Most of us look at our smartphones for around five hours per day – checking the gadgets hundreds of times every day (and sometimes during the night).
Around 11% of people in Western countries are thought to suffer from some form of technology addiction, according to Professor Ofir Turel of California State University, Fullerton.
Many of us reassure ourselves that we check our phones because ‘it’s work’ – but that actually makes little difference, in terms of the effects on our health.
So how do you tell if you have a problem? Several scientific studies have offered insight into the warning signs.
You keep thinking your phone is ringing, when it’s not
A University of Michigan study has identified something which might be a warning sign of ‘phone addiction’ – feeling that a phone is vibrating, and then finding out it actually wasn’t.
Researcher Daniel J Kruger says, ‘Over 80 percent of college students we surveyed have experienced it. However, if it’s happening a lot – more than once a day – it could be a sign that you’re psychologically dependent on your cellphone.
You feel stressed out by conversations on Facebook
People who ‘constantly’ check their phones tend to be more stressed out than those who don’t – and social media is to blame, according to APA researchers.
A survey of more than 3,500 adults found that ‘constant checkers’ tend to be more emotionally involved in social media stories – with 42% feeling stressed by political debates on their feeds.
People who check their phones fewer times tend to feel less stressed – with just 27% feeling the same way.
You feel bored or anxious when separated from your phone
Many addiction specialists say that a key sign that you have crossed from being a ‘heavy user’ to problem smartphone use is feeling uncomfortable without your phone.
A survey of 2,000 smartphone users by drinks company Innocent found that 30% said they checked their phone once every 30 minutes at least – and one in four of us say they felt ‘bored’ without their phone after an hour.
Four out of 10 of us admit that we find it ‘difficult’ to take a break from our phones.
You check your phone during the night
Horrifyingly, one in three of us are so addicted to our phones we check them during the night, according to a Deloitte report.
That goes up to one in two when we’re talking about 18-24 year olds.
But checking Facebook at 3am can damage your life – with one-third of people saying the habit causes arguments, and sleep experts warning that it can damage health.
You check your phone when you’re with your partner – and it’s harming your relationship
Researchers from the University of Arizona asked 170 student-age couples to report on their smartphone use, and their relationship.
Heavy users said they felt ‘less certain’ about their relationship, and their other halves saying they felt ‘less satisfied’.
‘I’m more likely to think my relationship is doomed the more I believe my partner needs that thing,’ says Matthew Lapierre of the University of Arizona.
You snap at your family if they interrupt you using your phone
Parents are estimated to spend around three hours a day on mobile devices, and their children often feel the pressure, a University of Michigan study found.
The researchers asked 35 parents and other caregivers how mobile phone use affected their lives – and found that many admitted that mobile technology affected their relationship with their children, particularly when they used devices for work.
Parents, for instance, admitted to snapping at children when they tried to interrupt them.
You use your phone for longer than other people
A study from Northwestern University found that, on average, depressed people use their phones for three times as long as people who are not depressed.
This applies regardless of whether they’re using the gadget to keep up with work, or just to go on Facebook.
You use your phone far more than you think you do
Check the clock on the wall next time you look up from your phone – has more time passed than you imagined?
Researchers from Nottingham Trent University found that people spend five hours per day on their phones – double the amount they imagine.
Dr Sally Andrews, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences, said: ‘People have very little awareness of the frequency with which they check their phone. This is the first study to objectively demonstrate that some of our mobile phone interactions are habitual.’
You check your email first thing in the morning
Many of us don’t even think about turning off email on our phones – but psychologists at the Future Work Centre in London said that ‘push’ email has become a ‘double edged sword’.
The team surveyed almost 2,000 working people across a range of industries and occupations in the UK about the pros and cons of using email.
They found that two of the most stressful habits were leaving email on all day and checking emails early in the morning and late at night.
Your phone is sapping your creativity
Using your phone excessively can lead to a slump in creativity, say Bournemouth University researchers – and the devices should carry a health warning.
The research, by Bournemouth University experts, found that 24% teenagers aged 13-17 were ‘almost constantly’ online on smart devices – behaving almost as if addicted to them.
Technology firms should use warnings to minimise the risk of this addictive behaviour, the researchers suggest.
‘Research has shown that excessive and obsessive usage and preoccupation about technology are associated with undesirable behaviours such as reduced creativity, depression and disconnection from reality,’ said Dr Raian Ali of Bournemouth University.