When your iPhone is your alarm clock, it’s nearly impossible to avoid scrolling through your Instagram feed or checking emails from the moment you wake up. It’s not just you. According to a report from IDC Research, 80 percent of smartphone users check their phones within 15 minutes of opening their eyes.
The thing is, looking at our screens first thing in the morning messes with our biological sleep-wake cycle, a recipe for a stressful day, says Allison Kranich, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital.
That’s not even taking into account the content itself, which can affect your mood and motivation, according to Eugene Beresin, M.D., executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If we start the day depressed, anxious, or pessimistic, it can impact our work and relationships in a negative manner,” he adds.
All this begs the question: What would happen to your brain if you broke your morning smartphone habit for a day? A week? An entire month? Beresin and Kranich explain.
After One Day
Unsurprisingly, the first 24 hours will be the most difficult because “pleasure and reward centers of the brain are activated by things that make us feel good, like sex, drugs, and smartphones,” explains Kranich. Your brain will crave that rush of that feel-good dopamine, triggering a potentially unsettling (not to mention distracting) desire to grab your device. “It’s like any behavioral habit—biting your nails, cleaning your kitchen, tapping your feet,” adds Beresin. “If you don’t do it, it feels like you’re missing something.”
After One Week
“After ceasing an unhealthy behavior—in this case, the use of a smartphone—it takes time for your brain to regenerate dopamine and return to baseline,” explains Kranich. Seven days in, your brain will begin to adjust to your new tech-free morning routine. While the urge to check your cell will still be there, removing it may make you feel more relaxed, focused, and present at this point, Beresin says. Just make sure you’re replacing your a.m. screen time with a good-for-you IRL habit, like sipping a cup of hot tea, adopting a skin-care ritual, or catching up with your partner for an extra 15 minutes.
After One Month
After 30 days of abstinence, there’s a good chance your phone will no longer manipulate your brain’s reward systems. While the evidence is mostly anecdotal at this stage, the itch to look at your device is said to slowly subside. Plus, studies show that replacing onscreen exchanges with actual face-to-face social interactions can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. “Use of smartphones may give us the illusion of being more connected to others, but it ultimately pulls us away from the very thing that makes us human,” explains Kranich. “We need close, emotional, in-person connections with others.”