The Big Turn Off - AKA Superpowered Sleep!

09/03/2016 10:49 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Last week I embarked on project 'Superpowered Sleep'.

I had an epic, rib-shattering cough and cold, and the additional symptom of excessive whinging led me to suspect I was a victim of man-flu. The lines between night and day were fuzzier than usual but I still managed to focus on 'superpowering' my sleep, by which I mean improving the quality of it.

It had been suggested to me, more than once, that establishing a bedtime routine would be beneficial.

'But I have a bedtime routine,' I protested.

And I did; generally, I would 'work' (faff) online, maybe watch a stimulating box set episode and then crawl to bed for a quick trawl through social media before settling down to a night of broken sleep punctuated by reading articles on my smartphone and occasional nocturnal Amazon sprees.

Even though I was reluctant to give up the extra reading time, the truth was I often didn't remember what I'd read, or purchased. So, despite being unwilling to relinquish the thrill of the surprise Amazon delivery ('A miniature trampoline? For me?'), it was time for a change.

The problem was, in order to fit in the soothing bedtime routines that I've read about, I'd need to start at around 8.30am. I figured that could work: as long as there was time for a quick morning coffee, I could then spend the rest of the day getting ready for bed.

How else was I going to fit in all the herbal tea, aromatherapy baths, foot massages and yin yoga? And I'd probably need to provide supper for the harp-playing cherubs before they got to work?

I decided I could simplify things slightly. So, inspired by a timely blog by Kelly Pietrangeli of Project Me (which was inspired by a talk by Arianna Huffington) , I attempted a 9pm-9am electronic switch-off, plus a few squirts of a relaxing lavender scented room spray and some short breathing exercises if my brain was particularly buzzy.

As I tend to head to bed around 10pm these days, that gave me an hour to wind down. I didn't always include TV as part of the shut down - I know, I know, but my husband and I have a small window of opportunity for TV consumption and, in these days of minimal social lives, small pleasures become sacred. Besides which, I reasoned that intentional TV watching is different to mindless scrolling through Facebook feeds. Shaky rationale perhaps, but remember this is the same mind that decided a miniature trampoline was an essential household item.

I had a slight panic as I remembered it's often in the last hour of the day that I scribble down notes for Very Important Projects (it's mostly the Ocado order), or invent ridiculous potential baby names to wind my husband up with. But then I remember this thing I heard about once called 'pen and paper' and think, yes, that could work. I don't think it will sync with Evernote, but you never know.

So, I switched off. There have been loads of articles discussing the negative effects of blue light from electronic devices on our sleep patterns (look, here's a good one from Scientific American), and so it will be no surprise to hear that eventually I slept more soundly and awoke feeling more rested without any digital disruption.

It took a few nights. Initially I continued to wake up frequently and struggled to get back to sleep. I felt the impulse to grab my phone and read a few articles or blogs, but resisted, instead picking up a book if I needed to. Several days on, I found I woke fewer times and never fully enough to even think about reading.

I rarely managed to keep the electronics off until 9am, for two reasons. The first is that I have identified my most productive work time as 7.04 - 7.14 am. Thereafter, things tend to go downhill, so I like to capitalise on that prime time (which happily coincides with my daughter's daily date with Curious George).

The second is that, as most of my social life* now takes place before midday, plans are often made early in the day (*it's actually the toddler's social life...I am simply a snack-carrying chauffeur). But a 10-hour overnight shutdown works well for me, so that's what I have been, and will be, sticking to.

Throughout the week I've become more aware of my interactions with my smartphone, and more conscious of daytime usage. I downloaded the Quality Time app and learnt that I often use my phone for a couple of hours a day. Granted the stats were slightly skewed this week as I was bedridden and couldn't reach the iPad, but you get the picture.

I was surprised by this, but as I enjoy a lively 'virtual social life' and also hold my to-do lists, calendar, newspaper and various notepads on my phone, I guess it's not that shocking. But is it healthy?

So, next week I will be extending the focus to a daytime 'digi-detox'. I plan to find ways to reduce my screen time, and to make the remaining time more intentional and enjoyable. I'd better have a quick look online to get some inspiration...

This post originally appeared on 52 pauses, a light-hearted blog project in which I try one simple mindfulness, meditation or relaxation practice each week, with the aim of slowing down and being a calmer parent.

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