Bedrooms are now a common place to find our dependency on technology, especially amongst the hyper-connected 18-24 year old demographic. The space encourages it, because we have taught ourselves by habit we need it to soothe ourselves to sleep. The two influence each other interchangeably, as our definition of what rest and relaxation entails.
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Smartphones & The Bedroom
I have often wondered what media and place mean to me. Where media belongs, doesn’t belong and how often these two physical places coincide. Media & technology have become a big part of my life, starting and ending with a digital screen. There used to be a set place the media belonged. The cinema down the road, the radio in the dining room, the Television in the study. Now, the two spaces of place and media no longer have boundaries. Phones, tablets and alike can travel with us into any space. Our phone have an entirely new meaning to interact with when we enter our bedrooms. Not entirely different to how we use them in other places, but because of the area we find ourselves using them, takes on a new realisation to our reliance on phones.
Unfortunately, my generation may not be the most impacted by our dependency on smart-screens. The children now growing up in a world where they have only ever known a smartphone, the internet and HD-screens, have been shown to have significant side effects on their sleeping patterns.
My Smartphone & I Are In a Committed Relationship, With Benefits (?)
Smartphones are technologies that can be used anywhere. Recently my phone has begun accompanying me into the bathroom, to the toilet and shower. I justified it as wanting tunes to listen to while I washed my hair, but now it has morphed into the paranoia of “Missing Notifications” no matter where I am. I never even thought of the penetration of technology into the most sacred space of the household, the sacred room of napping. It has no purpose here; whatever notification that may come through I will miss anyway on account of being asleep. Yet I cannot be without it, and neither can many others.
Every night, I fall asleep with my significant others within arm’s reach. Laptop, snores softly on my desk chair next to my bed. Tablet nestles in contently to the gap between my mattress and bed frame, and Smartphone charges eagerly under my pillow- continuing to bing notifications as I dream of electric dreams. Stuffed animals of childhood, once cherished and vital sleep companions, now are long forgotten at the foot of my bed buried under coats and folded laundry. Devices are now the soothing companions of sleep, and do everything but soothe you to sleep. In fact, they’re the reason I do not fall asleep until 2 am and struggle to wake up every morning.
Bedroom, Room of Rest & Scrolling
Bedrooms have long been designated as the singular room of the house for rest, its walls serving the purpose to bar access to anything other than sleeping, and is now the room with one of the most technologies decorating it. Before it was television screens, now it’s the smartphone.
According to this article, the 18-24 demographic of phone users were reported to be more likely to have a disturbed sleep, and one of the highest percentiles to have their devices within reach during sleeping, as they illustrated here:
Smartphone use after 9 pm, in this article, was found to be associated with decreased sleep quantity and quality, leading to mental depletion the next day. Smartphones are designed to be the perfect helping hand, but cannot recognise as we enter into new environments and spaces they are not supposed to be in. Their purpose is to engage us into the night, they don’t know we are supposed to shut off and put them away unless we tell them to (Johnson 2014).
Meet ‘L’: The Invested
“Before I sleep I’m always checking Youtube, Facebook before I sleep…then again in the morning before I get up”
‘L’ is 20, and is the owner of an iPhone 5. L’s smartphone is a frequent visitor to L’s bed, resting by the side of the pillow. L often feels the common emotions of anxiety and paranoia when their phone is not presently beside them during the day, and more so during the night. L described the reasoning behind phone use in the bedroom as part of ‘winding down from the day’, a practice that isn’t found in any other space during our days, or needed.
Because this is what bedrooms are for, to bring ourselves down to a mood of serenity, ready for sleep after a day of stimuli. Yet, phones are hindering and inhibiting just this. The practice of scrolling, checking social media or playing Candy Crush makes us feel relaxed, but they emit the same blue light we encounter throughout the day that keeps us awake and alert. The UV rays tell our brain it is still morning, and disrupts our sleep (Kazan 2015). L reported that 4-5 nights of the week, they find it difficult to fall asleep because of using their phone right before sleep time.
L often consciously leaves applications running as she sleeps, including Facebook’s call feature. L’s Significant Other (a human Significant Other) lives in a separate hemisphere and different time zone. So even while L sleeps, L is still using their smartphone, L and Significant Other are still calling. Good morning messages replace actual greetings, the phone takes the place of the real significant other.
Introducing ‘S’, The Balancer
“I don’t see it as good or bad…everyone does it nowadays…it’s finding the right amount of time to use it against switching off for the better.”
‘S’, is 19, and is also the proud owner of an iPhone 5s. Her iPhone also sits by her pillow, or on the floor by her bed. We, ironically, commenced our collaborative process at 12:30 at night- both lying in our separate beds messaging through Facebook. Both of us ignoring the drooping eyelids and the call of the soft, soft pillow- the urgency to reply far greater than our tired brains.
S was aware of how the environment around the use of smartphones changed what it would be used for. Certain habitual processes occurred throughout the day, that S dubbed as “app-checking”. When S had trouble falling asleep, the phone’s easy access made it the perfect distraction, and enabler of insomnia. Similarly, researchers in the US and Sweden found that radiations emitting from mobile phones often caused headaches and interrupt vital sleep patterns (Wayne State University & Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, 2008).
S’s Smartphone also doubles as an alarm clock, relied on for waking up in the morning. Conversely, L does not despite the proximity of the phone to where they sleep. L relies on natural sunlight still, but S has noticed the difficulty of waking up without the phone’s nudging. S does not feel the compulsion to check the smartphone like S, or feel the ‘guilt’ for not replying immediately to a text, and makes steps to balance the good and the bad of having a smartphone in such proximity during a time it should be ignored.
Is It An Addiction, Or Dependency?
I’m a believer in the argument that phones in the bedroom is not bad for you, but not inherently good either.
Addiction comes with such negative connotations, for valid reasons I don’t dispute, but I view it more as a dependency than an addiction. We are so used to using it throughout the day, we constantly feel like we are “on-call” at night and forget to “switch-off” (Selvaratnam 2011).
I asked this both of L & S, and both were quick to confirm they were addicted to using their phones in bed, rather than simply dependant. Both often used them until they fell asleep, L often waking up throughout the night to check the smartphone, even answer messages, and falls back asleep. L & S would ritually refresh social media as part of their morning rituals, feeling unable to get up and start the day until they had done so.
According to this news article, the back and forth motion of texting and messaging saturates our pleasure centres in our brains, and reflects the obligation to always be available to reply, anxious when you don’t receive a message back- so it’s no wonder why we become dependant on it, and mistake it for calming us down to sleep.
L & S Answer: Is Phones In Bedroom Bad?
Bedrooms are not like any other space we use our phones in because of the main reason why we are in them at night, to sleep. It’s a factor that influences everything. We are not fulfilling the purpose of that room because we are still attached to a device that is connected to the internet and beyond. The internet never sleeps, but we need to.
What L Says: “They can be bad, mostly bad actually. They cause issues like how I can’t get to sleep or stay up later on them. Sometimes it affects my relationship because I’d be on it while in bed or pay more attention to my phone. The same way that I’ll check my phone before saying good morning to my partner. It takes away from what the bedroom traditionally is or is for I guess, which is sleeping.”
What S Says:“I guess they are sort of bad because it just shows how addicted we can be to them. Having to have them in such close proximity to us, just in case we get a message or can’t sleep so we scroll through apps until we feel tired. But at the same time, everybody our age does the same I guess, and can it be that bad if everyone does it? I’ve read articles that say it can disrupt your sleep by using screen straight before going to bed, sometimes this is true for me but other times it isn’t so maybe we’re adjusting.”
What L and S’s words suggested, was that phones are disrupting the role of the bedroom space and their requirement, yet we have also seen the space encouraging us to use them. Lack of any other stimuli, or a relaxant that drives us back towards the very devices we think will satisfy our craving, and never will.
Are There Any Good Things About Sleeping With S.S.’s?
It may not be an entirely healthy reality, but we need smartphones, and not only in detrimental ways.
What L Says:“I’m not too sure there are any good reasons. You can buy an alarm clock if you need an alarm and bed rooms are meant to be for sleeping and phones compromise this. I guess a good reason would be so you’re able to take calls or reply to messages and emails at night and in the morning from work if you’re a super busy person. But other than that I don’t see many good points-though that still doesn’t make me not use my phone in my room.”
What S Says:“Not a lot, but if you need an alarm it’s right there, or if there’s an emergency you have a device which you can contact help, but other than that i cant think of any other good reasons, i guess its just a neutral habit that evolves other time and with our addiction to social media apps and instant messaging.”
L & S identified reasons that smartphones could have a useful role as in our bedrooms, pointing out the importance of necessity, immediacy and comfort- all of which also contribute to our mental health. Smartphones have also become invaluable sleep trackers, and requires phones to be in your bed to actually fix your sleeping patterns with their presence.
Do We Want To Change Our Ways? Should We?
My final question to L & S after our interviews, was now that they were aware of the impact and effects sleeping with phones could have on them, and the awareness of their dependency onto it, did they want to change? Would they ever consider taking their phones away from bed while they were sleeping, separating the two worlds and learning to sleep without its assurance. Both were hesitant.
What L Says:“I’d say I am dependant on my phone, but I would be able to sleep easily without there to ease me into sleep. And no, I don’t really see anything wrong with my habits with my phone so I wouldn’t change anything.”
Are small steps the key to weaning ourselves off our phone use in bed? Starting off with leaving it away from the bed and ignore the FOMO? We can’t shut off our desire to have our phones by our side 24/7, but we can shut our phone off, or put it away from the bed while we sleep. The bedroom morphed from a space of zero distractions to allow the uninterrupted process of sleeping, to one with the same amount of influence fro smartphones to any other environment. It is because, we are so accustomed to the overuse of smartphones already, it spilled over into the bedroom. We don’t know how to shut down, relax and fall asleep without the technology by our side- as we have taught ourselves this is the way to relax now. And, according to L & S, we might not want to change our ways.
It may affect our health and sleeping patterns, but smartphones have not been detrimental to how we operate. Bedrooms still dictate the priority action in its space is sleep, smartphones have not won yet. Humans will always need sleep, and bedrooms to sleep in, but our desire to stay connected to a device that never sleeps pushes the limits of reason.
Do you think we are beginning to push reason with our smartphones? Should the bedroom remain a place technology is switched off when we switch off?
No Author (2008) Mobile phone radiation disrupts sleep, causes headaches Available at: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2008-01-21/news/27697646_1_mobile-phone-radiation-phones-from-exposure-scenarios-bengt-arnetz