Struggling to get a good night’s sleep?
You’re not alone. Globally, approximately one-third of people experience unsatisfying sleep.
So, what can you do about it?
Everyone has their own solution. Some people swear by certain teas made with chamomile and lavender, while others utilize natural supplements like melatonin. However, one of the easiest ways to get a good night’s sleep does not involve medicine: rather, it involves changing your routine.
Your body and brain naturally work better when following a routine.
Creating a sleep schedule is an essential part of good sleep hygiene, and it could allow you to get better (higher volume & quality of) sleep long-term.
Here are 4 simple steps to create your individualized sleep routine.
Step 1. Choose Your Sleep/Wake Times
The first step in setting up your individualized sleep routine is deciding when you want to fall asleep and when you want to wake up each day. Generally, the recommended amount of sleep you should get each night falls somewhere between 6-8 hours, but everyone’s body is different. Some people thrive on less, while others struggle with more. You do you :)
To figure out your best times, it usually works well to start from when you want to wake up and work backwards to see when you should fall asleep. Dr. Michael Breus has created an easy to use sleep calculator if you’d like more help determining your sleep and wake times.
Choosing a set time to go to bed can be difficult when you’re first getting started, but it’s an excellent way to get your body into the habit of relaxing at a certain time every day. Even if you can’t fall asleep, go to bed according to your schedule each night.
Unfortunately, following a routine does mean that you will also get up at the same time every day – even on weekends and days off. No sleeping in (in an ideal world! Be kind to yourself as you try this out…)
If you notice that you’re still tired after following your new schedule for a while, try making small tweaks such as going to bed a little earlier. You can adjust your schedule a small amount at a time until you feel great.
Step 2. Mitigate Potential Disruptions
Now that you know your sleeping times, it’s important to remove anything from your schedule that might disrupt that pattern. For instance, it’s not a good idea to drink a cup of coffee at 9pm if you’re planning to go to sleep at 10pm. Research supports quitting caffeine ~8 hours before bedtime.
Think broadly when considering what may cause you to stay awake longer than you expected, or wake up once asleep, and list options for removal. This may include light sources in your bedroom, temperature control, a full bladder, noisy environments, etc.
You can also evaluate whether you are over-relying on naps. While the occasional twenty-minute nap can be a good way to refresh, the reality is that longer and more frequent daytime sleeping sessions make it harder to fall asleep later. Put simply, your body goes to sleep when it needs sleep (tired), and when it’s the right time to sleep (circadian rhythm). If either of these don’t hold true, it’s tougher to fall and remain asleep.
Step 3. Create Your Bedtime Routine
Improving your sleep goes beyond selecting your sleep/wake times and removing potential disruptions. Sleep health is multi-faceted and fortunately, there are so many easy and often enjoyable tweaks you can try out to improve it. Give a few a try! My coaching clients often find that identifying a few evening activities or habit shifts in the evening also promotes sleep and helps them relax.
Speaking of relaxation, your pre-bed pattern can be all about winding down and cultivating a sense of calm. Consider what this means to you.
Reducing exposure to technology before bed is advisable, and maybe an enjoyable “habit swap” could be reading a book or magazine in your favorite chair. Or perhaps you could make yourself a cup of relaxing decaf tea or take a warm bath before you go to bed. Consider these or other relaxation strategies to bring your mind into a state that supports sleep.
Follow the same routine each night, and eventually, your brain will begin recognizing the things you do as signs that it’s time to fall asleep.
Step 4. Learn – and Test! – Ways to Deal with Problems
Finally, creating a sleep routine is great for your body and mind in the long-term, but it takes a lot of time and dedication for everything to fall into place. Self-compassion and acceptance that there will be ups and downs makes the journey more enjoyable.
You may have a few difficult nights or problematic experiences when you’re first implementing your routine. Let’s not expect to fall asleep straight away every night. Instead, observe what happens, how you feel, and brainstorm ways to deal with problems as they arrive. Test out different strategies and continue iterating.
For example: If you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something relaxing for a bit in a low light. Or keep a pen and paper at your nightstand to jot down worries or ideas and they’ll be there in the morning. This will help you avoid creating an association with frustration when going to bed.
If your new individualized routine of choice doesn’t seem to be helping you relax or improve sleep after a couple of weeks, try something new.
Another problem-solving strategy: Experiment with a sleep diary so you can track your sleeping habits and find out what works best.
Last, if you continue working on your sleeping schedule, and you feel like you’re not seeing any improvements, you may want to speak to a doctor. A professional can conduct a sleep study to determine whether there are any underlying issues that are keeping you from sleeping.
Before We Hit the Hay
I hope this article has got your wheels spinning with fun and easy ways to improve your sleep. Sleep health may take a little trial-and-error, commitment and persistence, but the rewards are aplenty!
Creating a sleep routine that works for you can enhance your life in many ways. Your productivity, physical health, mental health, metabolism, energy levels, and even relationships can all benefit when you’re regularly getting a good night’s sleep.