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Insomnia and smartphones

Like a lot of people, I have occasional battles with insomnia. The advent of the smartphone has made things worse. Whereas in the old days, you could pick up a book to read in the dark hours and put it aside when your eyelids finally started drooping, the phone is insidious - Let's click through to that last update on Facebook or Twitter! Let's check the BBC or Guardian one last time! - and tends to keep you awake raher than lull you to rest. I am told (and I can well believe it) that the mere fact of the lighting makes it more difficult for the eyes of the reader to relax and go to sleep; I would also observe that looking at people exchanging their views on the Internet is sometimes not terribly relaxing.

I have found a partial solution, which has made a positive difference for me at least. A few weeks ago I installed the Sleep Cycle app on my iPhone (there are presumably equivalents for other platforms). It claims to measure your sleep quality by listening to your breathing. This is the graph it drew of my sleep last night:

Now, I actually thought I slept rather better last night than this implies; certainly I don't recall the moments of blurry consciousness around 0415 which the phone thinks I experinced. (Er, on a different topic, er, yesterday was an unusually sedentary day - I normally manage 7,000 steps between various stations, but was lucky with public transport despite the lack of new train services. 2,556 steps is pretty pathetic.)

Imperfect though the app's measurement is, it mitigates one of the psychological exacerbating factors of insomnia, where you lie awake worrying about how much the fact that you are lying awake will impact you at work and at home the next day. The knowledge that the app will measure your lack of sleep so precisely is in fact welcome reassurance that you don't need to worry about it so much, because the phone is measuring it.

The other thing is that because the app reminds you that it is running on the phone, it's another incentive to put the damn gadget down and try to go to sleep.

So, it may not work for everyone, and it may not work for you; I can only say that it's made a tangible difference for me.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 19th, 2015 09:16 pm (UTC)
I use SleepBot for this--it measures movement rather than listening to breathing. Fascinating data. Don't forget to correct it for time zone changes when traveling; I once had a startled moment of "why was I keeping that weird schedule for those two weeks last year?" before remembering I was in London at the time.

Other things I do to fight the link between tech and awakeness:

* Delete all adrenaline-inducing games from the phone. The only permissible games are things like Flow that are soothing visually and don't have timers. I'm not allowed to play adrenaline games on my laptop or my tablet between dinnertime and bedtime.

* Red-shift my phone, tablet, and laptop with Twilight (Android) and f.lux (MacOS) so they're harder to read with tired eyes and don't emit the blue light that most induces awakeness.

* Only use my tiny most-personal account ("little Twitter") on the Twitter app on my phone--it follows about 40 of my nearest and dearest, most of whom don't tweet a ton about politics. And even when they do, 40 people tweeting about politics is much less stressful to read than 970 people tweeting about politics. On my laptop, turn off retweets in Tweetdeck, and mostly stick to reading little Twitter. Now that I'm very careful to only give myself measured doses of big Twitter when I'm in a headspace where I can deal with them, I feel way better about basically everything.

* Play soothing sounds from a phone app while I sleep, since I already have the phone next to my head tracking my movement. I'm now at the point where setting the sounds to fade out will wake me up very gently without any need for an actual alarm.

* But I play an alarm anyway, using Gentle Alarm (Android), which can take sleep cycles into account and will wake you with gentle sounds faded in very slowly. I stopped dreading sleep nearly as much once I no longer had to fear being jolted awake by a raucous loud awful alarm noise.
Dec. 19th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC)
Pro-tip: turn off mobile phone before going to bed.
Dec. 20th, 2015 03:17 am (UTC)
I do all my reading on my android phone now, so yeah, it can be a problem. I tend towards card-based solitaire so not adrenaline-inducing, but can lead to just-one-more-game-I'll-quit-when-I-win syndrome.

One thing I've never liked on my phones is that its minimum brightness setting is at least twice what I could get by with at night/in a dark room.

Thanks for the tip about twilight; I'll give that a try.

Doesn't work so well when I wake in the middle of the night, but I've been counting backwards from 100 in Japanese. I generally only get down to into the 80s or 70s before I'm either asleep or give up!

Edited at 2015-12-20 03:18 am (UTC)
Dec. 22nd, 2015 12:26 pm (UTC)
I use a dimmer app on my phone which basically just sticks a grey semi-transparent overlay over the screen, which cuts the minimum brightness down a bit further (at the cost of contrast, but I'm normally just reading and can turn the app contrast up to match).
Dec. 20th, 2015 06:51 am (UTC)
I found that using Audible with its sleep timer was a good way to make me put down the phone and focus on something more likely to send me to sleep. The sleep timer reduces anxiety about missing bits of the story and usually I nod off within 15 minutes.
Dec. 20th, 2015 01:35 pm (UTC)
I felt very much this way when I was getting similar graphs from the £25 wearable I bought to try out the concept. However Sally the other reason I bought it was vox it claimed to be waterproof for swimming which turned out to be a lie :-) so the experiment is in abeyance till I get home and have time to return it.. I too found I slept rather more than I thought. What does this prove!
Dec. 21st, 2015 02:25 pm (UTC)
I use the same up, but have paired it with a rain sound generator so I can have the sound of rainfall when I want to sleep
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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