home seeing as I spend a lot of my waking hours looking at a laptop for work, sometimes later into the night than I would like. Thanks for the great information Chris!

  19. Thanks for this article Chris. Yes, I tend to get sucked in and spend too much time on the internet. I’ve noticed my vision getting worse, so it’s a good reminder to look away often. When I was volunteering on an organic farm in the middle of nowhere in Hawaii, where there was barely any internet/phone access, I slept so well. I need to really curb my computer time. Are there any downloadable online (not phone) free computer alarms or chimes or timers? Everything I’ve seen is a phone app, but I rarely use my phone.

    • F.lux has a reminder that says “you’re waking up in X hours” there are tons of programs out there to help you manage your screen time, just do a google search.

      • Hi Josh,
        What are you using for a router timer? Is it just about a timer that shuts off the power at the outlet, or is it software? I’ll Google it, but wonder what’s working well for you and others.

  20. It seems that certainly, the internet is a negative influence on human health. Hundreds of years ago it was determined that reading and writing were not good for health, and that had mostly to do with sitting and lack of exercise. Though these determinations were more logical than scientific, it’s hard to dispute the “findings”.

    And of course the internet has only added at least a half dozen other negative factors to the equation.

    I feel caught in the dilemma between the negatives, and the fact that internet research, or at least sitting and reading, is now considered to be the key to a proper education about health. I’m thinking there has to be a point in my education where I assume I’m 90% on board with good health practices and any further reading, at least for the current year, is more of a negative than a positive influence on my health.

    I think I have to monitor whether I’m dealing more with my addiction than with my education; that is, adding to my misery more than improving my health. Learning to take the internet in much smaller doses may be a key to optimizing health these days. I’m really trying to keep moving and relating to physical things, including society. I think we might need to find how to delight in the non-internet life again, just as we have to find how to delight in a sugar/grain free life.

    With articles like this one, people may gain awareness a lot sooner than if we wait until the science is in. Maybe we can save a million cases of brain tumors and diabetic neuropathic foot amputations while we’re at it.