Sleep Without Your Smartphone


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I cannot tell if smartphone mania has hit a peak or if usage is still increasing, but based on a new study, it is still on the upswing.

If you find yourself obsessively checking your phone—including checking e-mail in middle of the night—it is time for an intervention.

Your brain needs rest

According to a recent study, one in three workers regularly gets up in the middle of the night to check e-mail and almost half of the people surveyed said they cannot sleep without their smartphone in reach. That is scary stuff.

Your brain, like the rest of your body, needs rest. How many times have you gone to bed perplexed about an issue, only to wake up the next morning with a clear head and new ideas?

Checking your e-mail in the middle of the night will cause your brain to wake up and engage when it needs to rest. You will also probably lose sleep, which means you will be tired, which means you won’t be thinking straight the next day, etc.

Responding is different from merely checking e-mail

I am fortunate enough to run a solo practice, so I do not receive e-mails from co-workers working strange hours. But I also recognize there are many attorneys who are required to answer e-mails at all hours.

If you find yourself in that situation, respond if necessary. But responding is much different from proactively getting out of bed to just check in and see if anything is new. That can be a tough habit to break.

In addition, e-mails sent in the middle of the night do not generally require an immediate response. Waiting until you wake up to respond will usually be fine. The danger in always checking and always responding is that you create the expectation that you will always respond in the middle of the night.

Your brain needs rest. Keep your smartphone away from your nightstand and avoid checking your e-mail in the middle of night.



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  • Great reminder, Randall. This habit can be more of a compulsion in the legal industry. Just because we may feel like robots at certain points during the day doesn’t mean we can ignore the biological need for sleep and relaxation.

  • There are two reasons I sleep with my iPhone on my nightstand. One is to wake me in the morning. The other is to get my RSS update feed of The Lawyerist.

  • christo.

    That’s great and all, but can you tell my employer that I will not be sleeping with my phone and I will be unavailable for 6 hours/day? I would do it myself, I really would; it’s just that, well, I want to keep my job.

    Thanks, Lawyerist!

  • I just woke up to this feed.

    I see that you cite to a news article that says that people are waking up to respond to work. But where is your support and evidence that this is actually a bad thing. You use anecdotal evidence to claim that we all know we need this sleep.

    I will respond after waking to your reply.

    • I don’t know whether there is hard data, but according to some sleep experts, “direct exposure to such abnormal light sources [like the backlit screen on your phone or tablet] inhibits the body’s secretion of melatonin.” (That means your body won’t shut down and sleep properly.)

    • Getting up to respond to my posts on Lawyerist is 124% acceptable. Getting up just to see if you have any new e-mails is a waste of precious sleep.

  • The thing that is scary to me is that there are any expectations that you would be getting e-mails late at night. As a solo, I try not to respond to e-mails even in the evening as it interferes with my family time. The exception being prior to trial, etc. when it may be necessary.

    • I agree with you on sending e-mails in the evenings. Not only does it interfere with family time, it also creates the expectation that you will respond in the evenings.

      That said, I have found that many of my clients are only available after working hours, which means I have to contact them in the evening once I am home. Fortunately, this appears to be the exception and not the norm.