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A 2-week challenge for better sleep: can you go screen-free after 8pm?

In the last few years, I’ve spoken more and more with migraine patients about the trouble they have falling asleep and staying asleep.  As regular readers of this site know, interrupted sleep or changes in sleep patterns are major migraine triggers for many of us. My colleague Kerrie Smyres recently posted a very helpful article called “10 Tips to Quiet Your Mind for Sleep”—read it here.

Despite all the tips and tricks my friends and I share, it seems as if people’s quality of sleep is worsening.  From personal experience and observations I’ve made in the field (i.e., watching friends’ behavior), I have started to wonder if excessive screen time is a culprit.

Many of us now have smart phones or tablets in addition to our work computers and/or home computers. Many families have more than one TV in their home, and most Americans watch a LOT of TV.  Some folks watch TV while surfing the internet at the same time, even!

That being said, I have a challenge for those of you who have trouble sleeping.  Sleep experts recommend that you stop looking at all screens (yes, that includes reading ebooks on your iPad) a couple of hours before bedtime.  Since we migraineurs are notorious for needing more TLC than the average bear, my challenge is a little different. I want you to try, for at least two weeks, to stop using anything with a screen after 8pm (as opposed to the 9pm or 10pm deadline many experts recommend for most folks).  If you have to make a call or send a quick text in the early evening, go for it. But refrain from watching TV shows, stop yourself from checking your email for the eightieth time, and just say no to looking at your Facebook notifications just once more. (I’ve been down those slippery slopes, y’all. Once I check one social network or email account, I end up in a worm hole, not able to remember what I signed on for to begin with!)

Your emails and notifications and Candy Crush games and TV shows will wait for you.  Use your evening hours to read a book, connect with friends, make a healthy dinner (or tomorrow’s brown bag lunch), write in your journal, or organize your kitchen cabinets.  Use the time that used to be dedicated to screens to do some gentle yoga or mindfulness-based stress reduction exercises.  Do whatever the heck you want as long as you do this for at least two weeks:  1. keep your eyes off the screens from 8pm onward; 2. Go to bed around the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning; 3. Observe your sleep quality and duration as the time passes, using a migraine/headache diary to keep track of your sleep and migraine patterns.

So many of us have issues trying to sleep through the night—are you one of those people?  What can it hurt to try this screen-free experiment for a few weeks? Who’s up for the challenge?  Post in the comments below if you want to try this out and we’ll get in touch down the road and see how it went.  Good? Great.  Zzzzz…..

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Kerrie Smyres moderator
    4 years ago

    Thanks for the mention! I hope your screen-free challenge was successful.

  • lrcockrum
    5 years ago

    I will try this, and I’m anxious to do so! I have suffered with migraines for the past 35 years, with the frequency increasing in the last 2-4 years. Sleep (lack of, inconsistent sleep) is a big trigger of mine and I will try this for 2 weeks and keep a journal of any changes I notice in my migraines.

    I love this website and have been empowered, finally, to not feel guilty (as much) about having migraines!
    Thanks for all the news, tips, research and counseling!

  • babscaballero
    5 years ago

    My doctors have wanted me to try this for a long time. However, I have been most reluctant. I think this “2-week challenge” is just what I need, though it will be tough to say goodnight to Candy Crush so early:) Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  • John
    5 years ago

    I just wanted to say I have had chronic migraines since early childhood. Before cell phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and we didn’t have a TV and went to bed with the chickens. Woke with full blown migraine. Screens don’t bother me but may be relèvant for today’s migraineurs.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Great post!

    I definitely want to try this. It entirely depends on my schedule but I will set out to do it during two slightly sane weeks in the near future!

    I generally do not have trouble sleeping. Quite the reverse I feel like I can never get ENOUGH sleep. But when I have a flare up of anxiety then I have trouble falling asleep and restless nights. Those days, I think not only will avoiding the light of the screens help, but also avoiding all the online “chatter.”

    Good luck to everyone who’s doing this!

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    I fall asleep fine and sleep for 4 to 5 hours then keep waking or half waking but fall asleep again just fine. Don’t think that can be blamed on “the screen”.

  • Mac
    5 years ago

    Its just past 11pm – Guess i’ll start tomorrow! Goodnight folks and wish me luck!

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Good luck!

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