The Modern Age and the War Against Sleep

Illustration for article titled The Modern Age and the War Against Sleep

I’ve always had a hard time falling asleep.

My childhood is filled with nights where I would toss and turn for hours before migrating to other parts of the house to sleep there. One summer night in elementary school, I even tried to build a hammock in the living room.


Eventually, I just gave up. I moved my GameCube into my room and spent hours each night playing video games.

In college, it didn’t get much easier. I had my own laptop, and it wasn’t like anyone else was trying to sleep. I was up till 4am or later every night talking to night owls on MySpace.


But as I’ve gotten older, I can’t operate on the same levels of sleeplessness that I could in my youth. Which would be fine, except that I still have a hard time sleeping.

I’m not alone: 27% of Americans say they have trouble sleeping most nights. 68% report trouble one night a week.


Insomnia is an epidemic. But it didn’t come from nowhere. There has to be some reason most of us are struggling with sleeplessness, right?

When you struggle with sleep as much as I do, you read a lot about this. And friends, the reasons for sleeplessness are legion. From overwork to a lack of exercise to the fear of missing out, Americans are beset on all sides by things that would steal our precious sleep.


But the most pervasive sleep thief is something most of us invite into bed with us...

Our smartphones.

For all of the convenience smartphones bring, they also bring disruptions to our sleeping.


Many of us use our phones as alarm clocks. Some apps even analyze our sleep patterns to wake us up at optimal times.

But having your smartphone next to us while we sleep can cause havoc to our sleep cycles.


For me, whenever I try to sleep with my phone within reach, I can’t escape the nagging voice that all of human art and knowledge is within arm’s reach. And at a certain point, scrolling through Reddit or reading Wikipedia or watching Netflix is far more interesting to me than lying completely still until the sun comes up.

The distraction from sleep isn’t the only damage it does, though. Digital screens emit blue light. Our brains developed at a time when blue light came from one source: the sun. And when the sun was up, it was time to wake up.


Unfortunately for our circadian rhythms, our primal instincts don’t know the difference between the sun and a cat video.

Which is bad news, considering how more and more of our lives are moving into the digital realm. More and more of our interaction is happening from the other side of these digital screens.


Experts say to avoid screen time for two hours leading up to bedtime. But who are they kidding? We’ve got memes to see.

Personally, I set my phone across the room when I sleep and hope for the best. It’s not foolproof, but I’m usually too lazy to walk across the room when my thumb itches to scroll.


And honestly, this is the best I’ve slept my whole life.

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