Embarking on a digital cleanse, and what it did for my life

Like many, I love my digital tools. I haven’t purchase a physical book in a very long time, and my e-reader and smartphone are my constant companions.

I read right before bed. It helps me get my mind away from the day’s stress. Naturally, I read from my bright Kindle. People advised that the bright digital light was not good for settling the brain and in fact, resulted in the opposite. I said, “That’s fine, but I actually don’t have a problem falling asleep when I read off my Kindle at night. I regularly fall asleep within 10-15 minutes, easy!”

After reading enough articles on the topic, and after suffering from terrible sleep for other unrelated reasons (hello, toddler!), I decided to take some of the advice of many experts in the field and put my digital tools away for a weekend, to see what happened. Here is what I did on my “digital cleanse”:

  1. Put all devices away after 8pm.
  2. No internet surfing or playing on apps or streaming videos at all.
  3. Check email once per day (!!) and send/receive only necessary calls and texts.

And holy hell… What. A. Huge. Difference.

Turns out, everything else being equal, I actually fall asleep almost immediately without opening up my Kindle. I have a Fitbit which I wear on my non-dominant wrist at night, so it captures my sleep patterns – when I’m awake, when I’m restless, when I’m asleep – so I can compare my digital cleanse time period with my pre-digital cleanse time period. Not only do I fall asleep faster, I am less restless during the course of the night.

This didn’t happen slowly over time. The effect was immediate, the very night I tried it for the first time.

Another observation during my weekend cleanse was how things played out before bedtime. Once the kiddo is down for the night, I usually get online, watch some streaming videos of my favorite shows… I figure, I’ve got another few hours before it’s time for me to go to sleep.

During the digital cleanse phase, I would pull out a “regular” book (my husband, a self-proclaimed Luddite, had a nice fiction book for me to read since I had no actual books to my name), and within 10 minutes of reading it, I was getting drowsy. It’s not because the book was boring (it wasn’t) but it was because my body so obviously needed to sleep earlier, and I was artificially forcing myself awake for hours every single night!

After my cleanse weekend, I went back to status quo Monday-Thursday the following week. It was an unmitigated disaster. My average sleep went from 7 hours and 45 minutes to just over 6 hours. Believe me, I felt it! I said, “Screw this!!!” and went back to my digital void after 8pm every night. Since then, my average nightly sleep has been 7 hours and 22 minutes. Every day this week, I’ve woken up before my alarm went off.

And did I mention I’ve been kicking ass at work as a result? Turns out being more efficient and effective during normal business hours means I don’t have to check email and write later at night. I can just totally unplug.

I’ve been eating better.

I’m less moody.

I’m … happier. All because of an extra 1-2 hours of sleep a night. Who knew?

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