Death to the Digital Hangover

Death to the Digital HangoverThe harsh buzz of your alarm clock sounds and you rub your eyes, still not quite ready to get up and face the day. As you force yourself from bed, you realize that you feel like crap. Maybe you’re just a little drowsy, maybe you have a headache, or perhaps you feel like you’ve been hit by a bright yellow bus loaded with 60 screaming schoolchildren.

Why do you feel so lethargic? Does everyone feel like this when they wake up?

It’s not as though you were out drinking last night. In fact, all you did was sit on the couch and watch TV, before later crawling into bed and surfing the internet on your iPad …

No problem, right?

Wrong. Oooooh so, so wrong.

I’m afraid you’ve fallen into the clutches of the digital hangover.

What is the digital hangover?

The digital hangover is that generalized weariness you feel after a night spent staring at the all too seductive glow of an LCD screen. It’s the result of sleep that is disturbed, both in duration and quality, as a result of lingering in the digital playground later than you should.

Luckily, just as with a real hangover, there are steps we can take to fight back. And for the next month, I’m going to wage a war against the digital hangover just like Johnny Appleseed waged war on the fallow, fruitless fields of the old frontier.

The Plan

As I’ve documented before, sleep and I don’t always see eye to eye. Usually when I can’t sleep, I have no qualms about firing up my computer or tablet and playing around on the internet. I’ve come to believe that this has a negative effect on both my sleep and my productivity.

So, in an effort to battle the digital hangover, for the next 30 days — until September 12th — I’m going to shut down my electronics at midnight every day — no exceptions. The ban will run until 8am in the morning, assuring that at least a third of my day is free from the glare of the digital menace.

Gear for my battle against the digital hangoverIn practice, this means that I will turn off my computer and my tablet (note that I don’t have a TV here in Taiwan). I will, however, allow myself the use of my MP3 player, as I like to listen to music and Chinese lessons late at night. Also, I won’t power down my phone — a “dumb” model that also serves as my alarm clock — though I do solemnly vow not to play Beach Rally or Snakes Xenzia. I don’t make or receive many calls and texts, especially after midnight, so I don’t foresee the phone becoming a distraction.

I considered a few other exceptions, but ultimately I opted against including them as I’d rather not provide myself with excuses for breaking the digital curfew. And so beginning tonight, I will record any instances in which I break my own rules and include that information in my report at the end of the month.

The Benefits

Though a full analysis of the benefits will have to wait until after the experiment, I’ll share my expectations with you.

I anticipate three major benefits in particular:

  1. I will sleep better
    We all want better, more restful sleep — myself included. I believe not having any digital distractions to keep me awake will help me sleep better. If that’s the only benefit I derive from having a hard cutoff time for electronics, I’ll see it as a resounding victory.
  2. I will make better use of my night hours
    If I still can’t sleep, I won’t just lie in bed and stare up at my ceiling. Instead I will use this time to study Chinese, to read paperbacks (instead of reading on my tablet, as I usually do), and to write longhand. And I’ll be able to do these things without feeling the urge to login to ESPN and see how NFL training camps are progressing.
  3. I will manage my digital time better
    I have an awful tendency to put things off. Why write my weekly blog post on Tuesday afternoon when I can write it in the wee hours of Wednesday morning? Having a digital curfew should make me more conscious of how I spend my computer time, because once midnight comes the show is over.

How to follow along

How will this play out? Will I get the results I desire?

I’ll publish a full report on Wednesday, September 18th. I’ll also include short updates about my progress in my weekly newsletter, which goes out every Sunday.

So, you can sign up for the newsletter, you can check back in a month, or hell, you can even join me in the experiment if you’d like! I’d love to hear about your experiences with the digital hangover.

The choice is yours.

Header photo: Ninja M. Insert photo: Me

Henry Olsen

Writer, adventurer, and humble servant of the universe since 1986.