Ellen Vora, M.D., is a holistic psychiatrist practicing with Frank Lipman, M.D., at the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC. This week, we're sharing Dr. Vora's expertise in a new series on natural techniques for better sleep. To learn more, check out her mindbodygreen course, The Doctor's Guide to Falling Asleep Naturally + Getting the Best Rest of Your Life.
The most important thing you can do to promote better sleep? Get the phone out of the bedroom.
That's right: Set up your charger outside the bedroom, kiss your phone good-night at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and make your bedroom a no-phone zone. Once you’ve done it, you’ll sleep better and feel better, and you’ll never look back. Do this tonight.
I know some of the excuses you’ll want to make: "But it's my alarm clock" (buy an analog alarm clock—it costs $10); "I need to know if I get an email at night" (do you really, though?); "It might help other people, but it’s not necessary for me" (Do you have eyes? Then it will help you); "It’s inconvenient" (nope, it’s really not); "But my charger is already set up in my bedroom" (oh pobrecito...take 30 seconds and move it). That got a little harsh. Sorry.
There is one legitimate excuse to make: I need to hear if someone calls me in an emergency. Fair enough. I recommend setting up your phone outside the bedroom but within earshot. Put the important people in your life in your Favorites, set the phone to an overnight do-not-disturb schedule, and check “allow calls from favorites.” Double check that you can hear your phone ring from your room. Problem solved.
Now that we’ve gotten the excuses out of the way, let’s discuss why it’s so important to get the phone out of the bedroom. There are three key reasons:
Light regulates our circadian rhythm (our sleep-wake cycle). The blue-spectrum light from phone screens confuses the brain into thinking it’s daytime, even if we’re staring at our phone at midnight. Our brain responds by secreting hormones that make us feel awake. So staring at the phone is like a culturally condoned shot of espresso at bedtime.
2. Your brain's reward system
Many activities we do on our phones, from scanning Instagram to playing the game du jour, are brilliantly designed to behave like drugs in our brain, hitting our reward systems and making us want to keep going and going and going. The next thing you know, it’s 1 a.m., you’re bleary eyed, you’ve wasted your life away on meaningless drivel, and you’ve set yourself up to get a bad night of sleep.
Get the phone out of the bedroom and it becomes a lot harder to fall down this rabbit hole.
As much as your phone is fun, it’s also a source of stress. Perhaps you get your work email on your phone, or you have an overwhelming number of little red notifications calling for your attention. All the little buzzes and dings, even when it’s ostensibly notifying you of “good stuff,” is not much different from being a doctor on call and having the pager go off, or hearing a jackhammer at the construction site across the street. Our bodies perceive these interruptions as stressors.
They’re bad enough during the day (I recommend turning off all notifications during the day so you’re the boss of your time, not your phone). But the idea of these buzzes overnight is even worse. They’re imperceptibly disrupting your sleep, which blocks you from falling into deeper, more restorative sleep.
In short, it’s articles just like this one that you’re reading right now on your phone that can be destructive to your sleep. If you’re home right now, put down whatever device you’re reading this on and go set up your charger outside your bedroom. You'll enjoy an earlier bedtime and a night of deeper sleep tonight.