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COLUMN: Unplugging before bed actually works? What a horrible discovery

No TV before bedtime? Thanks, I hate it.

Last week, I turned myself into a test subject in the much-discussed matter of eliminating all screens before bed — and I’m entirely gutted to report that I did, in fact, sleep very well. All week, every night.

What a terrible discovery.

I should let you know that I also spent a lot of that unplugged time reading Charles Dicken’s massive work, Great Expectations, hence the wordiness. So, I’ll rewrite that first sentence in a more modern way.

No TV before bedtime? Thanks, I hate it.

It’s something we’ve read about for years now, collectively, isn’t it? Turn down the screen use for a better sleep, the researchers say. Well, easy to say, but so much harder to do as everything from phone calls to shopping lists are now online.

But since I ran out of the high-speed data on my cell phone plan, and the costs today being what they are to eat and drive, I decided not to buy more. It was a radical idea, I know.

Especially so since I got rid of my home internet last year, because the connectivity in my apartment is so bad that it was more an exercise in frustration than relaxation to kick back and stream a series, upload content to social media, or even just send a text.

I walk around my suite like a tourist dropped on a deserted island, searching for a signal most days.

Put these two things together, and I effectively had no way to stream, chat, or connect for a week, lest I went to a coffee shop or was at work. And I don’t drink that much coffee.

After just one night of unplugging several hours before sleeping, I was already being led much more nicely into dreamland. I woke up that first morning fully refreshed, energized — and at least an hour earlier than usual.

After a few days of waking up feeling gloriously recharged, I started to realize that there must be a connection, so to speak. I was needing less caffeine, I was arriving to work earlier than usual, and by the time I had eaten dinner and read for a few hours, I was heading to bed early and falling asleep easily.

It was a miracle. Or maybe, just science. Or the miracle of science. Something about circadian rhythms, internal clocks, blue light, and so on. I’m sure I saw it on a Netflix doc. Or maybe in a long stream of articles in news feeds. Probably both.

It’s not that I’m not using screens. I haven’t shrunk back to being a troglodyte. At work, I have three screens to keep an eye on — two computers running different programs, plus my cell for texts and various social media channels.

Then at home, I usually would fire up my laptop while also keeping an eye on my cell. All the while, I’d be running the obligatory “guilt” program in the back of my mind, thinking of all the things I could be doing instead of whatever that was.

Last week, I did so many of those things.

I hiked a very small mountain, twice. I gave myself a proper manicure. I got up early one morning and made brownies. I read half of Great Expectations, along with several other books I’ve been ploughing through. I finished almost all of my crossword puzzle books that have been yellowing with age.

And I thought about how I would sheepishly admit, through this column space, that I have been devoting way too much time to the screens in my life, instead of the passions in my life. And then I got back to doing things.

I went to the library, and I’m not going to lie, it was because I needed a strong wifi connection. But while there, I spotted a jigsaw puzzle laying out on a table. The edge had been done, but little else. I passed it a couple times before I eventually hovered and started placing pieces.

I am a puzzler. I love every sort of puzzle and game you could divine. I’ve written about that previously when Wordle was sold to the New York Times, so I won’t rehash it.

Let’s just say that that was Saturday, and I went back on Sunday to work on the puzzle some more. It had barely been touched, which I found shocking. So I sat down for an hour and worked at it again. This time, the draw was the puzzle and the bonus was the free wifi.

Now, I’m not going to say that this is a sustainable practice. There were plenty of times I really could have used a quick internet hit, such as when I had questions about baking, or needing to check my bank account, or staying connected with my family members.

But the rest of it? I didn’t really miss it at all. And what’s more, on Sunday afternoon I got the iPhone message about usage that I usually dread. And it came bearing good news. My screen time over the week was down a whopping 54 per cent, and down to an average of three and a half hours a day.

Just don’t ask me what it will spike back to next week, as I catch up on all that I’ve missed. Hopefully, happiness will be somewhere in the middle. And also hopefully, I’ll find the time to continue reading about Pip’s greatness.

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Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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