I knew it was going to be tricky, but it was way harder than I expected.

By Julia Malacoff
December 02, 2017
Photo: PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/Getty Images

A couple months ago, one of my friends told me she and her husband never bring their cell phones into their bedroom. I stifled an eye roll, but it did pique my curiosity. I'd texted her the night before and not gotten a response until the following morning, and she very politely let me know that if I ever didn't get a reply from her at night again, that would probably be why. At first, my reaction was along the lines of, "Wait... What?!" But after thinking about it, it started making a whole lot of sense. She said it really helped her sleep more soundly, and that making the commitment to keep her phone out of her bedroom was a game-changer. At the time, I filed this in my brain under "nice for her, not something I'm interested in." (P.S. Your tech devices might not just be messing with your sleep and relaxation, but your cell phone is ruining your downtime, too.)

As a person who is generally tuned in to what's happening in health and wellness, I'm aware that screen time right before bed is a pretty big no-no. The blue light that comes from electronics mimics daytime light, which can cause your body to stop producing melatonin, aka the sleep hormone, according to Pete Bils, vice chair of the Better Sleep Council, as reported in 12 Steps to Better Sleep. That means that even if your body is tired, you're probably going to have a harder time falling asleep after watching TV, using a computer, or-you guessed it-looking at your phone in bed. (And FYI, that blue light isn't so great for your skin, either.)

Despite *knowing* this, I still bring my phone into my bed. I read and scroll through things on it before I go to sleep, and I look at it first thing in the morning when I wake up. I was fine with happily ignoring the fact that this routine is proven to be bad for you until I started experiencing weird sleep-related symptoms. Over the past few months, I started waking up in the middle of the night. ~Every single night~. (Maybe I should have tried these restorative yoga poses for deeper sleep.) I was always able to go back to sleep. But if you've ever experienced this, you know how annoying and disruptive it can be. And it made me question whether the sleep I was getting was really all that good.

After wondering what the heck was going on with my sleep-and most importantly, what I could do to fix it-I remembered what my friend said about leaving her cell phone to charge outside her bedroom. I considered checking in with my doctor about what might be causing my mid-slumber wake-ups, but I already knew that the first thing they'd tell me to do is remove screens from my nighttime life. Begrudgingly, I decided to try making my bedroom a cell-phone-free zone for a week. I'm not going to lie; it wasn't easy, but it was certainly eye-opening. Here's what I learned.

1. I'm addicted to my cell phone.

Okay, so maybe that's a little dramatic, but there is rehab for cell phone use and honestly, this experience showed me that I'm not that far from being a candidate for it. I actually got out of bed to go stand in the kitchen (my phone's designated plug-in spot for the week) and look at my phone several times during this little experiment-especially in the beginning. And it wasn't unusual at all to find myself lying in bed thinking, "If only I could check Instagram or read the news right now." This urge was especially strong because my boyfriend politely declined to take part in my little experiment, deeming his nighttime Instagram Explore page black hole habit to be too fun to give up. Understandable. I found myself missing my phone less over the course of the week, but the fact that I missed it so much initially was an important reality check.

2. Yes, you really do sleep better when you don't have your phone in bed.

Like many working people, I don't generally have time to read the news during the day, so my routine had become to skim through the day's headlines right before going to sleep. Needless to say, before this experiment, I was having some pretty weird stress dreams thanks to giving my brain all kinds of heavy things to think about right before bed. So, those stopped. What's more, the whole waking up in the middle of the night thing got a lot better. It didn't happen immediately, but on day number five I woke up and realized I had slept through the entire night. It's hard to know for sure, but I have a suspicion that it had something to do with removing the bright light of my phone from the equation.

3. I realized it's okay to be offline sometimes.

I live in a different time zone than my job's home base. That means it's ideal for me to be available via email when my colleagues need me, and honestly, that's part of the reason I like taking my phone to bed. I can catch up on emails before I go to sleep, quickly answer urgent questions, and then take stock of what happened overnight first thing in the morning. (Oops, guess I should have read this: Answering Work Emails After Hours Is Officially Harming Your Health) I also like being able to respond to texts from friends and family ASAP since I'd expect them to do the same for me. The thing is, during the entire week that I powered down a little earlier than usual, not one important thing happened while I was sleeping. Zero! Not one text message or email arrived that couldn't wait until morning. Sounds like I can stop using this as an excuse to have my phone on me 24/7. (If this sounds good to you, try this seven-day digital detox to spring clean your life.)

4. I talked to my partner more without it.

Even though he still had his phone, the fact that I didn't have one meant I had two options for what to do until I fell asleep: read or talk to my boyfriend. I did both, but I noticed that we had much longer and more interesting conversations than we normally do before bed, which was a surprising bonus.

5. Mornings are better phone-free.

There is something so nice about not being woken up by the alarm on your phone, and it's something I've experienced very few times since I got my first cell phone. And while I definitely missed my phone at night, I did not miss my usual morning status check in the slightest. Instead, I'd wake up, get dressed, make some coffee, look out the window, whatever-and then look at my phone. I'd always heard people say that starting your morning with a quiet moment for yourself is a good idea, but aside from meditating using an app on my phone, I'd never really put it into practice. I discovered that not looking at my phone in the morning was its own kind of meditation, one that allowed my mind to be quiet for a few extra minutes each day. And that in itself made this whole experiment worth it. While I can't say I'll never bring my phone to bed again, the perks are definitely worth trying to make this a regular habit.