I began to notice this year that I would wake up more tired than when I had gone to bed. Most nights I would constantly wake up throughout the night. For days at a time, I would be little more than a zombie. I wouldn’t be able to read books for school or articles online without realizing halfway through that I hadn’t retained anything of what I had read.
At first, I thought maybe I was getting too little sleep, so I gave myself an extra hour. That didn’t work. So then I thought maybe it was too much sleep and cut back an hour. That didn’t work. I sought information online looking at everything from an iron deficiency to mono. I had heard before that electronic usage has a negative effect on sleep, but it had never troubled me before so I brushed it off as a farce. After a few weeks of experimenting with other solutions, I finally broke down and stopped using electronics before bedtime. It worked.
The science behind the stimulation is easy. Basically, the light from our phones, computers, TVs and even some light bulbs tricks our brains into thinking that it is still daytime, stopping the flow of our body’s melatonin that normally puts us to sleep. The hardest part of no electronics for me was my phone.
It doesn’t help that as humans we receive dopamine from posts and likes on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s instant satisfaction in the palms of our hands. I had to move my phone to my desk so I wouldn’t immediately look at a notification. I thought the best solution was for me to be with my roommates before bed rather than the phone, but with the TV on and music playing, I still found myself not able to sleep. I began to catch myself absentmindedly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. I hadn’t relapsed, I had never started. I felt terrible.
I decided that my initial approach was wrong. One can’t expect immediate results. That’s when I began to think of anti-stimulation as an art form. I purchased earplugs and drowned out excess noises. I made sure my blinds let in the least amount of light. I would meditate before bed to relax and clear my mind. If I found myself wound up, I would write in a journal. If I found myself bored, I would read a book. I began to catch myself in my urges to watch TV and use my phone. I would ask myself, “Do I really need to see what’s on it now?” Before I knew it, I was awake during the day, alert in class and sleeping through the night.
The art of anti-stimulation is like any other art, a system of trial and error perfected with patience. Once you notice something that you want to have changed, don’t try to change it right away, but rather reflect upon what exactly you would like changed and how over time you can achieve the change. Before you know it, you’ll have achieved it.
Joshua Hummell is a junior double-majoring in classical and Near Eastern studies and history.