A friend of mine recently posted on social media that he had undertaken a 30-day experiment into a screen-free bedroom - no smartphone, tablet or television whilst in bed - and felt great for it, so this week, the last of my Digital Detox month, I gave it a go myself.
I took some time to research the concept, and found a plethora of high-profile endorsements, including Arianna Huffington. Whilst the negative effects of blue-toned screen light on our quality of sleep are long-established, proponents of the screen-free bedroom report many other positive outcomes, such as a reduction in anxiety and better relationships with their partners and families.
The excuses I found myself making - that I use my smartphone as an alarm clock, and like to switch off by watching Netflix in bed - seemed miserably inadequate. I had an unused alarm clock and a stack of unopened paperbacks by my bed; I could absolutely make do.
The first night felt very strange indeed. I headed to my bedroom 45 minutes later than usual, having refreshed every app and squeezed every last drop of news and entertainment out of my phone. I sat in bed, propped up under my reading lamp, with a novel I’d been given for my birthday months ago, and was hit with an immediate rush of nostalgia.
As a child I’d sneak upstairs after bath time to tuck myself in with a Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton paperback from the library, and as a teenager, with the sci-fi novels I adored. My mum will retell the many times she found me asleep in the pages of the beautiful children’s encyclopaedia we bought from the mobile bookshop that had visited my primary school, my glasses tangled in the duvet.
I had completely forgotten this part of my identity over the past decade, and the sudden reminder gave me goosebumps. I wondered why on earth I’d ever stopped a healthy habit that had given me so much joy. Exhilarated, I read a few chapters before succumbing to sleep.
The first morning, I woke several times before my alarm, worried that it wouldn't ring. I did, however, feel well-rested, and got out of bed immediately to check my phone, which had spent the night in the living room. No emails, three WhatsApp messages, and an Instagram notification suggested it had not missed me terribly.
As the week progressed, the new habit became steadily easier. The bizarre farewell ceremony I performed with my iPhone grew shorter and shorter, and I took longer to retrieve it in the morning. On Sunday, I forgot to check it until lunchtime, having spent the morning gardening and enjoying the radio. As was the case last week, the freedom from my phone made me remember what I love doing in my spare time.
My main objective - longer and better sleep - happened almost instantly. As a chronic sleepwalker, bruxist, and sufferer of nightmares, I was overjoyed to find myself experiencing fewer sleep interruptions and jaw pain. I suddenly felt very foolish for the years I’ve spent blaming caffeine, my old job, my tendency to worry about things beyond my control, and my overactive imagination, when the culprit behind these afflictions had been my smartphone all along.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my week with a screen-free bedroom made me wish I’d tried it sooner. I’ve zipped through a novel, have slept more soundly and for longer, have felt more energetic in the mornings, and haven’t at all missed the YouTube wormholes I used to find myself in several evenings a week. It turns out I didn’t need to Click Here to Find Out The One Weird Trick to Losing Belly Fat, because evidently it’s ‘spend less time watching Netflix and eating liquorice in bed’.
This month has been an enlightening one. I had considered myself a pretty savvy user of technology, but many of my habits were wasting time, energy and brain space. Whilst my inbox isn’t always at Zero, I have felt far more in control of it, and by using my smartphone less during the day and having more screen-free hours in the evening, I have spent time concentrating on my new role and my old hobbies. My new boss, my state of mind, and my garden, are all grateful.
If you’ve tried any of the Digital Detox methods I’ve shared this month or would like further advice on the subject, please don't hesitate to get in touch with one of the Integrated Resources team.