Awhile back, a typical morning went something like this. I’d wake up and before I opened my eyes, my beloved phone was in hand. I’d open my eyes and begin the scroll. Before my first glance, there was built up anticipation because who could imagine what happened in the world of social media over the 8-hour stretch I was sleeping. My stress response was generally activated within seconds as I saw the accumulation of demands that had built up in my email inbox and the lack of meaningful validation on my social accounts.
It’s been so long since this was my routine, that it is hard to imagine that I used to consent to starting my day in such a miserable way. Around this time, I desperately wanted to have a mindful morning routine but could not stop choosing my phone instead.
The only thing that broke my “first thing in the morning phone habit “ was purchasing a non-phone alarm clock. Seriously, do it right now. Go on amazon and buy the cheapest alarm clock you can find that isn’t backlit (here’s a good one). Then, find a place to charge your phone at night that is not near your bedroom (for those of you who are worried about being available in case of emergency, keep your phone just outside your door or in the far corner of your room where you can still hear it ring but it is not in arms reach).
The beauty of smartphones is that they are multi-use. They aren’t just a phone, they are also a mini computer, a stereo, a camera, a map and your alarm. This is also the problem.
There is a automatic domino effect and habitual chain that is set off every time you pick up a device. Sure you are picking up your phone first thing in the morning simply because you want to turn off the alarm, but your brain associates your phone with so many other things that without a thought, you are suddenly checking your email, which leads to you checking your social media, etc. It’s best to realize you are helpless once your phone is in your hand, and to stop using your phone as an alarm clock.
In habit formation, one of the most profound lessons is that the end goal is not the same as th pathway there. This is especially true when you’re looking at developing a healthier relationship with technology. If the goal is to stop looking at your phone first thing in the morning, the solution is not to just use willpower to stop looking at your phone first thing in the morning. You have to be strategic and create barriers that make it more difficult to do the habit you want to break.
Thanks to my current hero, sleep researcher Matthew Walker, I also finally have some real evidence to back up this recommendation. In a recent interview, he talked about how using your phone first thing in the morning reliably produces anticipatory anxiety the night before. Basically, if you know you are going to wake up to an onslaught of emails and demands, you will experience some level of anxiety about it the night before while you are falling asleep (similar to how you may feel when you know you have any stressful event first thing, like if you have to catch an early morning flight). According to sleep research, Matthew Walker, this creates anticipatory anxiety that research has found diminishes the amount of deep sleep you’ll get. To combat this, he recommends, at least a 5 minute buffer between when you first wake up and when you check your devices. As I’ve repeatedly stated, this habit is nearly impossible to create if you are using your phone as your alarm clock.
Once you create a buffer between waking up and picking up your phone, you can finally create a mini morning routine you feel proud of. To start simply choose 1 to 2 things you do each morning before you are allowed to check your phone or preferred device (ex. Meditation, a walk, light exercise, journaling, etc).
I promise, with this one simple change, you will feel calmer throughout your day, and sleep better at night.