Well-Being//

Five Nights to Surrender My Smartphone

One working mom's journey to getting her devices out of the bedroom.

Courtesy of  LightFieldStudios / Getty Images 

Recently, I had the opportunity to host Arianna Huffington for a Fireside Chat at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual user conference and the world’s largest gathering of technology enthusiasts. As I prepared for our chat, there was one burning question that I knew I desperately needed to ask, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have the courage. And that question was: “How do I get over my separation anxiety of leaving my smartphone outside the bedroom?”

I mean ― it’s Arianna Huffington! A woman I deeply respect and admire ― we are talking #FanGirl #BigTime admiration. And yet, I am failing her first rule of well-being: Get the devices out of the bedroom. If I want to get her help, I’m going to have to admit my digital dependency to her, on stage, in front of thousands of people. No pressure.

Flash forward to our chat. It was going so well! We connected, we laughed, she even got the audience to give my husband a much-deserved round of applause. It was dreamy. But then the time came to ask about my nightmare in the bedroom. She calmly listened to me recant the tale I tell myself of how the devices were good for my marriage (I can read in the dark without waking up my husband!), and then she looked my digital junkie self in the eyes and said, “Your device is the instrument of control in your life … Sleep is about surrender. You just have to give up control.”

And there it was. Surrender. Give up control. Let go of all that is. Give space and time to dream, literally, of what could be.

You don’t get sage advice from your heroes every day. I didn’t want to take this casually. So I decided to really give-it-a-go and see what would happen if I gave myself five nights to surrender to a device-free bedroom. Curious how it went? Read on.

Night 1.

First of all, let’s talk Dreamforce. 171k attendees, 10M online viewers … if you are involved in this most incredible event, you are pretty high on endorphins for days after the crowds have left. So I wasn’t expecting much sleep on night 1. And when my 5-year-old daughter crawled into bed and said “I’ve missed you so much this week Mommy”, well… By 4 am, I was up desperately searching for headphones to binge on all the podcasts I was behind on. Total hours sleep: 5

In our fireside chat, Arianna spoke about the poor decisions we make after a bad night’s sleep. There were no shortage of them the next day: I skipped my workout and instead ordered a giant bag of Chinese food. I accidentally ordered egg rolls instead of potstickers, and fried green beans instead of spicy green beans. The combination of no exercise, double servings of fried everything, and sleep deprivation left me helpless on the couch. Phone 1 – Jody 0.

Night 2

Ok. Down to business. Tonight, I will sleep. Unaided by a device. I will officially declare my bedtime and turn the device off at 9:00 pm. I will read a REAL book, not a Kindle book. Her book, actually. For the second time. (Who better to coach me through my digital detox?)

I fell asleep with a real book ― something I haven’t done in years. It was amazing when the book fell off my chest, and I didn’t have to worry about the glass cracking as it hit the floor. The last thing I remember reading was an excerpt on Dreams, wherein she describes the unfinished business of the day working itself out in your dreams. So imagine the irony when my daughter awoke screaming in the middle of the night that her leg hurt… the leg I hadn’t “kissed and made better” during the day, because I was wallowing on the couch in all things fried. Was she working that out in her sleep? Was the outcome of my poor sleep hygiene now causing my daughter to lose sleep, too? This is starting to run deep… there’s no way I am going back to sleep now. Total hours sleep: 6

Night 3

Arianna gave me a smartphone bed ― a legitimate bed for putting all your devices to sleep, outside of your room. Complete with a foam mattress, delicate linens and charging room for 10 devices. You literally tuck in your devices under an actual blanket. Maybe it’s time to set this up? So I do, adorably, with my son. I tell him our devices can cuddle together, so we can sleep better.

Again, the book falls. Again, I sleep deeply. I didn’t even pop the 5mg of melatonin I have been taking for decades! AMAZING! 7 full hours of uninterrupted glory… and then, 4 am. I am lost for what to do. I toss. I turn. I try to meditate (and fail for like the millionth time in my life…) and ultimately, I am sneaking around the house to see if my phone wants to have a little early morning fun…

But I am foiled immediately! You see, I installed the new Apple Screen Time the day before. All the good stuff is powered down and the hourglasses are mocking me. After another 20 minute mental battle of whether or not to disable the digital shield, I ultimately decided it would be better to just start the day early and device-free. I head downstairs and hop on the elliptical machine. Total hours sleep: 7

Pretty awesome, really. I was ready early, which means I get extra morning time with my kids. Something I could get used to…

Night 4

Now, let’s be real. I may be making progress falling to sleep sans device and pills, but I am not staying asleep, and I am nowhere near crushing this. So I get in bed at 9 and start reading. The book falls again. I. AM. OUT. Until… 3 am! Whyyyyyyy???

You know what the problem is with night? It’s dark. And I need to find things that will help me get past not having my phone in the room. It’s amazing how many things you need to add in your room, by simply removing one device. Like, for example, earplugs. Without my podcasts, ALL I CAN HEAR is my husband snoring. There used to be earplugs somewhere in my nightstand… After much bumbling around, the earplugs are found and it’s finally quiet. Except for my brain, which could not be louder in all this darkness. I need a distraction… I need to read… but I need light! So now I find myself in the garage, searching for a flashlight. EUREKA! A camping headlamp. Less light and easier than balancing a flashlight. By 4 am, I am mercifully asleep again. Total hours sleep: 6

Night 5

I am as shocked as anyone to say this, but I am actually starting to look forward to sleep. Reframing the message is working. It’s becoming less about the last thing that needs to be checked off my list, and more about something I get to do for myself. An escape. A chance to refresh and do something incredibly kind: give my brain the proper chance it deserves to run a proper maintenance check, clean out the toxins and improve things like memory, immune function and the ability to learn. (To say nothing of what it does for my moods and relationships with everyone around me.)

I hop in bed. I read. The book falls… And at midnight, I am up again. Progress? At least it’s not 3 or 4 am – there is more time before I have to get up. Different tonight, though, I am not anxious. I am not freaking out over what to do. I now have tools: a book, earplugs and a camping headlamp. But I try not to use them. I do some 4-7-8 pranayama breathing, which doesn’t really work, but it gives me something to do. And after a short while of being alone with my thoughts, I drift back to sleep. I’m up at 5 am, which doesn’t quite get me to my 8-hour goal, but I do feel really good. And proud! In 5 days, I have removed my phone from my bedside, quit melatonin and have developed coping mechanisms to make the middle of the night more peaceful.

My workout goes seamlessly and by the time the kids are up, I am showered, energized and so very grateful for this morning together. And in the end, isn’t that the stuff dreams are really made of?

This article was also published on Salesforce Blog.

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