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As university students, and as people living in the twenty-first century, screens control our lives. With the entire world moving online due to the COVID pandemic, we’re spending more time than ever online, and no one’s ignoring all the ways that it’s screwing us up.

A couple of months ago I noticed a new side effect of spending the majority of my time looking at screens: my sleep quality got way worse. I was restless, my mind racing and keeping me from getting a deep sleep. I woke up feeling like I had just done a full day’s work and I started having nightmares super frequently.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the cause; the later I stayed up watching TV on my phone, the more restless my brain was at night, and the more likely it was that I would have nightmares.

I tried setting time limits on my apps, putting my phone away at 10, going to bed earlier, but those things didn’t work. I’m addicted to my phone, and I like to unwind before bed by scrolling or watching TV. That’s just who I am.

I stopped trying to change my habits and instead added something to my nightly routine. No matter how late I stayed up scrolling or watching TV, I made a point to stay up for an extra ten minutes once I put my phone down to do this thing, and it changed my life.

Alright, enough stringing you along. Here’s the secret: I started reading before bed. Even if I was up on Disney+ until 1am (I’m currently watching The Simpsons, which has probably been contributing to the nightmares), I started setting a timer for 10 minutes and reading before falling asleep.

I’ve always been a big reader, so working reading into my nightly routine has been a great way for me to read for pleasure, something I haven’t had a lot of time for lately. But more than that, reading helps slow my brain down. No matter how exciting the book is, the act of reading helps me relax, forcing me to focus harder than I would if I were just watching an episode of The Simpsons. It tires me out, gives my eyes a break from blue light, and helps me unwind enough that when I do go to bed, even if it’s a half-hour later because the book got good, I have a significantly better sleep.

I’ve also noticed that reading before bed has helped me with my phone addiction! I’m less inclined to pick up my phone to idle-scroll now, choosing instead to read in my free time. I also spend a lot less time on my phone before bed; I would rather read for thirty minutes than watch an episode of a show and only read for ten.

I know lots of people aren’t big readers, and class readings can make it hard to want to read in your spare time. I still think you should give this trick a try. It’s just ten minutes a night, and you can read whatever you want (ideally something physical to help break from the screen, but even reading a Her Campus article on your phone before bed is better than falling asleep after watching Homer choke out Bart for the hundredth time). In just a few weeks I’ve seen my quality of sleep drastically improve (I haven’t had a nightmare in weeks!) and it’s not like I’m asking you to give up any of your habits. I’m just asking you to add a new one to your nightly routine.

Give it a try. This exam season, no matter how late you stay up studying, try reading something for fun for ten minutes before you fall asleep and see if it helps.

Sweet dreams!

Meghan Mazzaferro

Wilfrid Laurier '21

Meghan is an English and Film Studies major who has dreamed of being a writer all her life. When she's not writing essays and watching films for class, she loves to read YA novels and rewatch her favourite TV shows for the 100th time. Proud plant mama of 24 green beauties, and willing to adopt all the dogs.
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