Activity: Disconnecting Before Sleep

Title: Disconnecting Before Sleep

Activity: Do not use your phone for 30+ minutes before going to sleep. To aid in this, set your alarm for the next day and charge your phone, ideally out of reach from your bed.

Science: Recently, there’s been a lot of research and discussion around improving sleep patterns and our dependence on technology. For this intervention, let’s focus on the scientific overlap of these two topics. First, it has been shown that the blue light emitted from smartphones can inhibit the production of melatonin, that pesky hormone that helps you sleep and maintains your circadian rhythm. Second, the activities we tend to use our phone for (e.g. texting, social media, emails, and articles) tend to keep your mind engaged, making it harder to shut down and eventually fall asleep. And of course, it has been shown that the majority of us keep at least one electronic device in the bedroom creating a potentially endless loop of device checking.

Results: I succeed in disconnecting for the majority of the month — there were a few nights in which I slipped up (I’m not perfect!), but more often than not I was phone-less for 30+ minutes before sleeping. The actual impact was noteworthy.  By the end of the month I was drifting to sleep more easily, I mostly lost the urge to check my phone at night, and I never went to check my phone if I happened to wake up during the night.

Thoughts:

  1. Breaking (or reshaping) habits is hard: I didn’t realize quite how addicted to my phone I was until I implemented this intervention. The first couple weeks, and primarily the first few days, were really difficult. However, as my sleep became noticeably better, I was able to adjust the “routine” part of my habit loop by replacing the dopamine hits of social media before bed to the joy and restfulness of getting a good night’s sleep.
  2. I wasn’t missing much: On the occasional nights in which I knowingly broke the intervention and used my phone in sleep before bed,  I found myself asking “why am I doing this?” It became painfully obvious that I had never truly enjoyed, or benefited from scrolling through social media, checking emails, or browsing random news articles before sleeping.
  3. I read a lot more: I chose to replace the screen time with reading as much as I could. As a result, I began cruising through books at a pace I hadn’t really achieved since getting my first smartphone. Talk about your win-wins.

Next Steps: I purposefully started with “no phone 30 minutes before bed” knowing there were a bunch of opportunities to extend the habit much further. In the coming months, I plan to continue to focus on the 30 minutes before bed mission, while slowly introducing a similar morning routine, e.g. no phone 30 minutes after waking up. Ultimately, I hope this lifestyle change extends much further than a method to sleep better and eventually serves to lessen my phone dependence in a much more holistic way.

Research: 

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

https://www.sleep.org/articles/ways-technology-affects-sleep/

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