As a society, we’ve accepted that using your phone in certain situations is bad. At dinner, it is rude and makes for empty conversations. While driving, it’s a danger to yourself and those around you. At the movies, it’s a surefire way to get your neighbors to hate you. And there are even situations — a sunset, a nice restaurant meal — where lots of us say, you know, let’s just try to enjoy this smartphone-free.
Objectively, falling asleep with your phone in your bed is also bad — or at least, not good. Both scientific studies and general common sense warn of the pitfalls of falling asleep with phones: They keep us up too late and wake us up in the middle of the night and the “blue light” from screens hurts our sleep cycles, resulting in sleep that is both too short and often interrupted.
But many, if not most, of us are doing it anyway.
I asked staff at BuzzFeed, in a survey, if they ever fall asleep with their phones in their beds. Of the 82 people who responded, 70% said they at least sometimes sleep with their phones in their beds, and 41% said they do it almost every night.
Single people were somewhat more likely to sometimes sleep with their phones in their bed — 78% of singles and 61% of people in relationships said they at least sometimes sleep with their phones in their bed. Roughly 95% said they sleep with their phones either in their beds, or on a nightstand or floor right next to it, and only four people said they leave their phones away from the bed, either in another room or on another side of the room.
The respondents, admittedly, are a hyperconnected group. So, while by no means conclusive, it’s a look at how hard it can be to disconnect, even while unconscious.
So why do we do it? And how does it make us feel? I also asked the respondents to share some thoughts, which revealed that a lot of us feel anxious about the effects — both long and short term — of sleeping with our phones, but many of us simply just accept it as a reality of the way we live now.
While responses varied, I identified what I believed to be five distinct behaviors and attitudes:
1. The Principled
This is the very small minority of people who actually shut their phone down before bed. People did this for two reasons: either because they struggle with waking up and find that using their phone as an alarm that requires getting out of bed to turn off is a good way to force yourself to wake up, or because they recognized that shutting down is a healthy habit that helped their sleep (and life). If you see someone looking happy and well-rested, they may well be of this contingent.
2. The Super-Connected and Slightly Concerned
The largest group were those who sleep with or near their phones, out of necessity and/or comfort, and worry a little about what it might do to one’s sleep cycle. They said, for example:
“Yes it freaks me out, but I work for the internet and the internet never sleeps.”
“I think it might affect how quickly I can fall asleep. Often times I try to put it down and unwind, but I feel restless and finally give in and pick it up and start distracting myself on it.
“I worry that sleeping with my phone affects my sleeping patterns, but I also can’t stop.”
“It certainly doesn’t feel good. It feels like an addiction: compulsive and unhealthy.”
3. The Worried About the Long Term
A bunch of people said they had concerns about what effect sleeping near a phone will have — over a lifetime. One person wrote: “I feel OK unless we find out we’re all going to have cancer in 20 years :(”
Said another: “My phone is my clock so I like to have it near me. The only thing that freaks me out is if there’s some kind of freaky radiation we don’t know about and in 20 years I’m going to be screwed.”
4. The Sleep Trackers
Quite a few people said they kept their phones nearby because they used a sleep-tracking app, most commonly Sleep Cycle, which actually requires you to keep your phone in your bed. According to its website: “Since you move differently in bed during the different phases, the Sleep Cycle alarm clock is able to use the accelerometer in your iPhone to monitor your movement and determine which sleep phase you are in.” In the morning, it wakes you up at the ideal time, within a designated window. The Sleep Trackers (major motion picture coming soon?) spoke highly of the practice, and though some said they wished they didn’t have to sleep so close to their phones, most said it was worth it overall. One person called it “magic.”
5. The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
A number of people said they sleep with their phones, and don’t worry about it or notice any negative effects. “I feel like I SHOULD unplug like an hour before bed but I never do. It’s one of those ~healthy habits~ I just can’t adopt. I don’t floss either!”
In sum, as one person put it: “It may be bad for me but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”