Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation recommends that we switch off all screens one to two hours before bed. That’s to stop the stimulation provided by our devices, including the blue light emitted from screens that suppresses melatonin, from interfering with the most critical health behaviour of all: sleep.
No-one I know actually does this. My own data, collected from the many professionals I run seminars for, suggests that 15 minutes is more like it, and some go to bed with the phone, to do some reading or for one last check of social media. The 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults found that almost half use screens just before bed.
Some question whether the guidelines have become unrealistic. But more importantly, does it matter if we have no or little time free from the grip of our gadgets?
Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to see if you think you could benefit from more distance from your devices.
1. How stimulating is the night time technology you use?
- The amount of blue light emitted from your screen. The larger the screen or closer to your face, the greater the effect.
- The content you are viewing. If it’s a work-related email or a scary movie, it’s more likely to keep you brain in alert mode.
- How interactive it is. If you are playing a game or responding to emails or social media posts, that will be more stimulating that simply reading an article.
If you score high on all three, you are likely to be doing your nervous system a disservice by robbing it of idle time, just before bed.
2. Are you in control of technology, or showing addictive tendencies?
Check for signs of CCD – compulsive checking disorder – (a new mental health condition I made up, but it’s quite real!): you vow to switch off earlier or more often, but repeatedly don’t; you can see it’s interfering with your ability to pay attention (at work or with your friends and family); you feel anxious if you leave your phone behind or when you haven’t ‘checked’ for a period of time, especially your work emails.
If you are saying ‘yes’ to these questions and that doesn’t sit well with you, maybe your bed time routine could be a good place to start practising finding the off button.
3. Does your night-time routine have a quality of calm and completion?
Or do you just keep going until your head hits the pillow? Or maybe you engage in yet more screen time to ‘unwind’ only to feel mentally mushy afterwards?
If so, imagine using just the last 30 minutes before bed to bring more darkness and stillness into your routine, so you can reclaim the night for its rightful purpose of bringing the day to a close. Here are some tips for doing so.
4. Do you feel as though you are constantly ‘on’ especially with regards to work?
People often work after hours to keep on top of massive workloads. But there is a point of diminishing returns, where every hour worked beyond a healthy knock-off time will result in poorer quality work. It also makes you less effective the next day. For example, this study here found that people who were on their phones after 9 pm were less engaged at work the following day.
If you sense you need more overnight psychological detachment from work to be at your best, maybe now is the time to start putting your device to bed, well ahead of you.
5. Do you crave more ‘me time’?
“I just want some time to myself” is a common craving amongst working adults, especially those with children. Yet when faced with the possibility of giving yourself even 30 minutes of me-time before bed, you might find yourself avoiding it, and not just because you are busy. I suspect that we are so used to being entertained and keeping our attention outside of ourselves, that it can feel uncomfortable or simply boring, just to be with ourselves.
But stay away from yourself for too long, and you will actually begin to miss yourself and deep down can feel lonely or a long way from home.
If you can relate to any of this, a screen-free night time ritual – of a length of your choosing – could give you the opportunity to connect and say ‘hello’ to yourself in the form of journaling, some gentle stretches, a simple meditation or simply bringing your attention inside.
So, what did you conclude? Do you need more screen-free time at night or not? Do let me know I’d love to hear: firstname.lastname@example.org