Do you struggle to relax before bedtime? Helen Wilson-Beevers explains why turning her phone off a few hours earlier has been the most helpful technique for reducing stress and improving sleep.
In a world full of social media feeds, apps for every task and a 24-hour news cycle, it can be difficult to catch a break from notifications and messages requiring constant attention. Being on our phones is part of a regular daily routine that slots effortlessly into our modern lives. And while we know that in order to get a good night’s sleep, we’re better off ditching screens before bed, many of us are still scrolling away well into the twilight hours.
The way in which blue light impacts our sleeping patterns has been well documented. “It actually suppresses the production of melatonin and disrupts the natural circadian rhythm that is needed for a good night’s sleep,” explains Dr Pamela Miller, a medical reviewer for All About Vision. Ideally, Dr Miller says, “You should look to reduce screen time, especially before bed, as the blue light emitted from most screens can keep you up at night, impacting on your sleep and your general mood the following day.”
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But as someone who is guilty of spending way too much time vacantly scrolling through Instagram and checking my phone, I know it’s not that simple. The urge to quickly glance at emails or WhatsApp groups is strong; it’s like our phones have a magnetic pull on our attention.
But after one particularly full-on day a few months back, I felt close to phone burnout. That feeling of constantly being available wasn’t letting my brain properly rest, and I knew that I needed to create a bit of distance between blue light and bedtime.
While ditching the digital life entirely for a few days wasn’t an option, it got me wondering how I could try to minimise my phone usage and properly switch off (albeit temporarily). I took that literally, and started reaching for the power button on my phone a few hours before bedtime. Admittedly, I did have to fight the urge not to keep checking my phone or placing it nearby.
This was also the natural extension of a decision I made a few years back to keep devices out of my room ahead of bedtime. Seeing how well that helped me relax and separate from screen time in order to fully immerse myself in a book for the first time in years, I thought I’d go one step further.
The benefits of switching off your phone at 8pm
It increases calm and keeps anxiety-inducing news at bay
Switching my phone off at 8pm, and sometimes even shutting it in a drawer to create another layer of separation, gives me at least two hours before bed to detach. I feel calmer and I’ve seen far less tossing and turning or waking up worrying in the night as a result. When I do have a busier evening and keep scrolling, my sleep suffers as thoughts keep whirring when I inevitably wake up several times a night.
We get more time to process the day
Psychotherapist Anna Mathur tells Stylist: “We often turn to scrolling or reading on our phones as a form of winding down or relaxing. Our brain has to process every bit of incoming information and imagery, so while we might believe we are switching off as we scroll mindlessly, we are actually feeding our mind with more data to process. If our phone is nearby and switched on, seeing as pretty much every app, site and algorithm is designed to keep us hungry for more, it can be hard to resist a quick refresh of the email, or swipe of the feed.”
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It supports our nervous system
Mathur adds: “Constantly being switched on impacts our nervous system. We can feel like we’re never doing enough, fast enough. Our fight or flight response is heightened and we will find it harder to slow down and be present when we actually choose to be. Switching our phone off or leaving it out of reach helps add a barrier to that and reduces busy brain activity. Because we simply can’t compete with a world that never switches off.”
We have more capacity to do other calming activities
For me, that barrier is a much-needed self-care tool to actually have an evening’s rest just focusing on one thing at a time, whether that’s reading, chatting or watching a film. And embracing this ability to be fully present in the moment is something which protects my brain from going into overdrive later that night. In turn, my mood is lifted and I’ll feel much better equipped to face the next day.
Mathur acknowledges a total switch-off may not suit everyone, but says that “we can find ways to place boundaries around our usage, and in time we will grow in confidence that the world will wait, and that your to-do list can hold while you rest”.
While we know this relaxation hack isn’t realistic every single night, simply trying it once in a while could offer a break that supports a better sleep pattern.A temporary holiday from replying to messages and our mounting life admin until the morning? We think that’s a mental health trick well worth trying.
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