TECH
01/17/2016 08:21 am ET

Phones And Bedrooms Just Don't Mix. I Learned That The Hard Way.

Here's how life changed when I banished my iPhone from my sleep sanctuary.
Lee-or Atsmon Fruin

This story is part of a 10-piece series for which HuffPost staffers agreed to experiment with improving their health and decreasing their stress on the job. It’s also part of our monthlong “Work Well” initiative focusing on thriving in the workplace.

For as long as I can remember, I've slept next to my phone while it charged by my bed. I regularly woke up in the middle of the night for text and Twitter check-ins, while remaining convinced that there was literally no other way to wake up in the morning without an iPhone-provided alarm.

I finally decided it was time to make a change.

So I made a New Year's resolution to put my device out of reach at night, and to keep a diary of the first week of my challenge. Sure, I didn't want to miss any notifications, but I also knew that my frequent phone checks were compromising my sleep. Studies show that using your phone right before bed or during the night is linked to anxiety and depression and can make you cranky and less focused at work. 

And so, in pursuit of my most rested, happy, productive self, I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond on a rainy Thursday in December to pick up an alarm clock, which I'd need since I wouldn't have my phone by my side each morning. I'd read recently that the key to a successful New Year’s resolution is to start in December, and here was my chance to correct this bad habit and improve my sleep cycle. 

I knew it would feel unnatural at first, but I was ready to make the change. 

Emily Tess Katz

RULES

  1. I will operate according to the Deepak Chopra school of bed etiquette and use my bed solely as a place for sleep. This means I will not be using my phone there

  2. I will be keeping my Macbook Air there because watching “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce” before bed is a habit I’m not prepared to give up right now. I'm also allowed to read books before bed. 

  3. I will stop using my phone 30 minutes before getting into bed.

  4. For the first time in my life, I'll use a real alarm clock to wake me up, which means I’ll be learning how to program an alarm clock.

  5. Upon waking up, I will be allowed to check my phone for 5 minutes to catch up on email -- so I’m able to keep my job. But I'll then wait 30 minutes before becoming fully immersed in my phone.

  6. I will not let my iPhone cross the threshold into my bedroom at any point during this week.

PREDICTIONS

Like the first time I zip-lined or rode an upside-down rollercoaster, I knew this would be scary and initially uncomfortable. But I also recognized that this very marginal change could have a massive positive effect on my life and well-being, that eventually I'd feel more rested and present, and thus would be my best, most productive self during the day. I hoped I'd get used to the late-night absence of my iPhone and would feel less satisfied with the idea of texting as human contact. I genuinely wanted to come out of this an unplugging evangelist.

DAILY DIARY

Day 1, Thursday

emily tess katz

After successfully arriving home and programming my alarm clock for an 8:30 a.m. siren, I set out about my night.

When I returned and retreated to my bed around 12:45 a.m., I settled in and watched “Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills” on my laptop until I fell asleep. I did have some pangs of anxiety about what texts I was missing, in part because I had been in the middle of conversations about logistics with a cadre of people. But this was my first phone-less night and I felt strongly about honoring this commitment. I reminded myself that those conversations would all be resumable in the morning.

Day 2, Friday

I woke up to several missed texts, including one from a past love interest, which made me feel great because my lagged response time probably made me seem like a chiller person -- which, in an ideal world, this exercise would turn me into. 

The idea of responding to all my phone's missed action was overwhelming, but it got me thinking about the kinds of messages that require responses versus not. No one really cares if they receive a perfunctory "haha" after texting something, so I didn't really need to care that I wasn't awake to send it. 

Day 3, Saturday

It was a leisurely morning, and I succumbed to scrolling through my iPhone in my bed but tried to limit the time I spent doing that. 

Somewhere during the course of this day I came to the realization that it might not be sustainable to bar phone activity in your bedroom if you live in Manhattan -- like I do -- and want to enjoy the small amount of square footage you pay for. 

Day 4, Sunday 

I woke up to see my phone beside my bed. I'd not only brought my phone into my bedroom -- I'd let myself keep it there throughout my slumber! Disappointed as I was, I managed to see the silver-lining: Nowhere throughout the night had I consulted my phone to see missed activity. Maybe sleeping without it for a few nights had altered that impulse.

emily tess katz

Day 5, Monday

I seemed to have weakened my hold on this practice, as I found myself walking outside my bedroom after going to bed on Sunday, at 2 a.m. to check my phone’s activity. This felt particularly shameful and counterintuitive -- I was supposed be having deeper REM cycles, not stumbling through my apartment with my eyes half-closed to check my texts.

After going back to bed device-free, I was happy to wake up to my alarm clock on this dark Monday morning. It was hard enough to get out of bed without the added distraction of having my phone within arm's reach. Sure enough, I arrived at work at the time I always aspire to (9:30) but rarely am able.

I usually spend Monday nights watching "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" and not being social. But knowing that my phone-use would have an expiration time, I felt inspired to go out and interact with the humans I'd otherwise be texting. This felt like progress!

Day 6, Tuesday

I slept incredibly well. In the morning, I noticed that, for the first time, I didn't have an impulse to reach over and check my phone immediately upon opening my eyes. I was into that!

I'd come to find that waking up to countless texts and emails was sometimes exhausting, but putting my phone away five minutes after checking missed activity helped managed the anxiety level. 

I bought the book The Empathy Exams to replace before-bed phone time. I recommend this essay collection!

The more I started to recognize the merits of unplugging at night, the more I recognized the trouble with my phone habits during the day. At work I'd usually have my phone charging right beside me, not unlike while I slept at home. My phone lighting up throughout the work day was almost as harmful as at night, I came to see, as it prevented me from being able to do tasks in an uninterrupted fashion.

Day 7, Wednesday

By this time, I was used to sleeping with my phone in the living room -- so I kicked things up a notch. I tried keeping my phone in my bag for the entire day, even while at work. I was on email all day, so I was still reachable, but I wanted to liberate myself from another channel of communication, and this was an obvious way to do it.

Other than a friend getting antsy about what Barry's Bootcamp we should sign up for over the weekend, I emerged completely unscathed from a day of no texting. I wondered why it took me so long to do this, and -- even more frighteningly -- why I have a phone at all. 

Okay, so I need the map function to get around the city, but that should require no more than an hour of daily phone use. New goal: to use my phone for only an hour a day. Now if I could only try to institute that before 2017.

The more I started to recognize the merits of unplugging at night, the more I recognized the trouble with my phone habits during the day.

KEY TAKEAWAYS 

This experiment radically transformed my relationship to my bedroom, social media and the outside world. Never before did I realize how much time I spent lounging in my bed texting and tweeting away. That’s time that can be spent sleeping or enjoying the outside world. Plus, limiting my usage made me aware of how dependent I am on this device. 

The best part of this experience was how much time I had on my hands as a result. My sleeping improved, my time was more mindfully spent, and I came to learn that unplugging begets unplugging. The less time I spent on my phone, the less I wanted to use it. 

The worst part was the inconvenience of not being near my phone. But that was a necessary inconvenience, I learned, in order to recalibrate my unhealthy relationship with it.

Unplugging begets unplugging. The less time I spent on my phone, the less I wanted to use it.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Would I say I'm an unplugging evangelist at the end of this week? 

Honestly, no.

I'm still attached to this thing. If my phone is near me, I'm responding to your text within two seconds and also checking my Twitter, Instagram, email and the Daily Mail app. This behavior gets in the way of reading books, cleaning my apartment and following the intricate plots of "Homeland." It also makes me feel anxious.

Moderating phone use is hard, but that's why I'm choosing to re-define my relationship with it. I want to use my phone for specific needs -- taking a picture, coordinating social gatherings, mapping a location, checking the weather -- rather than as a way to entertain myself. 

For the sake of full disclosure, I will be honest and say that I did, very excitedly, move my phone charger to my bedroom the day this experiment was done. But I no longer keep my phone charging next to my bed. Instead, I use an outlet across the room and I keep it on "do not disturb." It helps keep the phone-impulse in check.

I'd also like to commission someone to make an app that shuts off your phone when you're on it for more than an hour to two hours a day. Kidding! But also not...

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