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Is your smartphone making you sick?

Whether you’re scanning social media, making calls, checking email (or the latest cat video to go viral), it can be downright difficult to put down your smartphone.Nearly three out of four Canadians spend at least three to four hours online each day, according to a recent report by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority. And 48% of internet users use smartphones or other mobile devices to go online, with 34% choosing smartphones over everything else.

Could all of that time on your smartphone be making you sick?

First, think about what you’re using – could the physical device that you hold in your hand be affecting your body? Second, think about how you’re using it, and consider whether your smartphone might be affecting your mental health.

Physical health
The idea that cell phones might give you cancer isn’t a new idea, probably because people hear that cell phones emit radiation, and people associate radiation with cancer.

However, there are different types of radiation. Some cause cancer, and some don’t.

Cell phones and cell phone towers emit radiofrequency (RF) waves. RF waves are a form of non-ionizing radiation, similar to AM/FM radio and television signals. Unlike ionizing radiation (such as X-rays and UV light), non-ionizing radiation doesn’t have enough energy to cause cancer by directly damaging the DNA inside cells.

Many studies have been conducted to see if there are links between cell phone use and cancer. While results are mixed, and a few studies do show a small link, the vast majority of current scientific evidence does not support a link between RF energy exposure and human cancers.

Better safe than sorry
Of course, it’s only been about 15 years since cell phones became ubiquitous, and scientific findings may change over time. Canadian regulators have placed strict limits on human exposure to radio frequency energy, and cell phones are designed to operate at the minimum level required to connect and maintain a call.

If new research shows a link between cellphone use and an increased risk of cancer, expect Health Canada to issue new usage guidelines.

Until then, consider these tips to limit your exposure to RF energy, including: use the phone on hands-free mode, remove your headset when not on a call, and don’t carry your phone on or right next to your body.

Mental health
Many studies examining the effects of smartphones on mental health have shown an association between mobile phone use and adverse mental health outcomes; however, these studies often rely on self-reported data, which is notoriously inaccurate.

Smartphone usage at bedtime is linked to poorer mental health because the light emitted by your smartphone’s screen can affect your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. When you use your smartphone at night it’s harder to fall asleep, and you’re more likely to wake up during the night. If you’ve ever been cranky after a bad night’s sleep, you can likely imagine how regularly using your smartphone at night could end up affecting your mood over time.

Watch your step, not the screen
Finally, consider whether using your phone ever affects your situational awareness in a way that could be bad for your personal safety, especially in situations like driving or, as a pedestrian, crossing the street. The safest thing is to put your phone away in situations that require your full attention – it only takes a tiny distraction to alter a life forever.

Consider these tips: don’t use your smartphone for at least an hour before bedtime; keep your phone away from your bed, preferably in another room; don’t use your smartphone while walking – and never use it while driving.

Do you limit how much you use your smartphone? Tell us about it in the comment section below.