“[This nighttime scrolling] usually happens when something during the day, like at work or in a relationship, feels very out of control, so at night the mind tries to gain control of those emotions by how to push them away,” Josephson shared in a recent Instagram post. To do that, the brain latches onto social media and endless feeds of unrelated content to distract from anxious thoughts lurking in the background.
Below, Josephson explains why this happens and what you can do to protect your sleep and holiness, both in moments and over time.
For more on the paralyzing power of social media, listen to a recent episode of The Well + Good Podcast on this topic:
Why you might feel like you can’t stop scrolling on your phone at night
In most cases, scrolling through social media feeds provides a welcome escape from the anxiety-inducing realities of life, providing an endless stream of content with authentic opportunities. Plus, it’s an outlet that you have full control over whenever you want. This can make the routine especially seductive at night, says Josephson, after the day’s obligations are fulfilled and when uncomfortable emotions can surface.
Usually you can’t even awareness of these painful emotions in the first place because their tendency to roll (and roll and roll) causes them to be repressed. “It’s important to understand that the brain’s main job is to protect us,” says Josephson. “When an uncomfortable emotion comes up, our brains want to get rid of that unpleasant feeling as soon as possible — even if the feeling doesn’t actually pose any danger.” Cue: the feeling you can’t stop scrolling at night.
“When numbing [difficult] emotions become your goal, the escapist routine feels familiar and therefore safe to the body. ” —Meg Josephson, MSW, therapist
The point is, turning to a distraction like scrolling every time a difficult feeling comes up only paralyzes your mind rather than allowing you to feel and deal with that emotion. And “when you numb these emotions, the escapist routine feels familiar and therefore safe to the body,” says Josephson, which makes you more likely to do it before you go. sleep.
But despite that surface-level comfort, the end-effect of scrolling before bed may not be a positive one. Not only do you potentially numb your sense of need to confront and, on a tangible level, delay essential sleep, you also put yourself at risk of being agitated or irritated by the 24-hour news cycle (doomscrolling). , anyone?) as well as exposure to a lot of blue light, both of which can make it harder to fall asleep afterward. And again, that just means less sleep, which is not good for your mental or physical health.
How to manually stop scrolling midway
At first, breaking the bedtime scroll pattern will require you to literally not be able to: Try charging your phone in another room and storing it away for at least an hour before you go. sleep, if possible, Josephson suggests. (And if you can leave it there overnight and use an actual alarm clock to wake up, that’s even better).
Meanwhile, without the phone to scroll, you’ll have the space and time to create a nighttime ritual that feels comfortable and safe at this point but that has a more effective end result. . Josephson recommends doing some gentle stretching or deep breathing, reading a book or journaling – but anything that helps you mentally relax can be part of a “sleep cycle” or this bedtime ritual.
“Start small and stick with it,” says Josephson. “Over time, your brain will begin to associate the activities you choose with a good night’s sleep.” And that will only make falling asleep when the time comes that much easier. “Remember that this is by no means perfect either,” she added. “It will feel like a gift to your mind and body after a long day.”
How to break the bedtime scroll pattern over time
Because choosing to scroll — like choosing to delay bedtime — can provide a sense of control and agency, it is often short control the cause of this behavior in the first place. Therefore, it can be helpful to reflect during the day on what is truly within your control and what is beyond its control, so that when the night comes, you are less likely to find yourself worrying about things. beyond its control. and self-soothing by rolling.
To do this, create a controllable/uncontrollable list by carefully organizing the interests swirling in your mind into one group or another. For example, you can’t control how your boss acts at work, but you can control the work-life boundaries you set. You can’t control whether the rain stops you from going for an afternoon walk, but you can nonetheless control whether you decide to take a mental wellness break with the computer.
“Your fear part can be hard to distinguish between the two,” says Josephson. So, she suggests asking yourself a more specific question if everything you’re writing down seems to fall into the “uncontrollable” category: “Is there anything I can do today to Will there be less pressure tomorrow?” This way, you can come up with actionable steps for your child to feel in control of almost any situation. “When we start getting too big, it just overwhelms us and makes us freeze even more,” she says.
If you identify something worrisome that is beyond your control — for example, the health of a sick family member, a spouse’s poor behavior — practice noticing when your mind focus on that and then go back to focusing on what’s right in the present moment, says Josephson. “That means directing your attention to your breath, any sounds in the room, the color of the walls,” she says. “When we shift our focus slowly and gently, we are teaching ourselves to return to the safety of the present.”
Doing this habit regularly can make you feel more in control of your emotions as night falls and less likely to fall into oblivion during sleepless nights.