A simple office poll says it all: eight out of ten of the Coop Dream Team sleep with our phones within arm’s reach. We all offer up the easiest excuse: our phone serves as our alarm clocks! We need them within arm’s reach. But according to psychologists, we don’t. We really… really, really don’t need our phones within arm’s reach of our beds.
Actually, we need to sleep as far away from our handheld distraction machines as possible, with many experts suggesting tucking away your phone in another room entirely. “But what about my alarm!? What if there’s an emergency?!”
The alarm argument is easy to snuff out: get an alarm clock. A low-tech, non-smart, simple as all get out analog alarm clock. Sometimes, in the age of one-and-done technology, it’s nice to have a product that does one single thing. This way, when you go to set your alarm, you won’t get distracted by that 11 p.m. email from your boss, which will lead to a text to a coworker, which will lead to a scroll sesh on Instagram while you wait for that coworker to text you back. Ah, the freeing feeling of analog.
The emergency excuse is tricky, but we have to get back to remembering what an emergency is and is not. An emergency is not an email or a text. It isn’t an Instagram DM or a missed Facetime call. If truly worried about emergencies, keep your phone in the same room on do-not-disturb mode and with the logical exceptions set. For example, my do-not-disturb exceptions consist of my boyfriend, immediate family, downstairs neighbor, and a couple of very close friends.
Now that we’ve got those excuses out of the way, let’s talk about why you should kick your phone out of your bed.
“The blue light that is produced from the phone screen can interrupt the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase attention, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a late sleeping schedule,” says doctor of psychology Aniko Dunn.
Although software manufacturers have made an effort in the past year to alleviate the blue light effect with a “night mode” that automatically changes your screen from harsh blue to soft yellow light, new research shows that yellow light is just as bad, if not worse, than its blue counterpart.
Turns out the best option for not ruining our own circadian rhythms is by putting down the phone altogether, especially at night. Since the brain begins releasing melatonin at nightfall, limiting phone use past sunset is the best idea. Because we know that’s not gonna happen, it’s best to go by the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation of ditching the phone at least a half hour before you hit the hay. That’ll give your brain at least a little bit of time to adjust to reality.
Addictive by Design
A 2018 study by Asurion found that Americans really, really, really like our phones. So much so that we tend to keep our phones within arm’s reach even when we’re deliberately trying not to be on them. For example, the study found that even while on vacation, Americans tend to pick up and open our phones an average of 80 times a day (and upwards of over 300 times a day).
While your average person is likely horrified by that statistic, app developers are elated. Apps are designed with a specific formula to be habit forming. The Fogg Behavior Model is a rather simple theoretical model in psychology. “It suggests that we act when three forces—motivation, trigger, and ability—converge,” writes Simone Stolzoff for Wired. “Critics say that companies like Facebook have taken advantage of these psychological principles to capture human attention. Especially in advertising-supported businesses, where more time spent in app equals more profit, designers can optimize for values that don’t always align with their users’ well-being.”
Design-by-behaviorism is so effective that our brains end up reacting to phone use much like they would react to drugs: by releasing dopamine, which acts as a kind of chemical messenger between our nerve cells, and it plays a huge role in how we feel pleasure. Our brains react to smartphone use very similarly to how they react to commonly abused drugs: by releasing dopamine in our brain’s reward center.
We are addicts, and the never-ending feedback loops created by social media developers are only making it worse. Ever notice how now when you open Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter that you can scroll endlessly, that the algorithm makes it so you cannot be caught up? The goal is to keep us scrolling. And scroll we do.
“Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with ‘hijacking techniques’ that lure us in and create ‘compulsion loops,’ writes David Brooks for the New York Times.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not the screen addiction is real, check your screen time (and if the idea of doing so fills you with dread, well, you get it). As Vox reported, the average adult spends about 3.5 hours a day using the Internet on their phones, according to a 2019 study from the analytics company Zenith. And it’s gone up roughly 33% in quarantine.
Back to Bed
Combine blue (and yellow) light with compulsion loops and you have a recipe for sleep disaster. Regardless of whether or not you’ll get sucked into scrolling for 15 minutes or two hours, the effect on your body is the same: you’re alert, wide awake, and nowhere in the mindset to drift off to dreamland. So not only will you have a difficult time falling asleep, you’ll end up losing your total amount of REM sleep, mess up your sleep schedule for the next day or two, and be super sleepy the next day.
When winding down at night, it’s best to put the phone away… far away. Not only will the break from the bright light restore your natural sleep-wake cycle, but the break from apps will help you regain your valuable time.