Wishing this was never on a Sunday

I had a potentially idyllic Sunday afternoon in mind – tea and newspapers, a braai and homemade brownies.

These are the things that make me whole again, after a fractured schedule stretched between people and places.

I’ve always been like this – it’s not a recent, adult thing; so the (misguided) assumption is that my familia must feel that way too.

Once, perhaps, they did. But technology has intruded.

The first child wanted to finish her online drawing, rather than work up an appetite with volleyball on the stoep.

The second, being much younger, was persuaded away from Boss Baby, the movie, but mostly because there was a chance to continue after supper.

The “Braai Master”, as much as he wanted to please me, had some software coding to complete, so only emerged at the last minute, when I was grump-hungry.

They stayed, they played softly and they ate – but soon, too soon, they wanted to go their separate ways, back to their respective screens.

Three years ago, I came across a study about the damage done to humans by too much screen-time – particularly in terms of sleep. UCLA clinical professor of psychiatry Dr Dan Siegel theorised that most of our modern sleep problems are a direct result of too much screen action before bedtime. I can imagine why. We watch TV, check e-mail or reply to phone messages in the evening.

Increasingly, we’re on separate devices, meaning that we’re developing intimate relationships with virtual reality, rather than each other; plus, we’d be asleep, or dozing off with a book, if we didn’t have the choice.

Siegel explained that when you look at or browse through a screen before bed (television, a smartphone, laptop, and yes, those electronic books that pass for blood-and-paper novels these days), your brain does a funny thing: it tells your body that it wants to stay awake. That’s fine, if your body does, but mostly, it doesn’t – it’s just having a quick look-see before going to sleep.
Except that now, your brain doesn’t believe you. And so the messy business of biological disaster begins.

Screen-time tells your brain not to secrete melatonin, which helps control your sleep and wake cycles.

You also may stop yourself from popping to bed earlier, as you used to, because screens have an addictive quality, don’t they? As a result, your active neurons don’t get the rest that they need and neither do the supporting cells, which are supposed to clean up the toxins that the neurons produce.

To make matters worse, the majority of us need seven to nine hours of sleep a night to function optimally and, if we don’t get it, the toxins just stay put – which can’t be good.

It goes downhill slowly: less sleep and over-active brains, thank to screens, can result in faltering attention, memory impairment, lessened ability to deal with challenging problems and insulin issues (which means you are more likely to gain weight and eat more, too).

You also age faster and may become depressed.

Siegel suggests switching off screens at 9pm and giving ourselves at least an hour of techno-free relaxation time before going to bed.

Several years later, I wonder if the impact has snowballed into day-time damage, too, given that I’m flirting at the edges of a battle to wrestle everybody together for an idyllic Sunday afternoon.

We’re not at the point where we can’t get together and chat, face-to-face, and have pillow fights – but there’s always the lurking presence of techno-choice.

It’s understandable that first child, an almost-teen, might find art software or Netflix more stimulating than a lengthy tête-à-tête with her parents; but if she was reading a book, or building a rocket, I’d feel better about it.

Until I find a solution, besides the obvious setting of limits, I’m happy to be the fun police on Sundays, when balmy days and braaivleis should – and will – take preference over YouTube and click-bait.