Sleeping Single – Limiting Screen Time for Better Connection

Heather Woodward

When we take our phones or devices to bed, we are literally tucking trauma/stress into bed with us. We’re choosing to sleep with our workplaces, clients, families, and all of our social connections and obligations – never mind what we see on social media and in the news. We are going to bed each night with all the things we’re dealing with during the day.

I help others explore stories of abuse and trauma and often need to be on call for crisis intervention, which can lead to high levels of stress. But this blog is not just for social workers – it can be for anyone, from any walk of life, because we all have to deal with things like in-laws, relationships, children, health and safety, work-life balance, and global pandemics.

When we take our phones or devices to bed, we are literally tucking trauma/stress into bed with us. 

I have spent the last five years researching wholistic self-care for those who are always helping others. During my research, I have uncovered helpful habits for others and for myself. This blog is about sleeping single, meaning away from our phones so we can have better connections with the important people in our lives – including ourselves.

Why aren’t we turning our phones off? 

At one point in my 21+ year career, I had three cell phones in my possession – and yes, they all came into the bedroom with me! From the perspective of my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, this wasn’t healthy! I was literally draining my energy in all these areas of my well-being and not giving myself time to recharge.

What I did know for sure was that to address this problem, I needed to name it. After reviewing my research and reflecting on myself, I learned three important things:

My codependency on my phone was real.

In order for me to even begin to address this concern in my life, I had to take an honest look at myself and my screen time. I found myself checking my phone at several points throughout the day and in the middle of the night – it took me some time to detox from this. I warn you now, there will be a withdrawal period – like a baby weaning off the bottle or their favourite blanky.

I believed I needed to always have my phone close by “in case of an emergency.”

I had also built up a strong narrative that I needed my phone “in case of an emergency.” I want to point out that, yes, at certain points in my career I have been on call, which meant I had to have my phone with me during shifts. I will also give space for a little bit of “life” because emergencies happen, or maybe we need to be available for short periods of time to support someone. However, what I am really talking about is keeping the phone nearby in case of an emergency for anyone and everything. I had somehow appointed myself as the “first responder” for everyone and gave myself a 24/7, 365 days a week shift.

I made excuses that supported my unhealthy codependency:

“It’s my alarm clock.”

I also started believing and building on the idea that I needed it for my clock and alarm. Sure, our phones can double as an in-case-of-emergency device and alarm clock, but this does not support our overall health.

“It helps me sleep.”

Finally, my narrative of “I need it for noise, and it helps me sleep” needed to be called out. I found that I and many of the participants in my research were using their phone as a white noise machine (to play fan/nature sounds, light music, etc.). I also found that we were using it to cope during our bedtime routines, in the middle of the night, and first thing in the morning.

It turns out that white noise machines are something you can purchase pretty easily. These affordable, accessible little machines can make noises ranging from a crackling fire, to lullabies, to rainstorms – you can even listen to New York traffic if that’s what you want. But I have yet to see one that tells you about a crisis, which is telling for why we shouldn’t have our tiny “crisis machines” in bed with us each night.

Things changed after removing my phone from the bedroom:

Increased Intimacy and Connection

When I started leaving my phone out of the bedroom, I gave space for connection – both face to face and within myself, which gave me a sense of peace. And when I have that connection, I become more settled, meaning I’m more present in my current life and have become less anxious. This has improved my ability to connect – with my partner in and out of the bedroom, and with “life” and those around me.

I know there are always going to be people who challenge me, saying things like “I need to be available.” There are also people out there who need their phone close by for safety reasons – I’m not arguing against these things. But if you are going to sleep with your phone every night because you feel you need to check it, want to be available for other people’s emergencies, or because it’s a vise, this is a gentle reminder to review and reflect. I am encouraging you to consider your screen time and how/why your phone is making its way into your bedroom.

Greater Balance and Boundaries

Furthermore, with a greater connection to myself and others, my overall well-being has become more balanced and calmer. I have learned that I have control over when and how I check my phone, and that I do not need to check my phone first thing in the morning.

When we pick up our phones, they light up and we start to see our notifications roll in. It’s bombarding our brains with all kinds of information, stressors, and demands. And again, I’m not saying this information is wrong or bad, but this is a chance for you to examine your own situation – is this something you need at 5, 6, or 7am?

My challenge for you is to learn how to sleep single for the sake of better connection. When you can detach (with love) from your device, you can bring back deeper and more meaningful connections to the world around you. You can settle your brain and give yourself the space to recharge. I am not going to lie, sleeping single was tough at first, but it has been incredibly worthwhile.


For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.

Author: Heather Woodward (MSW, RPsych)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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