Do you ever lay in bed after a long hard day, exhausted but unable to go to sleep because your mind just won’t stop racing? And if you do manage to get to sleep it often won’t be long before you are awake again with even more thoughts flooding your semi-consciousness and preventing you from getting back to sleep? I’m pretty sure almost everyone get’s nights like this from time to time, but for some this is a regular night, I know it used to be a common theme for myself. Today I am going to tell you an easy way to reduce this and teach you how to do it: unplugging from your electronics before bed.
In a previous blog I talked about why you should not use your phone in bed, and that should still be your first step as this goes beyond that to not using your phone or other electronics for up to three hours before you go to sleep. This helps you fall asleep, and get better sleep, in a couple of ways. First is the problem of the blue light. Blue light tricks your body into thinking it is morning time, so your body releases hormones to wake you up, and not those to get you ready for sleep.
It also helps you actually get to bed on time. It is all too easy to get carried away when you are chatting or looking something up online and then suddenly realize that you were meant to be in bed an hour ago. But if you were meant to get off 3 hours before bed time, and suddenly realize that it is only 2 hours before bed, well that’s not so bad is it? Sure you stayed on an extra hour in both cases, but one cut into your actual sleep time while the other only cut into your unplugged time.
Most importantly switching off your electronics gives you some quiet time. One of the main reasons that your mind cannot stop long enough for you to fall asleep once you get into bed is that you spend all day focused on something outside of you. With the advent of smart phones this constant switch of focus and high attention has become epidemic. Whenever people are between tasks, or have nothing to do, what happens? The cell phone whips out, and the scrolling through social media feeds begins. The average social media user actually spends over two hours a day using it, the majority of that time most likely being spent scrolling. This means that you never give yourself anytime to reflect on and process all the thoughts and ideas you have in a day. And these ideas do not normally just disappear when you ignore them; they patiently wait their turn until you are not busy and have a moment to think them over. And guess when the first moment is if you are plugged in all day? That’s right, the moment you switch off the lights and are trying to sleep.
Cell phones might be the most egregious example of this, but computer use and video games are not far behind: interactive content is the worst for stealing your focus because you have to stay fully engaged as you are using it, which is why you can waste the whole day doing it and wonder where the time went. TV watching and music listening are not quite as bad, since you are a passive observer, this means that your brain will shift focus to topics it considers more important, especially during the commercial breaks, however it is still not going to give your brain all the quiet time it needs. Meditation might be the best way to clear these thoughts, but it is not necessary, simple quiet time is enough to start feeling the benefits.
As an aside I also like using this unplugged time to do things I am meant to be doing instead of phone use, like household chores, that way I don’t lay in bed feeling guilty and unable to sleep. This may be a topic for a future blog.
So how much quiet time do you need for this unplugging to help you sleep better? Well the more the better, no electronics at all would be best, but let’s be realistic and admit that is not going to happen, plus you would miss out on the benefits of using them, like reading my blogs! I do take the occasional complete day for electronic fasting, but I personally find that 3 hours for interactive media and 2 hours for passive media is where the benefits reach their peak. This would be from about 7pm if you want to sleep by 10.
3 hours without your phone? What? Am I crazy? 3 hours seems like an eternity and an impossible goal if you didn’t pay attention to my other blog post and are still using your phone in bed (tsk tsk on you for not listening to me), but the key to reaching it is to use baby steps. The first step is of course to stop using your phone in bed. The next step is to put your phone away before you brush your teeth and get changed for bed. This would at least give you a few minutes of peace. Once that has become a habit you can start expanding the time unplugged, start by having at least 10 minutes, then 20, 30, etc…. Once you really start to feel the benefits it becomes easier and easier to stick to. You also don’t have to be perfect to get benefits, if something is truly important I still allow myself to use my phone within those 3 hours, and if I have to get up early I still check that my alarm is set correctly before I get into bed; what is important is to make unplugging the general rule, so that you still have plenty of quiet time each night, even if it is interrupted a little.
Have a good night and sleep tight!