Wired Woes: Health Risks of the Techno Lifestyle

You don't have to be a certified geek to be troubled by the consequences of the computer-intense lifestyle so common among many energetic young people today.

Why? To begin with, there's more than a little bit of geek in all of us at this point. Just count the number of little gadgets and gizmos you depend on every day. Cell phone? BlackBerry? iPod? And, most crucially, how many of you spend hours a day in front of a computer? Welcome to the club. The trademarks of the geek lifestyle are recurrent headaches, back pain, and sleeping problems.

Those headaches are likely the product of having poor sitting posture, positioning the screen improperly, trying to read too small a font, or using a screen that's either too bright or too dark. It could also come from drinking too much coffee or soft drinks and too little water.

Eye Care

Proper eye care can also minimize computer-related headches.

--Don't wear eyeglasses stronger than you need.

--Don't forget to blink when staring at your monitor.

--Remember to shift your gaze regularly from the computer screen to something in the distance--a car, a building or a cloud--to relieve eye fatigue.

Back Ache

Poor posture and an incorrectly positioned chair and monitor are major contributors to back pain.

--Adjust the chair height so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and your feet are flat on the floor.

--Adjust the back support so that your back is perfectly perpendicular to the floor, and be sure to sit all the way back in the chair.

--Adjust the keyboard so that your forearms are parallel to the floor.

--Adjust the display or monitor height so that it's about an arm's length away from your eyes and the top of it as or just below your eye level.

--Every half hour or so, take a break from the keyboard and stretch your arms, hands, neck and back. Since weak abdominal muscles can also contribute to lower back pain, you should do something to strenthen your back--abdominal crunches at the gym, perhaps, or swiming, or yoga. All these activities will help reduce back pain.

Repetitive Stress

Sitting in front of a computer all day and not using the equipment properly can lead to repetitive stress injuries. Correct chair posture is very important. So is proper keyboard technique.

--When you type, hold your hands and wrists the way a concert pianist does; use your fingertips to hit the keys, but keep your wrists raised and arms engaged.

--Do not rest your wrists on a wrist rest while you type; wrist rests are designed for resting between spells of typing, not during typing.

The early signs of a repetitive stress problem are a tightness and soreness in the upper back and shoulders. Many people ignore these signs until the symptoms descend to their wrists and elbows, until their tendons feel sore, or until they feel a numbness or tingling in their hands.

Pay attention to any chronic aching. Seek help for any aching that lasts longer than three days.

Sleep Problems

Then there are the sleeping problems, usually insomnia and altered sleep patterns. Are you working late into the night and trying to catch up onyour sleep during the day? Are you having trouble falling asleep? Are you waking up in the middle of the night and turning on a laptop or watching TV?

The solution involves making sleep a regular habit again.

--Don't go to bed unless you're tired.

--Don't watch TV or work in bed. The bed is for sleeping (and sex.)

--If you don't fall asleep in 15 minutes or so, get up and read a book or listen to music. Whatever you do, don't go back to work.

--Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time day after day.

Click here to check out Dr. Manny's book The Check List (Harper Collins, 2007).

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.