Do Phone Detoxes Actually Work?

The science of stepping away from your devices

Hello! We’re testing a new series where we break down scientific studies that we think our readers will find useful. This week, we're learning what the science says about whether a smartphone detox can actually help reduce usage and improve health and well being.

We'd love to know what you think! Want to see more of this kind of content? Let us know!

🤔 The Question 

Would completely ditching your smartphone make you happier and healthier? Kinda. But just one week of lower usage can have surprisingly long lasting benefits. 

⭐️ The Significance 

Smartphones are a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they provide instant communication, entertainment and knowledge. 

But their usage has also been tied to a range of negative outcomes like reduced fitness, lower productivity, and poor mental health. 

So is there a smartphone sweet spot for health and wellbeing? Can a digital detox help us find it? And how much of a detox is optimal? 

A new study reveals all… 

🧪 The Study 

Over a period of one week, 619 German participants were split into three groups:

  • Group one gave up their smartphone completely for the week
  • Group two reduced their daily usage by one hour each day 
  • Group three continued to use their smartphone as normal 

Researchers then measured life satisfaction, symptoms of depression & anxiety, physical activity, and smoking behavior at various intervals over a 4 month period. 

⚡️ The Findings 

Four months after the study, both groups who did the detox were using their smartphone a lot less: 

Abstinence group — 38 minutes less per day 

Reduction group — 45 minutes less per day 

The reduction group were also faring the best in terms of their health & well being:

  • Depressive symptoms decreased by 24%
  • Anxiety symptoms decreased by 33% 
  • Physical activity increased by 11%
  • Smoking behavior dropped from 5-6 cigarettes a day to just 3-4. 

Participants who did the detox were also more likely to tackle their daily challenges head on and they were better able to enjoy social interactions. 

💎 The Takeaway 

Reducing your smartphone use for just one week can lower your screen time over the long run and yield lasting benefits for your health and well being.

And it doesn’t take much — reducing usage by just one hour a day is enough to see benefits, and appears to be even more effective than ditching it completely*. 

(*and let’s be honest… that was never gonna happen anyway!) 

Source: Brailovskaia, et al., 2022. Finding the “sweet spot” of smartphone use: Reduction or abstinence to increase well-being and healthy lifestyle?! An experimental intervention study. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 

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