If there’s one thing that makes me most anxious in life, it’s my sleep schedule. I don’t remember the last time I slept eight hours without getting up at least three times–once to drink water, once to pee, and once to worry if I am getting enough sleep.
I tried everything from lighting vanilla-scented candles in my bedroom to drinking lavender tea to taking warm baths before my bedtime–however, nothing helped. This is when I finally decided to try the no-phones in the bedroom policy. And boy has it helped!
Your sleep cycle has a hate-hate relationship with your smartphone
Research suggests that when we have our phones around us, we subconsciously create a sense of hyper-vigilance in our minds. This means we are constantly tensed or on our guard, waiting for incoming phone calls, text messages, or updates. This stops the body from creating the desired state of total relaxation that is vital to an eight-hour sleep schedule.
So, out went the phone! Instead of switching it off completely–I don’t have a landline at home and I needed to be available in case of emergencies–I used the ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode on my iPhone. I allowed calls from my family and a couple of close friends, plugged my phone on charge in the living room, and went to sleep.
From an initial week of complete FOMO to a much-improved sleep schedule, here’s everything that happened in the next month.
It was stressful
First things first. You will be stressed out about not having your phone on you. Your mind will make up multiple “what if” situations in which your loved ones need you and could not connect because your phone was on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. I allowed myself a ‘two-minute quick check-in’ in the first week. It helped calm me down and made me realise that no one really wants to get in touch with me at 3 AM anyway.
What also helped was trying out different spots to keep my phone. While keeping the phone in the living room was ideal, I realised I was spending too much time worrying about someone calling me and imagining my phone was ringing all the time. After three days, I changed the spot and kept the phone on a shelf in my bedroom. It helped a lot.
Now I knew I would be able to hear if someone called me, and keeping it on a shelf away from my bed made sure I wouldn’t wake up and instantly reach for my phone. I’ve gone back to keeping it in the living room now, but shifting spots till I calmed down enough has really helped me make the change.
I also got myself an alarm clock. I was no longer dependent on my phone to wake me up. Plus the lack of a snooze button made sure I got up instantly, well… at least in the next five minutes.
I developed new habits
Research suggests that on an average we spend three hours and fifteen minutes on our phones daily. We check our devices for an average of 58 times in a day, often picking it up twice in three minutes. So removing the phone completely at night meant that there was a large chunk of time between getting into bed and sleeping when I could do other things.
For starters, I went back to reading. I’ve struggled to find the time to read in the last five years and the half-hour of screen-free bedtime let me go back to my books. I stayed away from the Kindle and stuck to reading actual paperbacks. I started actively “feeling sleepy” as opposed to scolding my brain, panicking about the time, and forcing myself to fall asleep.
I also saw an improvement in my relationship with my husband. We used the screen-free time to talk about our day–something that we didn’t even realise was missing.
I woke up calmer and relaxed
While I am yet to get my complete eight hours of sleep, I realised that I was having a more relaxed sleep without my phone. I have been waking up feeling rested–in fact, I wake up before my alarm clock on most days.
Also, because I don’t have my phone to look at first thing in the morning, I now have a chance to focus on other things apart from my WhatsApp messages and work email, which ensures that I start the day calmly.
Dr Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Stress Institute, explains that looking at your phone first thing in the morning causes a shift in your brain. From being in a peaceful state to suddenly being bombarded with too much information, you end up feeling stressed and your brain goes into panic mode first thing in the morning.
I consciously stay away from the phone for the first half-hour of my day (I hope to push it to one hour eventually) and it has made a big difference to my routine.
I am not panicking about work deadlines first thing in the morning; I am getting a chance to drink my morning cup of tea in peace; I have time to think about the important things I wish to do today; and most importantly I am not waiting to hit the bed again, as soon as I’ve woken up.