My problems with sleep started when I was a kid. I used to walk in my sleep. I would have terrible nightmares, and I was afraid I would die in my sleep (which now I realise is the best way to go, so that doesn’t scare me so much).
Then when I was a teenager I became the overnight web editor at a newspaper. I worked from 10pm-6am. For years since I operated on the Night Owl schedule.
My day used to look like this:
3pm: Wake up, breakfast, get ready for the day.
4pm-ish: Walk downtown to a coffee shop.
5pm-9pm: Write, draw, or hang out with friends.
9pm: Walk to work.
10pm-6am: Work, work, work, work, work.
6am: Walk home.
7am: Bed prep, read or watch an episode of something on TV.
My preferred schedule is radically different. In the past two years I have come to realise I’m secretly a morning person. When I wake up at 5am I feel great. I can conquer the world. But my weirdnesses surrounding sleep for all those years have kept me from going to bed early enough to get up at 5am.
The schedule I prefer to be on goes something like this:
8:30pm: Bed prep.
9pm: Read, or watch an episode of something.
6am-8am: Wake up, exercise, shower, breakfast, meditate. Sometimes start laundry or unload the dishwasher.
8am-5pm: Work, work, work, work, work, with an hour break mid-day for lunch, and stretching breaks every couple hours.
5pm-8:30pm: Housework, dinner, family time.
This year — up until I got sick a month ago — I was successful in resetting my sleep schedule. Then I spent a lot of time sick and traveling in the past few months, and my sleep schedule is wonky.
But! Until then, sleep was pretty good and pretty consistent.
When I first started working on this article, I was going to just post a few tips and call it a day. But then my sleep schedule got weird, and I decided to actually put these tips into practice, and document the experience. I reached out to several wellness experts and sleep experts, and put their tips into practice.
Here are the 6 tips that worked for me:
1. Set a schedule.
“Always go to bed at the same time and set your alarm for wake up at the same time,” said Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and co-star, Sex Box, WE tv. “This get your body rhythms used to a regular routine.”
Getting my body on a regular schedule was crucial, and without a schedule any hopes of getting up earlier on a regular basis would have gone out the window. Left to my own devices, I operate on a day that is closer to 26hrs, and this is problematic when our day is actually 24hrs long.
I still find myself operating on that schedule when left to my own devices, so for me having a bedtime alarm (and a good morning alarm) are critical.
2. Turn off screens.
“Turn off the screen within 2 hours of bedtime,” suggested Michael Kaminowitz, the creator of Welli, a suite of wellness apps for the iPhone. “Holding a bright LCD or LED screen up to your face 2 hours before bed tricks your brain into thinking its seeing daylight, which prevents the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy when the sun goes down.”
This was the hardest thing for me to stick to, and here’s why:
Twenty-years ago my husband was in a terrible car accident and required major surgery to put his face back together. His nose was completely rebuilt, and his face is full of metal plates and screws. As a result, he snores like a mo-fo. Unfortuately, there’s really nothing to be done about it. In order to drown out his snoring, I need to listen to white noise or meditation tones with the Relax Melodies Oriental app through noise cancelling headphones. Without this, I can’t sleep.
Unfortunately, I turn on my phone, open the app, and sometimes get distracted by a text, or by social media. Then it’s another 20 minutes before I can sleep.
And it’s not just our phones that need to be off; it’s also televisions and computers. “These activities tend to rev up anxiety and excitatory threshold,” explains Dr. Walfish. Checking notifications before sleep? Replying to texts? Binge watching Netflix? They all tend to rev you up and keep your brain engaged.
While I need to be able to drown my husband out, and can’t totally turn off my screens 2 hours before bedtime, I have started putting my phone on Do Not Disturb about 2 hours before bed to keep notifications to a minimum. I no longer allow myself to check my notifications right before bed, which takes a great deal of restraint.
3. Create a routine.
“Create a routine that winds you down in the evening and sets the mood for sleep. After dinner, dim the lights turn on calming music, and take a soothing warm bath,” Dr. Walfish told me.
Making bedtime about self-care has been incredibly helpful. Instead of rushing off to bed with my brain still on “wake” mode, a sleep routine helps you tell your brain it’s time to wind down.
My bedtime routine includes the usual like brushing teeth and taking out contacts, but also includes moisturising my face with coconut oil, and dabbing sleep balm on my temples. I also take a few, deep, centering breaths, and
4. Make sure your alarm clocks are heard, but not seen.
“The alarm clock should be in your bedroom to wake you up in the morning. Anxious glancing followed by calculating and then ruminating about ‘when will I get to sleep’ or ‘how many hours of sleep do I have left’ is a major cause of insomnia,” says Dr. Robert Rosenberg, who is board certified in sleep medicine. “If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, put that clock where it can be heard but out of sight.”
I hate having an alarm clock visible. When I stay at a hotel, I will actually unplug it or turn it around.
5. Exercise daily.
The days I exercise I sleep better than the days I don’t. That doesn’t mean I’m running 5 miles a day or anything, but movement makes a big difference. For me this is is a combination of yoga and weight lifting. For you this may be something else. Movement as simple as jumping jacks, jumping rope, going for a walk, can help you sleep better.
6. Stop eating 12-16hrs before waking.
I discovered this as a trick to combat jet lag, but it totally worked for resetting my sleep schedule in just ONE night.
Here it is:
Make sure your final meal for the day is 12-16 hours before you want to wake up.
If you want to wake up at 5am, try not to eat past 5pm. When you wake up at 5am, eat something right away, and drink a big glass of water. I found it helps to keep a piece of fruit or a small bowl of mixed nuts next to the bed so as soon as I wake up I can have something to eat.
These are the 6 tips that have helped me reset my sleep schedule and get to bed early. What ones work for you? Let me know in the comments.