Feel like you’re spending too much time in front of a screen? TV, phone, laptop, even our watches have become portals into a world where time loses all meaning. It’s an increasingly common complaint, with adults in the UK reportedly spending 3.5 hours online per day. This figure has risen during the covid pandemic so if you’ve noticed your usage increasing over the past year, you’re not alone.
Some device use can be necessary and screen time is not in itself negative, however if you’re feeling bad about how much time you’re spending online or noticing less than ideal side effects, these are some practical tips to help. Especially for the morning and night “danger zones”.
Why worry about screen time in mornings and night specifically
Based on several studies, experts now believe that there is a link between insomnia and screen time.
According to Psychologist, Claire Knight, “Consistent findings from community-based samples confirm that screen time and insomnia […] are rising in parallel. This has led to a considerable body of research that considers the association between the two.”
Even if you don’t experience insomnia, you are still at risk of adversely affecting your sleep by exposing yourself to the melatonin-suppressing blue light from your device. Essentially, the blue light from your device acts as a blocker to the hormone melatonin that controls your sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm).
Obviously this depends heavily on what you’re using your device for, but research has shown a link between phone use and anxiety, depression and stress. If you compulsively check your phone in the morning this could indicate that you have developed a habit or addiction that is leading to these negative feelings. Not only is it not ideal to start your day feeling stressed, depressed or anxious, by checking your device first thing you are also setting a precedent for the rest of your day.
Why is it so hard to give up screens in the morning and night
No screens at night or in the morning. This sounds simple but there are good reasons why you’ve heard this advice and not followed it.
There are conflicting beliefs about willpower and whether or not it is a finite asset that gets exhausted throughout the day. Some studies have shown that willpower is only a limited resource if you believe it is. Others have shown that willpower absolutely gets depleted throughout the day.
Regardless of whether you believe willpower is finite or not, what is true is that as you grow tired you are more likely to make decisions based on what is easy, rather than what is right for you. This is also why people tend to eat more unhealthy foods at the end of the day. Partly this is due to “decision fatigue” i.e. your ability to make good decisions is impacted the more you do it. This means you’re more likely to mindlessly use your devices later in the day.
Or perceived necessity at least. We’ve outsourced so many things to our devices that it’s not surprising when routine-heavy parts of our day like morning and night are organised with tech. From alarms in the morning to checking the next day’s schedule and even listening to mindfulness apps at night, these times are ripe for device use.
Reading our messages, checking the news (especially over the last few pandemic-filled months/years) and generally catching up on what you may have missed during the day or overnight is a big reason we spend time on our devices in the morning and at night.
This one relates to evenings. As we wind down we naturally want to do activities that are easy and entertain us, like watching Netflix or checking social media.
Tips to reduce your screen time in the mornings and evenings
If you feel like you could use less screen time in the morning and evening, these are some tips to get you started.
Get an old school alarm clock and don’t allow screens in your bedroom. These tips are oldies but goodies, you’ve heard them 10,000 times because they work.
Create habits that work for you
Don’t leave it to your willpower to get you through the mornings and nights without your screen. It will be hard and you’re asking a lot of yourself. Make it easy by having rules that you stick to and can eventually become habits, e.g. screens go away at 8 pm and come out again at 10 am.
Surf the urge
You’ve trained yourself to regularly check your devices and it’s not something your brain will forget quickly. To make the transition to screen-free time easier, learn the “surf the urge” mindfulness technique. Essentially, instead of ignoring the urge to check your device or trying to distract yourself, you should notice the urge and be curious about it but not give in to it. Wait for the urge to pass. This will get easier and quicker over time until it becomes second nature.
No screen time before sleep
If you can’t ban screens from the bedroom completely, try to at least set some boundaries. The National Sleep Association recommends no screen time at least 30 mins before bedtime.
Notice how you feel
A couple of minutes on Twitter is all it takes for me to come away feeling anxious and stressed. I knew this but used to continue to browse Twitter in the morning and evenings and wonder why I began and ended my day with high stress levels. Take time to document or at least think about how the apps and websites you use make you feel and avoid the ones that lead to negative feelings, particularly when you wake and before sleep.
Notice the benefits
It’s very easy to focus on the gaps left by your devices when you remove them from your routine. You’ll notice the frustration when you want to check the time or escape into your social media feed. We’re human so we are great at focusing on the negatives and that’s fine, but if you want to create real change then the motivation comes from recognising and congratulating yourself on the positive. Are you sleeping better? Have you finally read that book that’s been on the nightstand for two years? Do you start the day feeling more positive? Is your device use more intentional and valuable? All of these things and more should be celebrated. Notice them and use the good feeling as motivation to keep going.