Stop Counting Sheep: 9 Tips to Get to Bed On Time (and Sleep Better)
Health tips to make the most of those precious nighttime hours.
I’ve always had difficulty getting to bed at a reasonable hour. There are so many things to do all the time that it seems like a few extra hours of staying awake are more beneficial than time spent sleeping. In the long run, however, the damage that way of thinking can do is irreversible.
Especially during quarantine, I’ve been taking some time to look at my sleeping habits. As a result, I’ve been more productive, my skin is looking better, and I’ve had more energy (and fewer headaches). Here are 9 things that have helped me get to bed on time.
1) Start Small
You don’t need to jump from a 12:00 bedtime to an 8:00 bedtime. For one, you’ll find it impossible to fall asleep, and the time switch will be so extreme that it will feel like a huge burden to keep it up for more than one night.
If you’re looking to get to a goal sleep time that is much earlier at night than where you are now, start in small chunks. So, if you’re going to sleep every night at 12:00, try being in bed at 11:00 or 11:30. The next night (or as soon as you feel up to it), drop another chunk.
This will leave you feeling well-rested as your sleep time increases, but isn’t impossible to keep up. It might sound like it will take a long time, but if you’re starting at 12:00 and shooting for 8:00, adding one sleeping hour each night leaves only four days until you’re at your goal.
This routine is worth it in the long run, since it will make it much easier to get to bed on time and your regular sleep habits won’t be disrupted.
2) Spend Your Day Wisely
Exercising both mind and body will leave you physically and mentally tired enough to feel like going to bed at an earlier time, and it will help you fall asleep more easily as well.
If you increase your daytime productivity as much as possible, your body will naturally start relaxing and readying itself for sleep towards nightfall in order to properly recover.
Read a book, go for a jog, study, spend some time on math or logic problems, and don’t forget to exercise your creative side as well. The more of these things you do, the more naturally tired your body will feel.
3) An Object in Motion Stays in Motion
Of course, if you’re crazy productive all day right up to the moment you jump in bed, you’ll never be able to fall asleep.
For me, that’s one of the things I dread the most about going to bed earlier: I can never seem to fall asleep quickly, leading me to stay up later and later in an attempt to spend less time staring at the ceiling.
However, once you start differentiating your productive hours from your evening hours, you’ll be less stressed and have an easier time falling (and staying) asleep. Solidify this habit by setting a regular time that you’ll stop working and start relaxing.
If you eat dinner at around the same time every night, then try setting your relaxation hours directly afterward. Whenever your chill time starts, do whatever de-stresses your mind the most: watching TV or movie, bubble baths, meditation.
Giving yourself time off at least one to two hours before your goal bedtime will make you feel sleepy and clear your head, giving yourself a much better chance of falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.
4) Write it Out
When we’re stressed out, our mind tends to turn the problem over and over as we go about our day. And when we’re trying to relax or fall asleep, those problems are pretty much the only thing we can focus on.
You can solve this issue by writing down everything that you’re worried about. You don’t need to have a journal or go into a detailed synopsis of your entire day if you don’t want to.
Instead, try answering the question “what are you stressed about?” each night before you go to sleep. Write down single words, a bulleted list, a short entry about what’s keeping you up each night.
You can vent about a work project, an upcoming test, family drama: anything that is on your mind that you know will have you tossing and turning as soon as you start falling asleep.
Once you’ve written it down, you’ve put it away for the night. You’ll feel more organized and much calmer after scribbling down your stressed-out thoughts. And if worries are still plaguing you at night, remind yourself that they’re all written out and you can deal with them in the morning if needed: they’re no longer there for you to worry about at night.
If you have a strong aversion to writing, try meditating it out. If you can find a simple solution for your problem (I’m stressed out about my chemistry test, so I’ll email my teacher tomorrow morning to set up a study meeting) then your case is closed: remind yourself that the problem has been solved and there’s no use stressing about it. If you’re stressed over something that has already happened, put it away for the night: there’s nothing you can do about it now. And if you’re worried about a problem with no solution, box it up for the night. I’m not kidding: literally imagine putting the problem in a box and getting rid of it. You’ll get to it in the morning, so remind yourself it’s not worth losing sleep over.
5) Don’t Overthink (Anything)
If you watch a particularly emotional movie, read a thought-provoking book, or watch a scary video before bed, it will keep you up all night long.
Our minds need time to process every event, even if it’s fictional. And if that event induces an emotional response in us, or requires time to mull over, it will only take that much longer as our minds process and file away all of the conflicting feelings we have over it.
It’s a good system — ensuring that we don’t get emotionally overwhelmed every time we see a sad YouTube video — but trying to sleep through the mind’s event-response process is never a good idea. Try to save these types of media for daytime enjoyment instead.
And the same thing goes for real-life events as well: try to avoid conflict, revisiting gossip or drama, or should-have-said argument contemplations right before bedtime.
It will wear you out (but not in a good way) and have you tossing and turning all night long. Fairytale princesses might be able to cry themselves to sleep, but you definitely shouldn’t.
6) Declutter for Better Sleep
If your room is super cluttered or uncomfortable for you to be in during the day, it certainly won’t help you get to sleep. Even taking ten minutes to clean up your space each night can put you in a calmer state of mind and make you more comfortable in your room.
Plus, cleaning and organizing can be super relaxing: it’s a mindless (but very helpful) task. Put on some chill music while you sort through whatever messes you need to, and you’ll be comfy and fast asleep in no time.
Plus, a little time spent cleaning at night adds to and solidifies your nighttime routine, giving your body a little extra time to realize that it’s almost time for bed. Bonus: make your bed every morning, too.
Sometimes I wake up and think, “what’s the point of making the bed if I’m just going to get back into it that night?” Well, fluffing up pillows and reorganizing sheets not only sets up a great morning routine, but also helps prep you for amazing sleep at night.
Clean, smooth sheets and fluffy pillows are much nicer to fall back into each evening!
7) Take a Look at Your Daytime Schedule, Too
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s easy for me to excuse staying up at night because there’s just so much to get done all the time. But it’s just not worth sacrificing those precious hours of sleep: instead, reorganize your daytime schedule as much as you possibly can.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not expecting everyone to have hours and hours of free time that they can suddenly use on sleeping, but if you have a few extra hours in the morning or early evening, it’s not a bad idea to spend them on the things that need to get done.
Again, it’s still important to have a nice morning and nighttime routine: they’re essential in helping your mind and body recognize when it’s time to fully wake up or start settling in for the night.
But you should always take a look at your regular schedule and see if there’s anything that can be swapped out or moved around to give yourself some sleeping space. And if there’s not, try taking a look at the project and weighing it out.
For me, if I’ve got a pressing writing deadline, that obviously has to take precedent over a sweet hour or two of sleep. But if it’s a hobby, a deadline that’s more organized and set far in the future, or a book, TV series, YouTube video, you name it — leave it for the morning.
Whatever it is, it will still be there in the morning, but lost sleep isn’t so easy to catch up on.
8) Nostalgia is Great for Sleeping
Now this one is weird, but it totally works!
If you’re truly struggling to sleep — especially if this is a rare sleepless night — turning to childhood favorites can really settle you down. If you have a favorite kids book that you can read, a cute TV episode or movie you have fond memories of, even a photo album that you can flip through, you’ll feel more at peace.
Childhood can be a really great memory to look back on, because it’s a comforting memory of when things generally felt safer and easier.
You can also look at more recent happy memories: photos, journals, songs you listened to at a certain point in your life — all of this can pop you back in time to an event you remember with fondness.
This is super helpful when settling down for the night, as it automatically relaxes the mind and brings us back to a place where we don’t have as many worries (or have to deal with the current problems we may be facing).
And if you don’t feel like taking a trip down memory lane, I’d always recommend reading a random kid’s book anyway: they’re literally designed to calm people down and get them to sleep. There’s no shame in keeping a couple around for the tougher nights!
9) Don’t Push Yourself
Don’t worry if you’re struggling to fit more sleeping hours into your schedule, or if you find yourself falling back to a later sleeping pattern!
It can take a bit to get used to, and, honestly, there’s no shame in staying up late a couple of nights, even if it’s to watch a new movie or read a new book. These tips are meant to help you establish a regular sleeping pattern and have fewer restless nights, not suck all of the joy out of occasionally staying up late.
If you feel like you’re not able to stick to a regular pattern, try adding a few steps to your nighttime routine, setting reminders on your phone, and (most importantly) stop worrying about fixing your sleep schedule right away.
Again, these things take a little time! I’ve even spent a few late nights writing articles when I definitely shouldn’t have. But hey, I’m finishing this one nice and early, with plenty of time to start my nighttime routine and get to sleep on time.
So, keep working on your sleep routine and you’ll have it down pat before you know it!