My husband Matt and I have been married for seven years, and we're also parents to 3-year-old twins. That pretty much means one thing: We are tired. Sure, we love each other, and sure, we enjoy each other's company, but honestly? We don't have a whole lot of time to spend together these days, just the two of us. Every now and then, we'll vow to try harder, to squeeze in more date nights and quality time, usually with little success. But recently it occurred to me that maybe the issue wasn't about magically creating more free time together, but finding time we already had but were wasting. Almost every single night, for example, Matt and I sit in bed engrossed in our on phones/laptops/gadgets when we could actually be, you know, talking to one another. So I removed screens from the bedroom for a week to see whether or not it would bring us closer, and honestly? I was pretty sure it would be the best decision ever.
I will admit though, this experiment wasn't something I hadn't ever considered before. My husband works a lot and is always on his phone, and inevitably his "work phone time" has blended into his "gotta check social media a million times a day" time, because smartphones basically own all of our souls. If I had a dollar for every time I uttered something like, "hey, are you listening?" or "uh, can you turn your damn phone off, please?" I would have... a lot of dollars. So there have been plenty of times I'd thought about how going screen-free could impact our relationship for the better. And I'm certainly not free of blame here: my laptop is so integral to my life that it may as well be an extension of my own arms. In other words, we both have a big tech problem, and we definitely needed to get a grip on that ASAP.
As much as I was excited to do this experiment specifically so that I could prove a point about how much time we waste on our respective screens, I also knew there were lots of other reasons why not bringing our phones to bed would be a good idea. One major reason we should all be powering down our devices before heading to bed each night? According to neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan J. Siegel, all that blue light totally screws up our sleep cycles, and messes with our brains:
As a sleep-deprived mom to begin with, Siegel's argument seemed pretty convincing (better sleep? Yes please!), so I used his recommendations as the parameters for this experiment. For one week we'd both turn our gadgets off by 9 p.m., and then we could use that extra time to enjoy each other's screen-free company while our brains basked in some rare tech-free time (I could feel my glial cells cleaning up my brain toxins already!)
One thing I hadn't necessarily considered when committing to this experiment is that, well, Matt and I don't actually go to bed at the same time on most nights. Matt much prefers to go to bed early — he is naturally an early riser, and thus, earned himself "morning kid duty" as soon as our twins were born — while I often work late into the night, when the house is quiet and I can finally focus on all of the things I never get to during the day. But that doesn't help matters very much when you're trying to squeeze in some extra couple time — even without technological distractions, going to bed at different times mean we certainly wouldn't be taking advantage of our evenings for chatting/cuddling/sex/general hanging out. So that obviously meant I had to start going to bed when Matt did if this experiment was going to work.
The first night, I honestly worried that I wouldn't be able to get to bed so early. We turned all our devices off by 9 p.m. according to the experiment rules, but I was pretty certain I'd just end up lying in bed wide awake without the distraction. I figured this would at least mean we'd have plenty of time to discuss how our days had been, so we talked and cuddled and joked about the kids, and then, suddenly, I realized I actually was much more tired than I ever imagined. That first night, we both fell asleep by 10 p.m. (!)
The idea of a tech curfew was starting to seem hugely appealing.
The next morning, I had to admit, I felt surprisingly refreshed. And then, I felt kind of foolish. If I could fall asleep so easily after turning my phone off at 9, how many hours of sleep had I really been missing out on because I was pinning random things on Pinterest at midnight, or refreshing my Twitter feed? Perhaps we were onto something here.
At-Home Date Night
Buoyed by our successful first screen-free night, Matt and I decided we should try to set aside some time after the kids go to bed to actually spend time together. Our kids usually go to bed by 7 p.m., which theoretically should give us lots of time to hang out, but — you guessed it — we usually spend that time retreating to different parts of the house, distracted by various hand-held devices.
In the past, even if we did have some time to pass together, we'd probably just end up doing something like watching Netflix in bed (and which point, one of us would always fall asleep halfway through like the lame old people we really are), but since that was now against the rules, we decided that we would watch something together from our cable provider's streaming service on our actual television in the basement. Technically, I guess that's still relying on technology, but in all fairness, we rarely actually watch TV ever. So snuggling on the couch and watching a show together? That honestly felt like the best date night we'd had in a while.
One night half-way through the experiment, I found myself longing for some time alone to sit in bed on my laptop.
After the first few days, the idea of a tech curfew was starting to seem hugely appealing. It meant I wasn't staying up too late, and it meant that Matt and I were interacting in much more meaningful ways without our usual device-crutches. But one night half-way through the experiment, I found myself longing for some time alone to sit in bed on my laptop.
I was surprised to be feeling that way because I could already see that there were some really great benefits to going screen-free at night. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder if perhaps our screen time habits were less about the screens themselves, and more about just needing some solo time away from each other and everything else. Before we became parents, Matt and I spent a lot of our time together, and honestly, I really didn't enjoy having a lot of time to myself. But since becoming a mother — and since our lives became a constant crazy treadmill of tasks and childcare — I find myself craving solo time more and more. I love Matt, and I loved that we were spending more time together now that we'd banned devices at night, but I also still just needed to be by myself. In a way, my laptop and phone gave me those options, even if sitting in front of a screen really isn't that relaxing or therapeutic for my brain.
At this point in my life, my solo screen time pulls double duty as self-care — not ideal self-care, of course, but still — and I'm not ready to give up that little window of time where I can scroll through my feeds and pin a bunch of stuff and forget about all the things I have to do for a little while.
When we began this experiment, I was pretty sure I already knew what the outcome would be: by turning off our technology, my husband would be more engaged, we'd feel closer together, and all would be happy and well. But it turns out that there were pros and cons to banning screens from the bedroom, and they weren't necessarily what I thought they would be.
There are definitely some things I'd like to continue doing, like trying to use that 7-9 p.m. post-kid window to spend time with Matt doing something that isn't just falling asleep to Netflix in bed and calling it "quality time." Whether that be watching a movie on the actual TV (which felt novel to us), or just workout our way through the endless string of daily tasks together (folding laundry, packing lunches, etc.), we could definitely benefit by making sure we blocked that time off as couple time more often.
As for the no-screens-in-the-bedroom rule? I don't particularly think it'll stick. Don't get me wrong, I still loathe when Matt ignores me for his iPhone, and I am now also painfully aware that my laptop habit is just as bad. I also know it's keeping me up later that I should be up at night, and it's probably screwing up my brain. But, at this point in my life, my solo screen time pulls double duty as self-care — not ideal self-care, of course, but still — and I'm not ready to give up that little window of time where I can scroll through my feeds and pin a bunch of stuff and forget about all the things I have to do for a little while. It might not be the healthiest way to take a mental break, but I do know I'm not quite ready to go without it.
Ultimately though, I'm glad we banned devices from the bedroom for a week, because it forced us to become more aware about our tech habits, and the way they eat up the little free time we actually have. Chances are we'll try it again, maybe a tech-free afternoon, or screen-free weekend here and there, because there's no doubt that it really is something that is good for us and for our marriage.
But don't expect me to give up my devices for good anytime soon. I am definitely not ready for that.