3 Steps To Winning The Battle Of Getting To Bed Earlier

SUMMARY POINTS

> Getting more sleep is the key to a healthy stress-free life
> Cut back on evening screen time to make more sleep time
> Set up and follow a transitional wind-down routine

It’s so hard to get to bed earlier with all the shit that goes on in life.

You spend the entire day at work, grinding away at all the tasks, assignments and projects plus all the random things that get dropped in your lap by your manager.

You do your best to get ahead, but then all the meetings end up chewing up a bunch of time that takes away from real work getting done, plus they add on more action items on your already full plate.

It’s the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back” thing.

Then when you get home, it’s another set of tasks to complete and other ordeals to deal with. If it’s not with the kids, it’s with your significant other. If it’s not with the family, it’s the bills or the car or the house.

It goes on and on.

By the time dinner’s done, all you want is some time to yourself to decompress and relax for a bit. After all, you deserve it. But, you know that you should just go to bed earlier so that you’re not so damn tired the next day.

The battle is between relaxing at night with TV and tomorrow’s fatigue. The instant gratification of TV is far more powerful than the fatigue that will set in tomorrow.

So, you plop down on the couch, turn on the TV and start streaming your fav series and watch several episodes and then, a few more until it’s midnight.

Then, as you feel the onset of drowsiness, you finish out the current episode and get into bed. As you settle in, you grab your phone and scroll through a few things and watch a few short video clips.

Before you know it, it’s past midnight. You put the phone down and try to sleep, but now, you’re wide awake and your mind is racing with all sorts of thoughts.

This Post-It note diagram from Chaz Hutton sums it up perfectly.

(Credit: Chaz Hutton)

After tossing and turning in bed while thinking about all sorts of random stuff, you finally drift off into sleep.

You end up only getting a few measly hours of solid sleep in and now, it’s morning and you’re dragging ass just getting to the bathroom.

It’s gonna be a long and tiring day.

You tell yourself that tonight is the night you get to bed earlier.

Sleep Is Important - No Duh, Right?

It doesn’t take a medical degree to know that sleep is important. When you don’t get enough solid sleep, you’re just not “with it” all day long. Things are harder to process, figure out and do.

There are a host of both physical and mental effects of not getting enough zzz’s at night:

Trouble remembering simple things: wait, what was the question?

Degraded cognitive skills: 1+1 = 3, right?

Alters metabolism: all your pants are getting tight.

Behavioral instability: I hate your guts, bitch!

Weakened immunity: cough, cough, sniffle, sneeze, barf

Increased blood pressure: your forehead veins are bulging.

Premature aging: looking and feeling like your 10 years older.

This is all on top of the biggies of increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

In fact, when you deprive yourself of consistent sleep, you “affect your mood, memory and health in far-reaching and surprising ways,” says Johns Hopkins sleep researcher Patrick Finan, Ph.D.

(Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine)

The bottom line: sleep is critical for our health and overall well-being.

It gives our minds and bodies the downtime to heal, repair and recover from the day’s activities. Without it, we’re just wearing things down, until at some point, things start to fail.

And when things start to fail, it can really screw things up in your life. Then, in turn, those other things make your life even harder. It’s a downward spiral.

The main culprit for lack of sleep isn’t due to some obscure disease or ailment. For nearly all of us, it’s simply because our lives have become too overburdened with obligations, commitments and distractions.

And it’s that last one, distractions, has been the biggest one to blame lately. 

So Many Damn Distractions For “Relaxation” That Keep Us Awake

Now more than ever before, we’ve got tons of distractions that keep us from going to sleep when we should. But, it wasn’t always like this.

Think back to the pre-internet days.

About the only thing that really kept us up was TV. There was enough cable channels or even just normal broadcast channels that we could channel surf our time away instead of getting some zzz’s.

If there really wasn’t any good shows on TV, we either just sacked out and went to sleep or pushed further into the night watching infomercials or the QVC channel.

Today, it’s a whole new level of distractions beyond traditional TV. It’s streaming movies and shows. It’s social media from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. And of course, YouTube. Oh, and let’s not forget about our online shopping temptations with Amazon.

And they’re all “relaxation” kind of activities - ways to decompress after a hard day at work.

The biggest time sucks are unquestionably TV content via cable, satellite or online streaming from Netflix and/or Amazon Prime. According to the latest Nielsen research, the average American watches over 5 hours of TV every night...5 hours!

On paper, five hours seems like a lot but when you’re watching your fav series, those five hours go by as if it was more like a single hour.

Screens Trick Our Minds Into Thinking It’s Still Daylight

All that screen time we expose our minds to every night fools our brains into thinking that it’s still two o’clock in the afternoon when in reality, it’s closer to midnight.

Whether it’s your flat screen TV on the wall, iPad, laptop, tablet or smartphone, all screens emit a blue wavelength light. And, it’s this blue light that messes up our normal circadian body rhythms for sleep.

If you’ve ever seen a dark living room with a TV on, from the outside, you’ll see that blue light flickering - that’s what we’re talking about here.

Our brains interpret that light as daylight and it acts like a stimulant and it prevents our normal sleepiness signals from ever taking hold in our brains.

It’s the reason why it’s recommended that you go for a walk outside during the day to perk yourself up after a big lunch or especially if you’re trying to fight jet lag.

These things are great for keeping us awake and alert during the day, but they’re totally counter-productive at night.

The 3-Step Process To Get To Bed Earlier & Get More Solid Sleep

Getting to bed earlier isn’t as easy as it seems, especially with all the tempting distractions that are right at our fingertips.

Yes, you could resort to some alcohol or some melatonin pills, but those are just quick fixes that aren’t a long-term sustainable way to fall asleep.

We prefer and recommend a more natural process, one that jives with your body’s natural patterns and cycles.

This process will require some discipline on your part, but if you can see it through, you’ll be off in la-la-land a lot earlier and faster.

Step #1: Cut Out (Some) Bullshit Activities To Make Room

Let’s all be honest here. Every single one of us needs some time to decompress at night after work. It’s a “must-have” activity. And, having some downtime is good for us.

But, there’s good healthy downtime and then there’s the bullshit kind.

You probably already know where we’re going with this.

In a perfect world, there would be no evening chores, tasks and other to-do’s. We’d all be eating an all-organic, fresh, yummy and healthy dinner followed by a full hour of meditation in a dedicated quiet room and then, blissfully falling asleep in bed.

Yeah, right...this is the real world and that ain’t happenin’.

We’ve got shit to take care of after work and at home. And when things finally do settle down, we justifiably reward ourselves with downtime by watching TV. It’s completely passive entertainment and relaxing.

And let’s face it, it feels good.

What we all need to do is just cut back on it, not eliminate it. Trying to do away with all our evening indulgences cold turkey isn’t realistic. We just need to dial it back to make room for an earlier bedtime routine.

So, instead of binge-watching a bunch of episodes, watch just one or two. Instead of scrolling through social media for an hour, trim it back to 30 minutes.

Your goal is to cut back two hours.

One hour is to get to bed earlier to get that extra hour of sleep and another hour is for the transitional time to get your mind and body ready for sleep. The transitional wind-down time is key here.

So, if you normally go to bed around midnight, plan on getting into bed an hour earlier at 11pm. And to get into bed by 11pm, start your transitional routine by 10pm.

So, think through how you spend your evenings at home and see where you can cut back on some of the bullshit stuff.

Step #2: Set Up Your Alarm & Follow A 1-Hour Wind-Down Routine

Top professional athletes from around the world don’t go from all-out effort to immediate rest. They all have a cool-down period that includes low-impact movement and post workout stretching. It allows their body to make the transition from intense activity to rest.

We need to do the same thing at night.

Running around the house taking care of tasks, sorting through mail, cleaning the dishes, prepping the kids, etc. all takes energy and focus. You can’t just hop right into bed and expect to fall asleep easily - that won’t work.

What we need is a transitional phase that is in between the evening mayhem and when we actually crawl into bed. This is our “cool-down” or wind-down phase where our minds can slow down the pace a bit.

What we all need is a trigger signal to get us to stop what we’re doing and start the transitional wind-down.

We all wake up to our alarms in the morning. It’s time to flip that around and start using our alarms to get us to bed.

So, using the same example from above, you’d set your alarm for 10pm to signal the start of your wind-down routine. Or, set it for 9:45pm to give yourself a 15 minute heads-up so that you can finish up whatever you’re doing.

Once you’re ready, follow this 60-minute sequence. It works really well for most people.

A) Take A Warm Shower & Then Cool Down (5-10 min)

Our minds and bodies are incredible machines of hormones and systems that react very predictably to certain external factors.

For example, after you eat a really heavy meal, you always get food coma. And that’s because your stomach is actively digesting all that food and needs more blood flow to work its muscles to digest and break down the food. With less blood flow to the brain and body, you get sleepy and drowsy.

A similar biological response happens when you sleep. When you’re sleeping, your body temp naturally drops a few degrees. And, this is what we want to replicate and trigger in your body during this transitional phase.

And a good way to do this is with a warm (not hot) shower or bath.

The warm water does two important things: one, it raises your body temp up a bit. And two, it helps to relax your mind and body. Not only are you cleaning your body, but you’re also mentally washing away the day’s stresses.

After you get out of the shower, allow your body to naturally cool itself down. This is what will get your mind and body primed for rest and relaxation. Don’t try to accelerate the process, just let it happen on its own.

And, while it’s cooling down, go on to the next key step. 

B) Do Quiet, Relaxing, Screen-Free Activities (50 min)

We already talked about the issues with blue-light emitting screens and how they keep you awake and prevent the onset of real restful sleep.

So, during this transitional phase, as your body is cooling down from the warm shower or bath, keep the relaxing vibe going by sticking with “analog” activities that don’t get you all amp’ed up.

The primary goal of this wind-down phase is to bring down your brain activity to low levels.

Here are some of our fav technology-free evening activities that you can do to wind-down. Combine a few and/or mix-n-match to what you enjoy the most.

Read a real paper-based book

Do simple breathing meditations

Write down ten positive things that happened today

Start or write an entry into a diary/journal

Complete one adult coloring pattern

Listen to calm and peaceful instrumental music

Draw and/or sketch basic shapes

Brew and sip on some non-caffeinated herbal tea

Write a piece of snail-mail to send to your BFF

Hang out and pet your dog or cat calmly

Do slow and simple body stretches

The great thing about the above ideas is that there isn’t anything that’s triggering your curiosity to keep going. You can stop at anytime and not feel compelled to see what happens next. It’s the exact opposite of how TV series work - they hook you in with a cliffhanger to keep watching.

Try any of the above activities and if you can, do them with only a single desk lamp on rather than having all your room lights on. By having just one light on in the room, it provides enough light to do your activity but not so much that it starts to wake you up.

C) Put Phone On Airplane Mode & Crawl Into Bed When You Get Drowsy (5 min)

When you feel the onset of drowsiness, it’s time to do the final bathroom visit, brush up and do the final pre-sleep tasks.

If possible, try to have these pre-sleep bathroom tasks done right after you shower, so that when you’re feeling drowsy during your analog activity, you can just turn off the light and go directly to bed.

When you’re in bed, you’ll be tempted to turn on your smartphone and scroll through some feeds and maybe watch a few short videos, but don’t give in to the temptation. The moment you start glancing at that screen, you’re nullifying all the gains you made earlier and you’ll be waking up your brain and delaying sleep.

So, put your phone on airplane mode, plug it in and kiss it goodnight.

Don’t worry, all the social media bullshit will still be there when you wake up in the morning.

Step #3: Drift Off Into Sleep With A Simple Slow Breathing Meditation

At this point, both your mind and body should be mellowed out quite a bit. The room’s been only dimly lit with one lamp and your room temp should be on the cooler side - about 65F to 70F.

After turning off the light and sliding under the covers, you can begin to let yourself fully unwind those very last stages of wakefulness and allow sleepiness to take over.

During the first few minutes in bed, your mind may begin to wander and will want to wake you up with some random thoughts, worries, reminders etc.

To prevent this from hijacking your sleep, keep a small notepad and pen on your bedside table. This way, if something does come up, you can easily jot it down and set your mind free from having to remember, “don’t forget about this tomorrow” things.

It takes roughly an average of 15-20 minutes to fall asleep - sometimes more depending on what’s going on in your life.

This is the perfect time to do simple breathing meditations. Think of this like counting sheep but with seconds and your breathing instead of mental sheep.

Simply inhale slowly to a count of 5-10 seconds.

Hold your breath for a few seconds.

Exhale slowly to the same count.

Repeat this for several minutes to further lower your heart rate and relax your mind and body. The first few times will be difficult, but once you get past the first few nights, you’ll be able to knock out within 15 minutes of your head hitting the pillow.

Get More Sleep & Get More Out Of Life

The battle for more sleep has never been so hard. With all the craziness in our lives and all of the distractions that we have within our immediate reach, it’s damn near impossible to get to bed early and get enough solid sleep.

But, you’ve got a secret weapon - it’s called discipline.

And we’re not talking boatloads of military discipline here.

It’s just a small amount that makes all the difference in cutting back some of the brainless evening bullshit and allowing room to treat yourself like you really should - with calming, relaxing and stress-relieving activities that help you truly rest and recover.

Set-up and follow a wind-down routine that you actually really, really enjoy. This way, it’s something you’ll look forward to every night after work and it becomes incredibly easy to turn into a habit.

And as you perfect your evening wind-down routine, you’ll get better and better with managing your nights and getting to bed earlier for more solid sleep. It’s at this point that you are winning the battle.

As you start to string together several nights into several weeks, your body will automatically get tired when it should, right on schedule.

You’ll be getting 7-8 solid hours of true sleep and the days of falling asleep at your desk at work will be a thing of the past. You’ll be a desktop dominator.

So, tonight...how about watching just two episodes and then giving this a shot?

We know you can do it. 😉

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]