Sleeping with the Enemy?


Those of us who sleep with our phones do it for different reasons—and not just because we crave constant connection.

Confession: I'm 24 and I love my iPhone.

You're shocked, I'm sure. If you rolled your eyes, or said "Of course you do" under your breath, hang with me. Yes, I love my iPhone. And yes, I use it all of the time. And yes, I check it before I go to sleep and right when I wake up. Does that make me addicted? I say no; you may say yes, and that's okay.

More than just the Millennials

Pew Research Center found that 90 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 sleep with their phones on or right next to their bed. Most of you probably aren't surprised by this statistic. But the finding that is even more important is that 65 percent of all Americans sleep with their phones by their beds. That number includes half of people age 50 to 64.

My curiosity peaked when I read these numbers, so I did a little social-media poll of my own. I asked my followers on Facebook and Twitter, "How many of you sleep with your phone right by your bed?" Out of the 125 people who answered in the affirmative, 86 of them were Millennials. The remaining 39 people—about 31 percent of my respondents—were Gen X or older. What this says to me as a young adult is that while our age defines us as Millennials (or Gen X or Baby Boomers, and so on), our culture influences our love of technology.

Extreme technology use isn't just a Millennial characteristic. Although the ratios may be different, people in all generations are leaning into what's being labeled as "Millennial tendencies." In fact, Pew Research Center offers a "How Millennial Are You?" quiz for people of all ages. I took the quiz and got an 89 percent—the exact same score as a co-worker of mine who is 20 years older than me! The reason we both got the same score has nothing to do with age and everything to do with the ways in which we use technology.

Bedside benefits

Those of us who sleep with our phones do it for different reasons. It's common to think that as a Millennial, I sleep with my phone because I crave the constant connection. And that may be true for some. But there are a million other reasons why people sleep with their phone. Consider these three:

1. It's practical. Walk into a bedroom from the era before smartphones took over and what would you see? Sitting on the nightstand by the bed might be a book, an alarm clock, a landline phone, a small pad of paper, a pen, and a picture of family. Today on the bedside table, I have my iPhone. Why? Because that one device essentially contains all of those other items. So keeping it bedside is practical. It's not doing anything new—it's just doing it in a more efficient way.

2. It's a safety net. One of the people who participated in my Facebook poll was my Grandmother. She turned 80 years old this year. (Sorry, Grandma, but I had to do it! You don't look a day over 60!) Anyway, she commented, "I put my phone on the floor next to me if I think I'm going to fall asleep on the couch. I have a landline next to the bed. [But if I didn't have a landline] I would sleep with my cell phone. I don't want to get sick in the night and not be able to reach for my phone." For Grandma, and for most people, sleeping with a phone next to you makes you feel safer, whether it's so you can make an emergency call or so you can receive one from someone you love.

3. It's the ultimate connector. Yes, for some people being connected 24/7 means they want to have constant access to their Facebook page or Twitter feed to read the latest gossip. But for most of the Millennials (and people in general) that I know, that's not the way we define being connected. For example, my family is highly connected. We connect about everything—probably more than most people would want, but that's just who we are. As the middle sister of three girls, my sisters and I are very close. Many days during the week, I'll go to bed texting one and wake up with a text from the other. Since we no longer live under the same roof, this is a way for us to stay connected. It's like being with each other, always. I never feel like my family is too far away because, thanks to technology, they aren't. If I have the chance to be connected to my sisters 24/7, why wouldn't I take it?

Strike a balance

Even though we may desire to be highly connected, it's still important to find ways to be balanced when it comes to our smartphone use. Here are a few ideas for striking a healthy balance:

  • Use the "Do Not Disturb" option on your smartphone while you sleep.
  • Intentionally set aside time when you won't use your phone. Maybe it's just an hour, or it may be a 24-hour period if you feel like you need that much of a break.
  • Try to remove the pressure of responding to work notifications after hours. Create a time during each day when you won't check e-mail on your phone.

If the thought of a 24/7 connection exhausts you or your palms start to sweat as I speak about sleeping with my iPhone, that's okay! Or if you were nodding along (and sporadically answering texts on your smartphone) as you read, that's great too. What makes one person feel drained or energized may not apply to another. We all bring different experiences and perspectives to the table, including our stance toward technology.

Written by Aimee Cottle

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