A good night’s sleep is my personal Everest. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep. Sometimes I can’t stay asleep. Sometimes I have nightmares and panic in my sleep. Most of the time what I don’t do is rest peacefully. If you struggle with sleep too, you’ve probably read just as many articles as I have about slaying the insomnia dragon. The rules are pretty easy to follow and very rarely differ among experts. If you aren’t caught up on the latest “get good sleep” advice, they can be boiled down to:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule the entire week.
- Use your bed for sleep and sex. No reading. No TV watching. No emailing.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t consume caffeine in the afternoon.
- Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol.
Despite the fact that I live by the rules of this list, I still struggle with sleep. For April’s wellness goals, I wanted to tackle sleep from a new angle. Stress screws with sleep and when you can’t sleep, your stress levels may increase – trapping many of us in a negative loop. So, I decided to eliminate a stressor in my life, the constant connectivity caused by cell phones.
As of April 1st, I set about incorporating two behavioral changes related to cell phones. No cell phone use for one hour after waking up in the morning. No cell phone use after 8 p.m.
My cell phone has become a symbol of everyone else getting my time and energy. It’s full of texts, emails, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest notifications, and calendar reminders of all the stuff that needs to be done. I see the list of notifications on my phone and feel like each one is someone else taking a little piece of me.
Choosing to leave my phone alone for an hour every morning turned the start of my day into pure bliss. Leaving the phone on the table face down gave me permission to ease into my day on my time. This new pattern dramatically improved my daily mood and helped me feel much more at ease as I progressed through my day, especially when stressful situations arose.
The 8 p.m. rule proved much more difficult. FOMO (fear of missing out) is generally not something I struggle with. I tend to be rooted in JOMO (joy of missing out). But come 8 p.m. FOMO got my fingers itching. My cell seemed rife with possibilities of enjoyment – so many pictures to see on Instagram, so many texts to read! In telling myself no, I created a forbidden fruit.
It wasn’t easy. I slipped a lot. It turns out 8 p.m. seems to be peak, middle of text conversation time in my life. I felt obligated to see each conversation to its natural conclusion, rather than telling my friends adios. It had also become habitual for me to scroll through social media on the couch while my husband took his evening smoke break in the backyard. Though this habit was a time filler and didn’t actually provide me joy, it was a mindless habit that proved challenging to break.
After a little consideration, it dawned on me. My people pleasing personality didn’t want to disappoint anyone by being unavailable after 8 p.m. I worried that people would be frustrated with me for being unresponsive to texts or disconnected from social media. Though not a single person expressed frustration, I had convinced myself that it was my responsibility to be perpetually available. I had to train myself that texts, emails, and social media did not constitute emergencies. If someone really needed me, they could call and I would still be available. In letting go of my fear of disappointing my friends and family, I was able to transition into being more mindful and present with my husband and our cats before bedtime.
In establishing these cell phone behavioral changes, my stress levels (after an adjustment period) were reduced. My mood was positively affected by the new morning ritual and I felt much more relaxed in the evenings. And the bonus was my husband and cats were happier too! Unfortunately, my sleep wasn’t as impacted as I had hoped for. But there’s always next month.
May will give me time to explore the power of lavender. I hope my husband likes smelling like he’s sleeping in a field in Provence.