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In Pursuit of the Best Sleep Ever: Limiting Screen Time Before Bed

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Unless you've been living under a rock (and coincidentally, do  not own a smartphone) you've likely heard about how bad technology is for your sleep cycle. It's not just the blue LED light of the phone (or tablet, or television) that inhibits cortisol and makes it more difficult to fall asleep, this  Harvard Business Review article reveals it's also the  anxiety of being away and disconnected from our phones that can make it difficult to fall and stay in deep sleep.

It's easy to say "no television in the bedroom," but when it comes to our insidious (and conveniently-pocket-sized phones) the lines between tech vs. no tech in the bedroom blurs, and as I learned, is easier said than done.

Here's what happened when I carved phone use out of my nightly routine.

The Most Important Hour of the Day

My fiance and I might as well be the poster couple for bad sleep habits. On a normal evening, we can both be found lying next to one another in bed, scrolling away. We often talk, but we're multitasking as we do it. I chat with my girlfriends via DM on Instagram, he looks at funny videos on YouTube. It's no surprise we both aren't great sleepers of late.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off all electronics about an hour before bed and decreasing the brightness of your phone screen in the hours leading up to bedtime. Doing these things not only increases the quality of individual sleep, but also helps your brain restore itself for the next day: working overnight to help improve memory, strengthen brain function, and reduce stress and anxiety.

If those benefits alone aren't enough to get you to think about limiting your phone before bed, consider that new studies have found that bad sleep hygiene (or low quality sleep)  is a significant risk factor for Alzheimers.

In this light, the tech-less hour before bed suddenly becomes the most important hour of your day and biggest indicator of success for the next 24 hours.

What Happened When I Limited Screen Time Before Bed

Since I (like most people, I think) use my smartphone as my alarm clock, it was impossible for me to turn the phone completely off, but I did move my charger across the room so I couldn't see the screen light up or hear the faint buzz of my phone vibrating from incoming Twitter, Instagram, and email messages.

Instead of scrolling Instagram, I committed to reading for an hour before bed (on my first-generation kindle that doesn't have any lights, so I'm not getting any type of brainwave stimulation.) Reading an actual book helped me relax into sleep much faster than playing on my phone, but I'm not convinced it contributes to deeper sleep, no matter what the research says.

For me, I'm measuring the effectiveness of a sleep hack by two things: not waking up in the night, and how I feel in the morning. On the nights I consciously limited my screen time, I woke up twice in the night on both occasions, which is why I'm not convinced limited screen time is a cure all for those with sleep problems. Really, I feel in order to improve your life (and quality of sleep) it's imperative to practice  conscious phone habits throughout the day, not just in the hour before bed. I'll admit I'm not perfect with this, but the research is convincing enough that I'm willing to make a very concerted effort and try to be better about my overall mobile use. Perhaps the one thing I've learned halfway through my "better sleep" challenge is that sleep habits don't start before bed, but are often dictated by what happens throughout the day.

And for those who want to try to cut the phone out before bedtime instead of trying to overhaul their entire phone use patterns, if an hour doesn't do it for you, try  cutting it out two hours before bed and see if this makes an improvement.


My name is Lauren Bowling and I’m a writer and blogger. I write about money, travel and wellness and I am always working. I’ve partnered with Mattress Firm to try out some of the tips and tricks I’ve seen out there for better sleep…and give you the inside scoop on whether they really work. Check out my first post about on the 4-7-8 breathing trick and my second post about trying to practice yoga before bed.

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