How to actually go to bed when you promised yourself you would

Hello, Daylight Savings! Oh hey, remember that new year’s resolution you made about getting enough sleep / not snoozing / not surfing the web until 1am?

I made this resolution several years ago and haven’t had to make it since. The key to waking up on time is going to bed on time. And the key to going to bed on time is deciding in advance when you’ll go to bed.

Follow along as I coach my favorite client, Sleepy Sammy, through how to go to bed on time.

1. Set an alarm for when you want to wake up each morning for the next workweek.

Just for the next workweek. If you work on weekdays, then decide when you want to wake up on Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, and Fri.

Sleepy Sammy is self-employed and works 7 days a week with Wednesday and Saturday afternoons off. He also takes a few days off at the end of each month.

He wants to wake up at 6am, but currently he wakes up at 10am… on a good day. So for the next week, Monday through Sunday, he wants to wake up at 9:30am. He sets his alarm for 9:30am.

2. Decide how much sleep you want to get each night

Sleepy Sammy wants to get 8 hours of sleep a night.

3. Estimate how much time it takes you to prep for sleep

Sleepy Sammy:

10 minutes to brush his teeth and do his nightly routine
+ 45 minutes to read
+ 5 minutes to fall asleep
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Total of 1 hour from when he says, “I’m going to bed. Goodnight!” to when he has conked out.

Side note: According to sleep research, falling asleep in under 15 min is a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep (Sleepy Sammy did not need sleep research to tell him this).

4. Calculate what time you’ll “go to bed”

Working backwards:

Wake up at 9:30am
— 8 hours of sleep
— 1 hour to get ready for bed
— — — — — — — — — — — — —
“Go to bed” by 12:30am

5. Set alarms to remind yourself to go to bed

Set a 10 min and 1 min daily alarm. The first is to tell you to wrap up what you’re doing. The second is a BACKUP in case you get caught up in something and forget.

Sleepy Sammy sets an alarm for 12:20AM and another one for 12:29AM.

Aim to finish your activity BETWEEN the first and second alarm, NOT as close to the second alarm as possible. Do not snooze the first alarm or you’ve defeated the purpose of the alarms.

Use a lullaby-like alarm sound. Sleepy Sammy uses Twinkle on the iPhone.

6. Follow your alarm strictly for a week — no analyzing!

If you’re anything like Sleepy Sammy, you like to analyze and tweak your habits as you go. This is one of the leading causes of death for most new habits. Analyzing easily slips into rationalizing, which easily slips into giving up altogether. So no analyzing, and no tweaking! Just do whatever you decided on for that week.

7. Analyze, tweak, and repeat for next week

At the end of the week, make a new commitment for the following week. Repeat until you’re waking up when you want to.

Sleepy Sammy is making the following changes for week 2:

  • Wake up at 8:45am
  • Now that he’s less sleep deprived, it takes him about 15 minutes to fall asleep
  • He’s in an exciting part of his book and might read for an hour at night

So now Sleepy Sammy will start “going to bed” by 11:35pm:

  • 11:35pm Brush teeth, nightly routine
  • 11:45pm Read
  • 12:45am Fall asleep
  • 8:45am Wake up

On Sunday, Sleepy Sammy sets his alarms to 8:45am, 11:25pm, and 11:34pm for the following week.

8. At the end of each month, reward yourself with peanut butter fudge brownie ice cream

Sleepy Sammy doesn’t like ice cream, so he buys a new book instead 🙂

That’s it!

But wait, what if I fall off the wagon?

First, remember that it’s perfectly normal to fall off the wagon. Life is not about striving to become an automaton.

However, if you find yourself failing completely at your sleeping goal (or any goal, for that matter), diagnose and treat yourself:

  1. Take note (literally, write about it) of the exact point at which you fail. Are you snoozing one of the alarms? Did you underestimate how long you’ll read for? Haven’t set any alarms because you just can’t muster up the enthusiasm to start and fail yet another goal?
  2. At this failure point, what emotion are you experiencing? Dread of the upcoming day? Addiction to a certain app? Stress? Depression?
  3. Address the issue. This topic warrants its own discussion, but I’ll just say this: It could be an easy fix once you’re aware of it, or it could be something as large as realizing you need to change careers (yup, this happened to me).
  4. Once you’ve addressed the issue, then retry your sleeping goal.

What if my schedule is irregular?

As an actor, my schedule is often at the mercy of directors. Early mornings, late nights, 14-hour days, you name it. When my schedule gets crazy, I recalculate and reset my alarms on a daily basis instead of a weekly basis.

In general, however, it ultimately comes down to how much you value the benefits of regular sleep vs the benefits of whatever is driving your irregular schedule.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just <insert other solution here>?

Quite possibly! Do what works for you. It could be an exciting book that draws you to bed, an app that gradually turns down the blue light, an accountability buddy, an alarm clock that runs away, … Experiment! But remember not to analyze and tweak too often.

In fact I’d love to hear what works or doesn’t work for you. Message me or leave a comment now or in a month, when you’ve tried the above method. Thanks in advance! 🙂

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