If your cellphone dominates your life – if, like most people, you carry it everywhere and you check it continually – this little device could be making significant changes inside your brain.
Smartphones were introduced just a little over ten years ago. Now they’re a universal distraction and obsession. According to the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of all Americans say they are so dependent on these devices they cannot live without them.1
As for what’s happening to our brains from all this smartphone use – researchers have been delving into the changes to our brain chemistry that have been quietly taking place.
What they’ve discovered is not reassuring.
Unbalances the Brain
A study performed in Asia that involved young men who are “addicted” to their phones and the Internet found significant chemical changes in brain tissue. The researchers peered into brains using an MRS (Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy), a type of MRI (Magnetic Resonance imaging) that categorizes the brain’s chemical composition.
The study also measured to what degree the participants were hooked on surfing the Internet and compelled to spend time on their phones.
The first finding was disturbing: those who displayed the highest degree of addiction also suffered the most intense depression, insomnia, anxiety and impulsivity.2
And when the scientists measured levels of neuro-chemicals in the brains of these young men, they found elevated amounts of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) – a neurotransmitter that slows down and restricts the signals exchanged among neurons. GABA is also part of the brain’s system that influences vision and muscle control as well as regulating anxiety.
Plus, the tests revealed reduced amounts of Glx (glutamate-glutamine) – a neurotransmitter that excites and stimulates neurons.
In these smartphone “addicts,” the ratio of GABA to Glx was significantly higher in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex. That’s an area of the brain that is involved in the moderation of heart rate and blood pressure while also taking part in decision making and emotional changes.
The researchers say the increases in GABA can cause an increase of anxiety and fatigue. They think that having extra GABA in the anterior cingulate gyrus can also affect your ability to learn new information and process memories properly.
Ruins Your Sleep
Aside from setting off a GABA surplus in your brain, a well-documented danger from phones originates in the blue light their screens give off. If you spend time on your phone at night, that blue light could be ruining your entire night’s sleep.
In a study of people ages 17 to 42, researchers at the University of Houston found that the light from your phone can reduce your body’s night time release of melatonin by 58 percent.3 Melatonin is the hormone secreted by the pineal gland that helps induce sleep. Levels are highest during the night and low during the day. But exposure to light during the hours that should be dark disrupts the body’s melatonin production.
According to the researchers, if you avoid the blue light from your cellphone at night, you can probably raise the level of melatonin in your body more than you can by using a melatonin supplement.
Now the Disorder has a Name
Other scientists at the University of Binghamton in New York concur that more and more of us are getting overly dependent on our phones. After studying how people interact with their smartphones, they warn that if you are obsessed about always having your phone with you and check it even when it doesn’t ring or vibrate, you are showing signs of addiction.4
The medical folks have even come up with a name for always needing your phone – nomophobia.5
My advice: Don’t be a nomophobe! Turn off that phone once in a while and let your brain chemistry recover.