In the spirit of the Detoxify Your Life Challenge, I recently completed a 5-day digital detox challenge. For 5 days, I went spent the first hour of the day tech-free.
Here’s why I did it, and what I learned.
Raise your virtual hand if technology has inadvertently infiltrated every aspect of your morning routine. If the first thing your sleepy eyes open to is the snooze button on your phone – or perhaps a baby monitor where you have a front row seat to your little one trying to escape their crib…again – you’re not alone.
The successive checking of Slack messages, missed emails, Instagram stories and TikTok content can be all consuming. It quickly dominates your head space, priming you for a never-ending list of to-do’s, products you want to further research and big questions like what’s that beautiful park Shay had a picnic at this weekend?!
So, what was it like going tech-free for 5 mornings straight? Surprising, to say the least.
The DL on why to avoid tech in the morning
I’ve heard countless times that it’s *bad* to look at my phone first thing in the morning. But why?
Forbes does an excellent job of breaking down the science behind the statement, namely that by “checking your phone right after waking up you are priming your brain for distraction.” Oh, and not to mention “seeing or reading something negative first thing in the morning can trigger your stress response and put you on edge for the rest of the day.”
First: Yikes!! to the fact that I’m routinely paving my way toward distraction by reaching for my phone upon waking.
Second: There have been countless times I’ve read a message from a friend, family member or coworker that has instantly made me feel anxious, nervous, concerned, stressed…or if I’m really lucky, all of the above. These feels impact the rest of my morning — realistically bleeding into the rest of my day.
As a dear friend recently reminded me, we’re the only ones who can control what we’re exposed to on our phones. In the spirit of prioritizing my mental health and challenging my perhaps not-so-healthy morning routine, it seemed that a tech-free morning detox was a worthwhile experiment.
My morning digital detox challenge
As my main source of “technology,” I set out to break free of habitual phone usage for the first hour after waking up. What was a seemingly daunting task, well, was.
My phone hosts my calendar, reminder notifications, random notes of things to address on a given day, important to-do’s and is my source for both personal and work communication. Yes, I still call my mom almost every day. Love you, Ma!
Before the first morning, I mentally ran down the list of what I use my phone for upon waking. We use the Nanit (which I love SM), but it also requires me to look at the app on my phone to check on my son. Many of our lamps are connected to smart outlets, meaning I turn them on in the morning using an app on my phone. Not to mention, playing Ms. Rachel on YouTube is the only way I can go to the bathroom in a semi-peaceful state while my toddler stands at my ankles mesmerized by her singing and dancing.
The first learning from this endeavor
My life is intertwined deeply in technology, not just for communication and entertainment. For the purposes of this detox, only necessities were allowed (i.e. baby monitor, light switches, etc.) during that first hour each morning.
Now, how was I going to hold myself accountable for the hour-long wait I set out to complete? I turned my phone on Do Not Disturb at night and deleted Instagram so I wasn’t tempted to scroll. Your fingers have muscle memory too, friend, so if you just *happen* to open a social app because you’re used to doing it, I’d recommend removing this (and any other) literal clickbait for your digital detox.
Pro tip: if you’re embarking upon a digital detox challenge and want to avoid your phone entirely, check out the Hatch all-in-one nightlight, sleep and sound machine. You can set it to wake you up at a specific time each morning with hand-selected calming colors and soothing sounds instead of your standard ring ring ring! that’s frequently snoozed. Aaand…if you’re a parent of little ones who’s reading this and thinking to themselves “I have a built-in alarm clock sleeping across the hall,” I see you and I’m cheering you on.
How it all went down
The first hour I’m awake each morning is typically a hasty one. I run and grab my son out of his crib, make his breakfast, sneak in a few sips of coffee that will inevitably be reheated 2-3 times, clean big people dishes, scrub baby bits and bobs, change multiple diapers (and often clothing), and pack his snacks for the day.
While there isn’t typically a lot of time for me to be on my phone, there was a noticeable difference in my routine when I knew my phone was off-limits. I had a mental check-in each time I mindlessly reached for it in between tasks, and when I let it be, I felt instantly more present and accomplished my morning to-do list quicker than usual.
As the week went on, I felt better each successive morning
I mean noticeably better. Instead of tuning into my feed, I tuned into the sound of the birds chirping outside my window, giving me a sense of calm and connectedness. Rather than catch up on emails, I caught up with my son by being increasingly present and available to meet his needs. Instead of letting my phone dictate my thought pattern, I let my mind wake up at its own pace, and was even surprised by how well I managed my to-do list without referencing the notes on my phone.
I felt empowered, as if I was bestowed greater confidence because I didn’t have to rely so heavily on my phone for planning or intermittent entertainment. This was the healthiest “cleanse” I had ever done that gave me immediate results with a lasting impact – no green juice was required to feel lighter, almost instantly.
The most glaring result of my digital detox challenge
I found myself less and less attached to my phone throughout the day. By not reaching for it first thing in the morning, I found I could go longer periods without checking it. And it felt so good.
What we don’t realize when we’re constantly plugged into our phone, email or otherwise is that we’re missing the little things in life that light us up. I, and so many, fall into a pattern of constant consumption. It’s consuming what others are doing, saying, thinking and experiencing – and it leaves little room for you to feel, process and live on your own terms.
The week was freeing in ways I hadn’t anticipated, leaving a lasting impact on how I plan to start each day moving forward.
But, did it help you sleep better?
Did I sleep better during my AM digital detox? No, but only because I have a toddler who wakes multiple times in the night. I did overall find myself more peaceful – which my husband will attest to – and falling to sleep faster, what I believe is a result of spending less time in front of a screen overall and more time being active and present during my day.
I found myself feeling more exhausted in a physical sense than a mental sense, which I typically feel the reverse of pretty strongly.
Should you try a digital detox challenge?
If you’re reading this and wondering “should I give this a go?” my answer wholeheartedly is yes…within reason. Make the parameters work for you, as I did by allowing myself to turn on Ms. Rachel when running to the bathroom.
If your work week feels too hectic to unplug for the first hour each morning, you could designate one day a week where you prioritize going analog, or even opt for weekends when you aren’t rushing out the door to an important meeting or dropping the kids at school followed by endless errands.
If you try the morning digital detox challenge, I hope you find a bit of joy and peace in your experience as I did. We all move through life differently, but giving myself space to exist without my phone was a game-changer.