I often talk about the importance of getting enough sleep. Being well rested increases your willpower, your energy, and your focus. It’s a key ingredient in the self-improvement recipe. It’s also one of the most difficult ones to find.
Sleep is a mysterious beast, and many of us have rough relationships with it some or all of the time. Something that I know very many people (including myself) struggle with is just going to bed on time. Transitioning from daily life into sleep can be difficult to manage. A lot of the time, getting the ball rolling is the hardest part.
That’s why I’m coming to you today with my best strategies for getting into bed and going to sleep at the time that you intend to. I’ll admit that I’m not perfect at this, and I do have days where I stay up later than I intended to, but for the most part, I have figured out how to consistently go to bed when it’s bedtime. And lemme tell ya, it makes a huge difference in how I feel each day.
Create a nighttime routine
The best thing that I’ve ever done when it comes to going to bed on time is creating a nighttime routine.
Many people know that creating a morning routine is a great way to transition from sleeping to getting things done, and it all but guarantees that your morning is productive. But somehow, there’s less emphasis placed on creating a nighttime routine.
I suspect that this is because nighttime routines are less glamorous. They don’t fit in with the “I’m too cool for sleep, I’d rather hustle” mentality that many people hold. As adults, most people aren’t putting much thought into what they do in the hours before sleep. We’re too busy and too tired.
By creating a nighttime routine ahead of time, you can just go through the motions of the routine, rather than relying on your increasingly sleepy brain to figure out what you need to do before bed to get a good night of sleep. Not only that, but having an intentional routine gives you time to transition from the bustle of the day to the stillness of sleep.
So often, we try to jump straight from whatever activity we were doing last right into bed. This habit means that you’ll still be wide awake and likely thinking about whatever happened last in your day when you get into bed, making it harder to sleep. This then makes sleep unappealing, meaning you’re more likely to scroll through your phone for ages, rather than fall asleep.
Creating a nighttime routine gives your brain and body the opportunity to transition smoothly from day to night, helping you fall asleep when you hit the pillow.
How to create a nighttime routine
To create a nighttime routine, I recommend first thinking about how long you have to complete your routine. Unlike a morning routine, which often needs to be short and efficient, it’s better to dedicate a little more time to your nighttime routine if you can.
Taking a least twenty minutes to relax and enjoy the routine will help you feel ready to get into bed when the time comes. You have a much better chance of feeling sleepy and relaxed if you take twenty minutes to wind down than if you take two minutes to wind down.
When it comes to deciding what to put in your nighttime routine, consider things that make you feel relaxed and content. Going to bed on time is primarily a mental game, so a large part of your aim is to relax your mind and make it want to sleep.
Yes, taking a warm shower and doing some slow, light stretching will relax your body, but it’s just as important to use your routine to help you stop doing all of those things that make your brain want to stay awake.
If you often find yourself staying up too late because you’re on social media, watching Netflix, playing a video game, or doing some other activity that your brain enjoys, use your nighttime routine as a tool to pull you away from those activities. If you can create a nighttime routine that you enjoy doing, you’ll have a much easier time putting down the things that keep you from sleeping.
Check out this post about nighttime routines if you want some more in-depth suggestions for how to create a nighttime routine and what kind of steps you might want to include.
Set some ground rules
The next best thing I’ve done for myself, second only to creating a nighttime routine, is creating rules about when I’m allowed to be on my phone.
After a bit of thought, it’s not at all surprising that setting rules about when you can use devices is a helpful method for getting to bed on time. Parents do this for their children all the time. Why not do the same for ourselves?
The thing that most often holds me back from going to bed on time is getting sucked into the Reddit vortex after I’ve gotten into bed. To combat this, I’ve created a personal rule against getting on my phone after 8:30, and it worked surprisingly well.
While being on my phone is the specific thing that I struggled with, different people will struggle with different things. Whether it’s your laptop, video games, or TV, customize your own rules to work for you.
If you feel you don’t have the self control to stay off of your devices or are likely to accidentally get on them out of habit, take it a step farther. You could give your phone to someone else to hold on to for the rest of the evening or use an app that prevents you from accessing certain apps or websites. Unplugging the TV or putting your laptop in a closet could also help you commit to the rule.
In a similar vein, putting my phone on Do Not Disturb or even airplane mode can be quite helpful when it comes to getting to bed on time. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has stayed up hours later than I intended to because I got sucked into a conversation.
Socializing is great, but there’s plenty of time for that earlier in the day. To get to bed on time, you have to commit to making the last bit of your day you-time, which may mean being a little more difficult to contact.
Seize the day
Your desire to sleep at the end of the day largely comes down not just to what you do in the hours right before bed but also to what you do throughout the rest of the day.
If you spend the day on the couch, don’t get any exercise, and don’t accomplish much, chances are you’ll feel groggy at the end of the day. But you likely won’t feel truly tired. Your evening will likely look a lot like your day—lazy, uneventful, and sluggish. There’s something about that kind of day that makes it very difficult to go to bed.
On the other hand, if you’re up bright and early, hit the gym, and have a day that’s full but not overwhelming or stressful, your chances of feeling ready for bed when the time comes go way up.
Because of this, going to bed on time often involves a shift in lifestyle. Incorporating more movement into your day, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and generally just going after life will help to leave you feeling ready for bed when the time comes. And when you’re actually feeling tired and ready to sleep, it’s much easier to go to bed, rather than having to fight your desire to stay up.
Take care of your mental health
Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. It can be difficult to access adequate and affordable mental health care.
If you have access to it, getting professional help to treat mental health issues can be a game changer. Anxiety, depression, and an array of other issues can all make it difficult both to sleep and to go to bed on time.
Even if professional help is out of reach, there are still things that you can do on your own that may help, not the least of which is meditation.
Not only has meditation been shown to help people sleep, it can also be used to help treat anxiety and depression. From personal experience, I know that it’s the best tool I have to keep my anxiety under control.
Though people often think of meditation as a morning activity, I often meditate before bed. If I’m having trouble shifting from being “on” to being ready to sleep, meditation helps with that. It’s also great for when my mind is racing or I can’t stop thinking about something, whether that thing has me worried or excited.
If you’re a little skeptical of the meditation thing or not really sure about what you’re doing, this post dispels some meditation myths and can help you get started.
Cut the caffeine
It took me entirely too long to figure out just how much caffeine was impacting my ability to sleep, and now that I’m aware of it, it’s completely changed my perspective on coffee. What I once saw as a harmless morning drink actually has the power to rob me of hours of sleep each night.
Caffeine impacts different people in different ways. For me, and I suspect this is true for many other people, even small amounts of caffeine will cause my thoughts to race as I’m trying to fall asleep. Even if I’ve had a busy day and I know I should sleep, if I’ve had caffeine, it’s almost like I would rather think than sleep. I can be bundled up, cozy in my bed, and off of all of my devices, and still, staying awake thinking seems more appealing than sleeping.
As scary as weaning yourself off of caffeine might sound, it gets much easier as you go. As you lower your caffeine intake, you’ll likely find yourself having a much easier time falling asleep at a reasonable hour each night, leading you to feel more rested and awake the next morning.
Pushing through the first few days or weeks may be difficult, but after that initial hurdle, you’ll likely find that you fall asleep faster, sleep more soundly, and wake up feeling more rested. And if you do have caffeine again after cutting back, make a note of whether or not you struggled to go to bed on time that night. You might be surprised by what you find.
Don’t forget your morning routine
Let’s be real; some (or all) of the time, we just don’t want to go to bed because we’re trying to avoid tomorrow. Whether you’re just having a lot of fun tonight, or tomorrow isn’t looking like it will be a good day, it can feel like going to bed is going to make tomorrow come more quickly than you want it to. On nights like these, staying up late is just procrastinating.
The thing that has helped me work through this and go to bed on time is creating a morning routine that I love. Especially when I was working a 9-5 that I hated, I wanted to stay up late every night because I dreaded mornings. Getting up earlier so that I could have time to myself in the morning made it easier to go to bed on time.
From personal experience, I’ve found it’s much easier to go to bed on time and wake up early to do something that I love than it is to go to bed on time and wake up a little later to do something that I hate. If you’re really enjoying whatever activity is keeping you up late, schedule time in the morning to do it instead. You’ll have a much easier time waking up and getting started with your day.
This last bit of advice is probably going to sound pretty odd and out there, but I want to throw it in here because it’s been helpful for me:
I have no idea if this is true for everyone, but I’ve realized that when I get a full 8 hours of sleep, I’ll usually dream shortly before I wake up and be able to remember the dream after I’m awake. I don’t know about you guys, but I love dreaming. I find it fun and most of my dreams are enjoyable.
Because I’m very likely to remember my dream if I get a full 8 hours and unlikely to have/remember my dreams if I don’t, hoping for a good dream is a weird little bit of encouragement that makes me want to go to bed on time.
Do you have any tidbits of advice that help you go to bed on time? I’d love to hear them in a comment!