Why you shouldn’t sleep in the same room as your phone

Commentary

Elizabeth McLaughlin, Editor

How do you feel when you leave something unfinished? Some may say just a little anxious, others may experience downright despair. A lucky few of us simply feel neutral: “I’ll get to it tomorrow, no need to fret.” But most of us probably don’t feel good when we go to bed knowing that we didn’t finish all that we needed to do.

What’s worse than that feeling? Seeing it manifested in tiny, red, numbered bubbles plastered all over our phone screens. You have: 3 unread emails, 65 unread texts, 18 Snapchats, 7 Canvas announcements, and a whole lot of dread…or at least I do at the moment. Never has there been a time in human history in which we have been more consciously made aware of our unfinished business. That fact alone is anxiety inducing, even for those of us who are quick to clean up our inboxes at the earliest opportunity. Many of us have an obsessive relationship with clearing our notifications; I have an unwritten rule for myself that my Outlook inbox has to be attended to as quickly as possible, at any hour of the day. The other day, I found myself performing the mundane, rote ritual of clearing out my Gmail of all the quotidian branded messages I get from various companies. I took a moment to recognize the anxiety attached to my habits, and took an oath to change for the better.

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It is worthwhile to establish a cell phone-free zone in your daily life.

In a sense, we are slaves to our notifications. They demand our attention and remain in the corners of our minds, begging to be resolved, ad nauseam. I can’t think of anything more tiring than going to bed with the knowledge that I have so many unfinished tasks; tasks which await my attention as soon as I wake up. That is why I no longer sleep with my phone in my room. By eliminating the opportunity to be reminded of messages which require my attention, I’ve created a more peaceful space for myself.

In fact, I’ve modified my relationship with my phone in more ways than one. I don’t bring my phone with me to the dinner table (I never did, shoutout to mom and dad for that one), but I also don’t bring it to my desk when I’m doing work, or sometimes when I’m hanging with friends. I prefer to maintain a much bigger distance from my phone than I had in the past and it has served me well. These days, I wake up and begin to lean into my day alone, without the presence of pesky notifications or posts from others. Then, I make the choice to go downstairs and check my phone when I’m ready. If, overnight, a friend or family member texted me, I’m much more eager to respond than I would have been had I been consciously aware of their message for hours on end.

By cutting the leash between my phone and me, I’ve significantly reduced my anxiety. I no longer feel like I need to lug around this hunk of junk with me wherever I go. When I do decide to take my phone out, it’s for a purpose that serves me and enhances my day. By breaking up with listless scrolling, I’ve crafted a more meaningful life. By leaving my phone downstairs when I go to bed, I can blissfully pretend, at least for a few hours, that I exist in an era untouched by smart-phone-induced anxiety. By choosing when to use my phone and when to leave it at home, I’m choosing a more enjoyable life.

So tonight, I invite you to leave your phone alone; be alone with your thoughts. There is no rule that you have to check every notification, every app, all the time. A smartphone is only smart after you examine your relationship with it; after you unlearn codependence in favor of balance. I promise, those little red bubbles (unfortunately) aren’t going anywhere.

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