2020 has us losing sleep for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest sources of restless nights is simply not being able to look away from the barrage of terrifying headlines and stories. Last week, most of us were probably nearly asleep when the current administration’s COVID-19 diagnoses started breaking—how do you shut off when important updates are rolling in incessantly?
We’re not encouraging you to turn off the news and ignore reality—we know many people don’t have that option and it’s a privilege to even entertain “unplugging”—but we do think it’s worth exploring the topic and some solutions we think will help.
What are the effects of “doomscrolling” on our sleep, and how do we take care of ourselves in such a stressful year?
Social media changed how we sleep way before 2020
Even before the—to borrow the internet’s new favorite phrase from Jake Tapper—“hot mess inside of a dumpster fire inside of a train wreck” that has been 2020, social media began shaping our nighttime routines years ago. We’re all vaguely aware that on our body’s internal clocks, but what is a little less understood is how it interrupts our sleep. Light exposure controls the body’s internal sleep system—and the more we have of it, the less melatonin (AKA, nature’s sleep aid) we produce. This makes it harder to fall, and stay, asleep.
Before social media (you remember the Before times, right?) we used to just… go to bed. Now we’re up for hours checking Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, the list goes on. This tricks our brains into believing it’s still daytime, so our natural need to sleep gets shoved off, no matter how tired we actually are.
Now, more than ever, we’re using the phrase ‘Now, more than ever’
Social media was already a problem at bedtime. Throw in a global pandemic, political revolution, natural disasters of epic proportions, oh and a very important election, and it’s hard to put the phone down. Every car commercial, wellness brand, and—admittedly—mattress company, is reminding you that now, more than ever, we need to take care of ourselves and each other. But, in reality, most of us are struggling to find time to think clearly, let alone prioritize self care.
Doomscrolling is the trendy new way to shame us all for sleeping less, and while it feels impossible to have another thing added to the balancing act, there are steps you can take to reduce your time spent reading upsetting news.
First and foremost, have some compassion for yourself
We’re all facing a lot, and it’s okay if you’re not sleeping well. Some of us are carrying a much heavier burden than others, and spending a few hours scrolling through content that distracts us at the expense of our sleep shouldn’t be a source of shame, it’s survival. If you feel safer when you have all the information you can find on a developing story, this post might not be helpful for you—we all need to do whatever it is that makes us feel better.
That said, there’s power in reclaiming your rest, and it’s worth sharing a resource you may find empowering.
Founded by Tricia Hersey in 2016, The Nap Ministry calls out sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue. They engage communities in discussions about taking back rest as a form of resistance, as well as hosting writing workshops, providing one-on-one coaching, and collective napping experiences to empower BIPOC to view sleep as human right, not a luxury.
If you are looking for ways to shut down at the end of the day, below are some tricks you can try.
Being aware of how media outlets are incentivized to keep you on the page, digging into one article after another, can help pull you out of a spiral when you should have been in bed a while ago. It’s natural for humans to be drawn to negative topics, but we used to walk into work Monday morning and get a sense for how the people we know in real life feel. A lot of us are still working from home, and essential workers aren’t having the same everyday experiences they used to, so we don’t have that support to regulate ourselves.
Try setting a timer before bed that allows you to skim the headlines, without ending up hours-deep into a Reddit thread.
Set strict boundaries
Unplugging in whatever capacity you can without feeling unsafe might be a step you can take. Make small adjustments in the ways you consume news—maybe sign up for a newsletter such as that breaks the day’s news into small, quick hits. Perhaps you opt not to check social media after 7pm or you ask your partner not to read the headlines aloud as you’re making dinner. During meetings, request that your team talks only about work and not those breaking news stories, so you can compartmentalize in a healthy way. , especially if you’ve shifted into working remotely for the first time.
Develop a new routine
Studies have demonstrated over and over again that . If you don’t have a nighttime routine, or your current one is leading you to spend too much time scrolling through your phone, now is the perfect time to rethink it. A basic routine can be as simple as no electronics after 8pm, wash your face, and read a chapter of a book.
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