Recently, I had the opportunity to host Arianna Huffington for a Fireside Chat at Dreamforce ’18, Salesforce’s annual user event and the world’s largest software conference. As I prepared for our chat, there was one burning question that I knew I desperately needed to ask her, 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 big time, #FanGirl admiration). And yet, I fail her first rule of wellbeing: 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.
Our chat started 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 talk about sleep. She patiently listened to me recant my tale of how the devices were good for my marriage (I can read in the dark without waking up my husband!). Then she looked my digital-addicted 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.
First of all, let’s talk Dreamforce. This year we had 171,000 attendees and 10 million online viewers. If you are involved in this most incredible event, you are pretty high on endorphins for days — even after the crowds have left. So, I wasn’t expecting much sleep on Night 1. And when my five-year-old daughter crawled into bed and said “I’ve missed you so much this week, Mommy,” well…by 4 a.m., I was up desperately searching for headphones to binge on all the podcasts I was behind on.
In our fireside chat, Arianna spoke about the poor decisions we make after a bad night’s sleep. There was 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.
Total hours of sleep: five
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 p.m. I will read a real book, not a Kindle book. (Arianna’s book, actually. For the second time.)
I fell asleep with a real book, which I haven’t done in years. It was amazing when the book fell off my chest, and I didn’t have to worry about a screen 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.
In a way, it was my fault. I hadn’t “kissed and made better” her leg 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? The questions started to run deep — there was no way I was going back to sleep now.
Total hours of sleep: six
Arianna gave me a smartphone bed – a 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. I realized now was the time to set it up. So I did, adorably, with my son. I told 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 melatonin I have been taking for decades! Seven full hours of uninterrupted glory.
But, at 4 a.m., 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). 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.
Pretty awesome, really. I was ready early, which meant I got extra morning time with my kids. Something I could definitely get used to.
Total hours of sleep: seven
Now, let’s be real. I may have been making progress falling asleep without devices or sleep aids, but I was not staying asleep, and I am nowhere near crushing this. So I get into bed at 9 p.m. and start reading. The book fell again. I was out — until 3 a.m.
You know what the problem is with the nighttime? 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 get for your bedroom after removing just one device. 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, I found the earplugs and it was finally quiet. Except for my brain, which gets even louder in the darkness. I needed a distraction, like reading. But, I didn’t have a light! So, I found myself in the garage, searching for a flashlight. Amazingly, I found a camping headlamp — less light and easier than balancing a flashlight. By 4 a.m., I was mercifully asleep again.
Total hours of sleep: six
I am as shocked as anyone to say this, but I was actually starting to look forward to sleep.
Reframing my sleep narrative was working. It was becoming an escape. It was now a chance to refresh and do something 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 improving my moods and relationships with everyone around me.)
I hopped into bed. I read. The book fell. At midnight, I was up again. Progress? At least it wasn’t 3 or 4 a.m. when there is less time before you have to get up.
I was also less anxious. I was not freaking out over what to do because I had my tools: a book, earplugs, and a camping headlamp. But, I tried not to use them. I did some four-seven-eight pranayama breathing, which doesn’t really work for me, but it gives me something to do. And, after a short while of being alone with my thoughts, I drifted back to sleep.
I was back up at 5 a.m., which didn’t quite get me to my eight-hour goal, but I did feel really good. And proud! In five days, I had removed my phone from my bedside, quit melatonin, and developed coping mechanisms to make the middle of the night more peaceful.
That morning, my workout went seamlessly and by the time the kids were up, I was showered, energized, and so very grateful for that morning together. And, in the end, isn’t that the stuff dreams are really made of?
Total hours of sleep: seven
This article was also published on Thrive Global.