During our book tour for the Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, we routinely got asked the question, what one self-care habit should we focus on to get started? We respond with: Get enough sleep. As Arianna Huffington points out in her book, Sleep Revolution, and in this recent interview, getting enough sleep and less stress leads to better workplace performance.
This healthy habit sets the stage for you to incorporate other self-care routines that we describe in our book. One surefire way to ruin your sleep is to use your mobile phone as your bedtime routine. Many of us fall into this trap because use our mobile phones as an alarm clock.
Why? According to scientific research, reading a tablet or mobile phone with its backlit display in bed can make it harder to fall asleep and your sleep won’t be as rejuvenating. Even if you use features like “night shift” on your mobile phone that softens or warms up that blue light, there isn’t enough data to support that it solves the problem.
It isn’t just the fact that you use your iPhone as an alarm clock, it is the routine you create around it. While I was well aware of this research, after lengthy business travel this past month where I used my mobile phone as an alarm clock, I found myself slipping back into that very bad habit of setting my alarm and then browsing social media, news, or email. The glaring light off the tiny screen zaps your brain of sound ZZZs. What’s worse, is that you can end up dreaming about work or breaking news and who was to have stress dreams?
And, of course, if you don’t sleep well, you wake up not feeling refreshed, even if you get the recommended number of hours (7-9). What happened to me is that mobile phone alarm goes off, I wake up, shut it off, and check email, news, or Facebook sometimes before getting out of bed. That is not a great way to to start the day.
I’ve successfully kicked the bad habit to the curb. The first step was to purchase a retro alarm clock that wakes you up with light. I also took the advice of my co-author, Aliza Sherman, barred the iPhone from the bedroom, keeping as far as away as possible in the house and out of site. I did experience the urge to check email upon retiring, but those withdrawal symptoms dissipated after a day.
I was curious whether other nonprofit professionals face this challenge and how they solve it. A while ago, I asked colleagues on Facebook and here’s what I learned.
Some colleagues know it is an unhealthy habit, but do it because they have a family member with an emergency to respond to and don’t have a landline. Others, primarily those who work in IT or medical, might be paged in the middle of the night with an urgent issue to attend to. However, while they keep the iPhone in the bedroom, they keep the phone a safe distance from their bodies.
If you want to get better sleep, a multi-prong approach might include:
- Use an alarm clock: Many colleagues use alarm clocks instead of their phones for all the reasons I described above. I was fascinated by the different alarm clock and methods for waking. A few colleagues use alarm clocks with CDs and wake up to music. Colleague Christine Egger wakes up to “It is a Beautiful Morning” and she says “It is much better than a wake up call.” And of course, if you have kids, you have a human alarm clock.Some colleagues keep the phone charging on their bed stands and use it as an alarm clock. They don’t check their email, news, or social channels upon waking or going to bed, having much better impulse control than some. As one colleague said, “I just don’t feel the need to be that connected.” Many switch the phone to airplane mode and dial down the brightness of the screen. Another colleague has learned the hard way that they will be late for work if they putter on their phone before their morning routine.Others say that it is a problem and a few made getting an alarm clock part of their new year’s resolutions.
- Keep the phone charging station as far as away as possible from bedroom: Colleagues keep their phone charging stations in the kitchen, home office, or even in the basement so it takes a conscious effort to go find it and check it. As Vicki Davis, Cool Cat Teacher blog, who has written about sleep deficits and mobile phones says, “I charge my phone in my office. When you read the research on being always plugged in and not getting rest, it makes sense. Charge elsewhere and wake up recharged.”
- Good Night iPhone: Perhaps we should take some advice from this updated children’s classic, “Good Night iPad” Give your electronic devices a bedtime curfew. Shut them off, and don’t check them after the cut off time, preferably several hours before bed. Several colleagues mentioned limiting their screen time over weekends as well.
- Incorporate a mindfulness routine in the morning before you check your phone:Janet Fouts, Author of Mindful Marketing, says “I’ve weaned myself off checking my phone after 10 pm and I rarely need an alarm clock so no excuse there. Lately I’ve been better about checking after I have taken a few minutes to meditate or at least set intentions to start the day. I don’t feel so immediately frenzied.”
Given the stressful situation many nonprofits are operating in these days, getting enough sleep is a great way to inoculate yourself against stress and burnout and keep you strong for the long-term. How are you going to commit to self-care to reduce stress and the chance of burnout during these chaotic times?