Sleeping With Your Smartphone

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It used to be a whole lot simpler.

I don’t know about you, but I used to come from work and charge my smartphone at the small table near my front entrance. It was a parlour trick. It was a way for me to not think about my mobile device from the time I walked into the house until I had to leave again. It worked well for a couple of a years… and then something happened. We can blame it on the apps, we can blame it on the music, we can blame it on our lack of desire to have a hardwired phone in the home because mobile works so well, but these smartphones slowly crept their ways into our living rooms and have now made their way into the bedroom.

The real me.

Before bed, I find myself doing one last glance at the inbox, checking Facebook and Twitter for some light entertainment, and then I usually switch over to my Kindle app to end the night with some book reading before my eyelids get heavy and I drop the iPhone on my face. At that point, I set the alarm on my smartphone and doze off. If I happen to wake up in the middle of the night, I may take a peek at it as well. I won’t look at email (one negative piece of mail is enough to keep me up), but I may check the Twitter feeds or check in on the global news. It’s there. On my nightstand. It’s much more than a phone. It has become the remote control for my life.

I am not alone.

You may see some similar traits from my habits to yours… and we are not alone. Business Insider ran the news item, 90% Of 18-29 Year-Olds Sleep With Their Smartphones, that uncovered the following data points:

  • 90% of 18-29 year olds sleep with their smartphones.
  • 1 in 3 people would rather give up sex than their phone.
  • 95% of people use the phone for something just before going to bed.
  • Half of people check their phones immediately if they wake up during the night.

Are you sleeping with the enemy?

I’m not sure if my habit would quantify as "sleeping with my smartphone," but it is (admittedly) within arm’s reach. The data above is a sobering indictment on what we have become. On a personal note, I no longer reach for my smartphone if I wake up in the middle of the night. Regardless of how low the brightness level is set, I find that the raw light really wakes me up and keeps me up. Beyond that, we have to start asking ourselves: "what, exactly, is so important that we have to actually sleep with our devices?" Have we all suddenly become emergency room doctors and firefighters?

Media overload.

While we complain about media overload, perhaps what we really have is connectivity overload. This doesn’t mean that we need to unplug more or toss these devices into a bonfire, but it does point to one, very telling, point: the majority of our population does not know (or understand) how to manage their technology. While this is my profession and I have spent many years being the constant student (and occasional teacher) of all things technology and media, I do hold one core philosophy: I do not let the technology manage me. I manage my technology. I decide when to check my email or social media updates, etc…

Two tips to unshackle yourself from your smartphone:

  1. Before bed. Don’t leave your smartphone in your bedroom. Leave it charging in another room. If you wake up in the middle of the night, count sheep. Don’t get up out of bed to get your smartphone. Trust me, if anything is really important, you will know. If you use your smartphone as an alarm clock (as I do), don’t use it for anything else. It’s not easy, but freewill can be powerful thing.
  2. Turn it off. Turn off all notifications. I do this for everything except phone calls and text messages from close family members and friends. Otherwise, don’t allow your device to ding, buzz, beep or flicker a light for anything other the phone. I check email, Twitter, Facebook and more on my own terms. Not on theirs.

Now, try to get some rest… if you can’t and you have more tips to share, please do so below.


  1. Great article. Media/connectivity overload is a challenge—sometimes, I have to set my laptop aside and grab a notebook to plot out my next course of action so I don’t go in circles.
    And I turn all notifications off except phone calls. I can hear my phone from the next room over, so I plug it in there and get up to turn off the morning alarm.

  2. This is something I have been thinking about lately because I have noticed how much my screen time is increasing (tablet, computer, phone).
    I have never taken my smartphone into the bedroom. If I use it as a back-up alarm or I am in a hotel, I put it on airplane mode when I go to bed so that it isn’t receiving data.
    I also turn off notifications (even indicator lights) at home because if I am not sleeping well and get up, I don’t want to get sucked into looking at it in the middle of the night because that blinking light catches my eye.
    I have also made another recent change to turn off all screens an hour (ideally) before I go to bed. No Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email or even ebook reading for an hour. I like to read before bed but I am switching back to real books. I am re-reading books I have in physical form (all non-fiction). I re-read things that I have flagged with notes. I think this is helping me sleep better and I no longer feel the eye strain that I was feeling before I made this change.

  3. Guilty…
    I use my smartphone until seconds before I close my eyes and fall asleep. Sometimes I wake up with the phone in the bed, still on.
    It’s a horrible habit. One of many horrible habits associated with my inability to “turn off” and wind down.
    My brain needs a break, admittedly.

  4. Hmm, I’ve got to the stage where I’ve turned off all notifications (and kept my phone on silent), but it would take some doing to leave it in the other room.
    Mainly, because I know I’d end up pacing from room to room in the middle of the night ‘just in case’.
    I guess that puts me in the category of my technology control me, which is a sobering thought.
    Might be an interesting idea for an app; a programme that renders your phone unusable between the hours of 11pm and 7am 😉

  5. Interesting, I keep hearing folks talk about being tethered to their phone and I just wonder. 4 years ago I intentionally turned off email and twitter etc…notifications as it prevents me from being efficient and effective in my work.
    I only become conscious of this when at a friends and I keep hearing beeps, bings, or vibrates and I arch my eye brow at them and say “have you not learned this one yet?”
    I only allow two notifications to come through – an alarm – using a timer and text from three people ( which know better than to send a message in evening unless it is emergency)
    Mitch I found being able to claim boundaries is one way as entrepreneurs we serve ourselves VS allowing ourselves to serve technology.

  6. Guilty as well! However I manage social media for a few clients and the agency I work for, which is part of the problem for me as you feel compelled to check regularly if there has been any engagements.
    Where I find that it comes dangerous is when I sit down to read, unless I put it in another room, if I hear it go off there’s always a niggling at that back of my mind that I need to check it. Call that device anxiety if you will!

  7. Guilty on all counts. I think for me , the challenge is that i have always gone to bed with a book to read (from when i was old enough to read) – now with my kindle/ipad replacing physical books, i end up going to bed reading on one of those devices. And when they are there , it is so easy to get caught up with all the notifications buzzing on the ipad etc.
    Maybe i should resort to reading real books instead !

  8. Off and under the pillow. Morning roll-over is the light of my alarm turning my smart phone on. Nurture not nature really. I was allowed to take my Texas Instrument spelling game to bed as a kid. So having a device in bed is well sorta normal. So parents take the handheld tech games away from the kids at bedtime and put them in a box outside their room.

  9. Agree, agree, agree.
    Why am I addicted to the distraction? Is it because I think it’ll make me smarter? more competitive? more successful? or am I just killing time?

  10. I feel all the time like I have media overload. I do love my new iphone 5 more than I thought I would. Here is the problem for me, I use my phone as my alarm. So the last thing I touch at night and the first thing I touch in the morning is my phone. The key I guess is to fight the urge to actually use it for something. Good luck with our new reality of being connected 24/7.

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