Last month I vowed to take time off from watching TV. I worried I was wasting time that could be spent in better ways. I entered that commitment with optimism for what I could achieve during the time off. As it turned out instead, my body was waiting to teach me some lessons. Here is what I learned...
I wake up early to workout, so come nighttime I'm pretty tired. During my time off from TV I felt a stronger sense of fatigue than usual. My whole body felt deeply tired. Some nights by 8:00pm it was hard to keep my eyes open. I would go to bed earlier and fall right asleep. I'd wake up the next day feeling well-rested.
I think that deep fatigue was my body winding down for sleep. It could be that when I watch TV, I'm distracted from noticing that deep fatigue. Or perhaps so long as I remain alert to the TV, my body doesn't fully engage in the process of winding down.
As the NIH explains, exposure to light from TV hinders the body’s process of increasing melatonin levels which help you sleep. I had figured my usual rule of cutting off the TV at 9:00pm was better than nothing. But I was still disrupting my body's ability to increase melatonin levels, putting me behind in the process of preparing for sleep.
I am now more mindful to allow my body the proper time it needs to wind down. I will still occasionally turn on the TV at the end of a long day, but if sleep is my goal then the TV stays off.
In the past, the nights that I didn't watch TV I was busy and productive. I thought nixing TV altogether would bring on more of those nights. What I now realize is that the nights I am productive, it is because I have the energy for it. During my break, on nights that I would typically turn to TV out of fatigue, I instead found myself turning to simple things like crosswords, reading, or just lounging around. Naturally, I started to feel the same guilt as when I was watching TV.
See, I have always had a problem with permitting time for relaxation. In the evenings I have a persistent nagging feeling that there is something else I can squeeze in before the day is through. I try to eat healthy, workout, get good sleep, practice mindfulness, but I've had trouble embracing evening relaxation as part of my self-care routine. I've realized it really is up to me to regulate my thinking to promote and accommodate what my body truly needs.
I'm sure I am not the only one who struggles to allow time for relaxation. I wonder if we intuitively turn to the TV for that reason. With other forms of relaxation we have more chances to be mindful of what we are doing (or not doing for those who think like I do). The engagement of the TV may help us to us feel like we are still being productive or it could be providing a great distraction from those feelings of the "shoulds". Either way, I'm reminded that between “go!” and “sleep!” there should be another component to the day: relaxation and winding down.
I need to reframe activities of enjoyment and relaxation as part of my to-do list. I can replace the TV with other forms of relaxation, but I can't replace relaxation with other tasks or chores. Both deserve a space on the list. The nights that I am really tired, I will allow time for “easy” things like crossword puzzles or reading, yoga, sipping tea and letting my mind wander...or maybe some TV time. I remind myself that I am tired because I have had a full day. I can check-in with myself to make sure that I am being purposeful with my actions.
I don’t have children, caregiving duties, or other responsibilities that keep those burning the candle at both ends. If you are a caregiver, parent, or just a particularly busy person, is there any way you can incorporate a “winding down” practice, even on a small scale? Can you choose one action and reframe it as your winding down practice?
One quick last lesson from stopping TV: I greatly reduced my use of social media, primarily Twitter. Once I was disconnected from TV it felt like my brain/body rejected any other kind of distraction; it liked being in this more present state. Breaking the "spell" of the TV had a ripple effect. I realized just how removed I was from the rest of my surroundings. Since then I've made big changes in what I have available to me (deleted Twitter from my phone) and how often it is checked.
I encourage you to switch up your routine. You never know what insights you may develop. In my case I better connected with the messages my body was trying to send. It's also interesting to see how the activities of our day ultimately contribute to our sleep. Which provides the perfect segue way into advertising the SAS Work/Life RFC and HCC Sleep Transformation 2017. You don't have to be enrolled in the the Sleep Transformation in order to attend the seminars, employees and their families can register for each individual seminar which continue through October.