It’s one of those “hacks” that productivity experts swear by.
Turn off your screens before bedtime! Blue light is bad for your brain! Sleep is vital!
The no-screens rule, as I’ll call it, is driven by the idea that blue screens trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, so it doesn’t wind down like it normally would at the onset of darkness. Even with screen filters, screens have been demonstrated to have negative effects on everything from sleep quality to alertness up to midday the next day.
Honestly, the last few months, I’d found I was tired at work. I really struggled to get up in the mornings. My appetite was weird. So, I decided to try the no-screens rule.
In theory, the no-screens rule should have been easy to execute: all I needed to do was not look at any screens, be they computer, phone, tablet or television; resist the siren call of easy, immediate distraction; not fall prey to the allure of social media notifications.
In practice, of course, I found it trickier.
Screens were my go-to boredom dissipator.
When I decided to make this change, one of the things I struggled with the most was that I was twitchy around bedtime. I did not adapt well to the no-screens rule; it felt like I was fighting myself to not hop on my laptop just quickly, or look at my Whatsapps just in case I’d missed something.
I desperately wanted to write a story, watch a quick episode of Buffy, check my Instagram account — I don’t have notifications, so I check the app manually — or look at my emails.
In essence, when I got bored going to sleep, my instinct was to soothe that urge by checking my phone.
It was really, really hard to not do this. Especially for “productive” things like checking emails, the temptation was incredibly difficult to resist, because I could almost always justify it in my mind.
In the end, I had to leave all my devices in the living room and pile a bunch of books on my nightstand to provide something for my hand to grab when I instinctively reached over for distraction.
I used my phone for everything.
Call it a crutch, call it a tool, but my phone was everything for me. Alarm to get up in the mornings, camera to photograph my cats being cute, ebook reader, recipe checker, flashlight. One hour before bed, I stopped all of it.
In order to get accurate results, I was very strict. If I forgot to set my alarm on my phone, I got my boyfriend to do it for me. When I wanted to record my walk on MapMyRun, I had to upload it the next morning instead.
Because my phone especially is practically an extension of my being, I felt like I lost out on a lot of functionality in my life. It was difficult to remember that there was an hour of my day that I wouldn’t have access to it, and to either schedule tasks beforehand or do without them altogether.
Old hobbies gained new attraction.
I started going for evening strolls, on my own, phone-less. I picked up painting again, which I’d dropped for a few months. I started journaling a few minutes before bed. Most precious to me, I started to read again.
In my teenage years I was an avid sci-fi/fantasy reader, eating books up within days, if not hours. However, with the advent of Netflix, Instagram, and other easily-consumable entertainment, my reading time went way down. I knew it was happening, and I knew that I missed reading… but not enough to purposefully go back to it.
But after the first few days of the no-screens rule, I found my old library card and checked out a ton of new books. I even discovered that I enjoy reading short stories as I searched for something quick and engaging to read in the hopes it would mimic Netflix, something I would never have known about myself if I’d continued to use my phone just before bed.
In short, when my normal distractions became unavailable to me, I rediscovered other things I used to love.
I stopped dreading waking up.
Most people will be familiar with that sinking feeling when you contemplate waking up. It sucks to wake up. The only thing you want to do is go back to sleep, close your eyes, get a few more minutes of delicious, blessed unconsciousness in your warm bed.
As a product of my no-screens rule, I started getting tired earlier. So I went to bed earlier, and when I went to bed, I was sleepier than normal. I don’t have any actual data on my hours or quality of sleep, but I felt better. When 7 AM rolled around as it always does, I didn’t spring out of bed, exactly, but it wasn’t something I dreaded anymore. It was easier.
Falling asleep was easier, too. I’ve had some problems with mild insomnia, and until this month, my solution was to go online and read articles, or watch movies, or browse Twitter until I was sleepy. But now, I read books again. When I drifted off to sleep, I’d be thinking about book plots, characters, and stories.
I’d actually expected to struggle more to get out of bed, because normally the first thing I do is look at my phone, hypothetically triggering blue light to wake me up. But either having to get out of bed to look at my phone, or the increased quality and quantity of sleep, or both, meant it was far easier than before.
I think I’ll keep it up.
Back in December of last year, I made the then-radical choice to turn off my notifications. For everything. While it meant I missed the odd message from my friends and family, and I started having to check my socials manually, it also meant my phone become a more useful tool for me rather than something that would distract me. My general anxiety around performance on social media went way down. I didn’t compare myself as often, and I stayed off my phone more.
Sleep is something we spend an awful lot of time doing, and according to research, not very well. We don’t know all the ramifications and health effects good or bad sleep has on us, but what we do know is that it’s important.
The intersection of technology with our basic functions is an area that hasn’t been thoroughly plumbed yet — but my experience tells me it’s more important than we know.
This experiment changed my perspective on what I truly need to get by with technology. I used to think not being instantly available to anyone who needed me was bad, but in fact, it’s helped me. I used to think I couldn’t possibly exist without my pre-bed screentime, but after this experiment, now I believe it’s something that’s going to permanently change my life for the better.