Counting down eight hours of nightly rest

Part of my challenge in living my 16/6 lifestyle is making sure I don’t spend more than 16 hours a day with my gadgets. Lately, I’ve begun using a countdown timer on my phone to block off an 8-hour period where I agree to put it down, charge it up, and avoid using it.

Screenshot from iphone showing countdown timer
My countdown timer: 8 hours without a smartphone

I usually start this process on my subway ride home after I’m done reading the 11:00 newscast. After a last minute check of my email and Twitter, I load a countdown timer and set it for 8 hours. As it checks away the minutes, I vow to not touch it again (except to plug it in) until the timer is over. As an extra measure, I make sure I don’t charge my phone in my bedroom – this eliminates any chance of an errant late-night notification waking me up, and takes away the temptation for a late-night game of Angry Birds.

There’s research that suggests exposure to the artificial light from our electronic screens an hour before going to bed can interfere with our natural circadian rhythms. It suggests it can interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps promote going to sleep.

Since I work a late shift, getting a proper night’s sleep is a challenge for me. Since I’ve started using my countdown timer technique, I’ve been staying away from electronic screens altogether at the end of my night. One my phone is taken out of commission, I read, and then straighten up the house when I get home, to help me gently wind down my final few moments before going to bed.

Plus, I find I have an added bonus in the morning. As any parent of a young child can attest, it is quite rare to get eight full hours of rest. I’m lucky to get six hours of sleep before my daughter wakes me up. With my timer still counting down, I’ve eliminated the temptation to check for new email first thing in the morning. Instead, I’m fully present with her as I take the morning parenting duties: feeding her breakfast, getting her dressed and then taking her to school or day-care. There is no device to distract me. We can talk about the day, or if there’s time, even read a book or play a game.

It can be a challenge – and require discipline – especially if I’m expecting news, or an update, and I can see a notification on the lock screen telling me a new message has arrived.  But it is about setting some priorities.

It also fits with another rule in our house: no devices during any meals (breakfast, lunch or dinner). I want to make sure I model the responsible use of devices in front of my daughter, so I can teach her to follow suit when she becomes old enough to get her own.

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