| Don’t overdo it
Spending just five hours a day in front of a computer can hugely increase the risk of depression and insomnia, according to new research.
One of the biggest investigations into the hazards of computers in the workplace, involving 25,000 people, has concluded that too much screen time is damaging the mental health of employees.
Staff complained of feeling depressed, anxious and reluctant to get up for work in the mornings. Many reported problems getting along with fellow workers and said they were plagued by broken sleep and daytime fatigue. Researchers are calling for employers to restrict time spent at terminals after studying the effects health over a three-year period.
“This result suggests the prevention of mental disorders and sleep disorders requires the restriction of computer use to less than five hours a day,” said the lead researcher, Tetsuya Nakazawa, of Chiba University in Japan. “Mental health and sleep-related symptoms were significantly higher in the group having more than five hours of daily computer use.”
Most research has so far focused on how computers affect physical health. Sitting at terminals has been linked with repetitive strain injury, headaches, eyestrain and back and shoulder pain.
But the latest study looked for psychological effects by tracking thousands of office staff working for a large information technology company in sales, customer services, accounting and planning.
For three years, researchers monitored changes in workers’ mental health and matched them up to time spent working at computers.
The results, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, showed one in four staff was tied to their terminals for five or more hours a day.
Once they crossed that threshold, the dangers of psychological disorders setting in appeared to increase sharply. British experts said that working alone at a computer for hours on end could lead to a sense of isolation, even in a busy office.
Cary Cooper of the Univer-sity of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, said concern was growing over mental health problems caused by working with computers. “This new technology is causing problems,” he said. “Sitting in front of a computer takes you away from fellow human beings.”