Abstaining from smartphone use in the bedroom improves happiness, according to new research

New study has found evidence that keeping your smartphones out of your bedroom for a week can slightly improve your mental well-being.

The research, recently published in Computers in Human Behavior, examined what happened after a group of participants agreed to temporarily abstain from smartphone use in the bedroom.

“I got my first iPhone about 4 years ago. Before then I had been using a Blackberry, which was barely connected to the internet and wasn’t greatly suited to apps, websites, etc. I used it essentially only for calls, text messages and the occasional email. I could see that other people were spending more and more time on their phones, but I didn’t understand it,” said study author Nicola Hughes of the University of East London.

“Then I got my iPhone — then I got Whatsapp, Instagram, 3G, 4G and so on. Before I knew it, the phone had become the source of an ever-present, constant, ongoing conversation with everyone in my life and an endless stream of content which was always beckoning for my attention.”

“Eventually, I read an article where the author had started charging her phone in the lounge at night so as to keep her bedroom a ‘sanctuary’ from the invasion of tech,” Hughes explained. “This gave me the idea for my study, to test whether there would be any real, measurable impacts (for good or bad) to limiting tech use in the bedroom and creating space for more offline time.”

For their study, the researchers recruited 95 participants — 49 of them were required to not use their phone in their bedroom for one week. The remaining 46 were used as a control group and told to continuing using their phones as normal.

The participants who restricted their smartphone use showed small improvements to happiness and quality of life after a week. They also scored lower on a measure of smartphone addiction.

Most of the participants (74.5%) who slept without their phone said they would consider continuing to do so.

Many of the participants anecdotally told the researchers that leaving their smartphones out of the bedroom improved their sleep, reduced anxiety, improved their relationships, and prevented them from wasting time. However, these factors were not scientifically measured.

“It’s important to acknowledge that smartphone/device usage and internet connectivity, social media use and so on also bring about positive impacts for people. We are not suggesting that smartphones are ‘bad’ or that we need to get rid of the technology,” Hughes told PsyPost.

“The technology is here to stay and, since it is clear that both positive and negative impacts result from the way we engage with the technology, what is important is that we understand what the negative impacts are and how they can be avoided, so that we can learn to use technology in ways that enhance our lives rather than in ways that bring detriment.”

“Research in this area is really just getting started, since the technological developments that have got us here are relatively recent. There is a huge amount more to explore and understand regarding the impacts of internet-enabled device usage on wellbeing,” Hughes said.

“A couple of questions which still need to be addressed include, whether restricting usage at other times of day could bring about equal or greater benefits to wellbeing and whether greater wellbeing impacts are notable for heavy phone users. Additionally, empirical investigation of the anecdotal experimental findings, including impacts on sleep quality and personal relationships would be valuable to explore.”

Hughes said many people were apprehensive about the thought of giving up their smartphones for a short period of time.

“One of the most enlightening things I found I the run up to this research experiment (i.e. the planning phase where I discussed the ideas with peers and the recruitment phase where I advertised for participants) was people’s evident fear around taking part,” she told PsyPost. “The idea of not being able to take their phone to their room night, or look at it whenever they wanted, instilled concern and resistance in many people.

“Often, they were interested in the concept but were anxious to know how long they would have to do it for and expressed that they didn’t know if they could and/or that they would hate it (which from the evidence gathered, did not turn out to be true).”

“I originally hoped to run the intervention for two weeks but after gathering feedback decided to drop it down to one week, in case I couldn’t engage enough participants to take part for two,” Hughes said. “Although these observations are not empirically quantifiable (being outside the scope of the experiment) the experience spoke volumes to me about the depth of attachment we have to these devices and the level to which they have invaded the very fibre of our lives.”

The study, “Sleeping with the frenemy: How restricting ‘bedroom use’ of smartphones impacts happiness and wellbeing“, was authored by Nicola Hughes and Jolanta Burke.