Technology is great! It allows us to connect, work, obtain information, and more. It has been especially useful during the pandemic to allow many people a semblance of normality. People can continue to work from home, video call with their families, and have Zoom happy hour with friends. Entertainment, connectivity, work, all of these things can be had with a little technological help.
As a result, it makes sense that we have become very attached to our devices. And as a result, we sometimes have difficulty detaching from our technology at bedtime. Some people even sleep with their phones within easy reach from our heads.
The tech companies have even made us believe that we need to sleep with our phones, because our phones are our alarm clocks. They are integrated within every aspect of our day and night. You would think that we would be smarter than to fall for the marketing tricks wrapped within each pre-installed app. But are we?
If you have watched the Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma”, you know that the technology companies don’t want you to put your devices down. Many of the apps, games and social media platforms stimulate a neurotransmitter in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine is involved in reinforcement of behaviors and also makes you feel more alert. Is that how you want to feel in the moments leading up to sleep? So why then do many of us do the long scroll right before bed? Is there going to be breaking social media news in that 30 minutes prior to bed that you just can’t miss? Is there going to be a pressing work email (sent by your annoying coworker who clearly has poor boundaries with such late messages)? Do you want to be thinking about emails, your friends’ great night out or Candy Crush when you are drifting off to sleep?
Fundamentally, sleep and technology are incompatible. If you truly want to feel asleep and disconnected from the world, and wake up refreshed in the morning, you might consider ditching your devices at night. Even just for a two week experiment to see how you feel could be worthwhile.
We have all heard of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the middle of the brain. Melatonin starts to rise 2 hours before bed, hits peak levels in the middle of the night and falls down to undetectable levels during the day. However, when we look at our devices, melatonin is suppressed and we don’t feel tired!
If nothing else, devices make you stay up later. Even if you are some amazing person who can power through the dopamine and lack of melatonin, chances are if you are on a device at night, you are going to bed later than you otherwise would. I mean, just one more episode of your favorite show, right? Even if you put your phone on your nightstand and try to read a paper book, it’s likely only a matter of time before you go back to your old habits, reach for the phone and start scrolling again.
But if I’m not on my phone prior to bed, what should I do? More on this next time, but consider being more intentional about your bedtime routine. There is no one-size-fits all plan for what to do prior to bed, but you should build new healthy sleep preparation habits prior to sleep INSTEAD of looking at your devices.
And when it comes to the morning alarm clock, an old school $10 Walmart special is not a bad idea. But there are also some very cool new devices that have no internet access, and provide a dimly lit clock that can be used to read at night, some meditative music prior to sleep, and play nice morning wake-up music. There are also clocks with sunrise alarms that gently turn on a light to simulate the sunrise. Or, if you have one, you could program your Google Home or Alexa to play wake up music - something centering or inspiring! Or you could just get to bed early enough so you wake naturally after 8 hours of peaceful sleep.
The first step you need to take on a journey to better sleep is to find a place for that phone to live at night outside of your room. After a few device-free nights, you might find yourself falling asleep more quickly, sleeping more soundly and feeling more refreshed in the morning than you’ve been in a while. When you want to use your phone during the day, it will be waiting for you, but your night should be technology-free!