One of the most powerful ways to achieve satisfying sleep is to get into the right routine. The key is to consider sleep not in isolation, but as one element in our daily, 24 hour cycle. This guide gives you a few simple ways to make your daily routine more sleep-friendly.
Define your 'sleep window'
Habit is a powerful thing – especially when it comes to sleep. The best evidence suggests that having a stable, consistent sleep schedule – going to bed each night and getting up each morning at the same time – is effective at producing satisfying, efficient sleep.
The first step is to figure out how long your ideal “sleep window” should be – the time you allocate for sleep each night. To do this, keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks – soon after you wake jot down when you went to bed, how long roughly it took you to fall asleep, how long you were awake for during the night and when you woke for the final time. Then calculate your average total sleep per night, and add 45 minutes to create your ideal allocation of time for sleep each night.
Then choose your ideal, regular bedtime. Based on the length of your sleep window this might be later than you're used to, to wake up at a reasonable hour – but this will help you achieve unbroken, efficient sleep and minimize the time you spend awake during the night.
Finally – the hard part – sticking to it! It will probably not be possible to stick to your new sleep window 7 days a week, but even 4 days a week is likely to make a positive difference. Why not try it for a week or so and see if you notice the difference in how you feel during the day?
Build a wind down routine
In order to prepare our bodies and brains for sleep we need to give ourselves time before bed to unwind and relax. Too often we're rushing around or checking emails right up until we collapse into bed, keeping ourselves energized and alert…so it should be no surprise if we find it difficult to get to sleep.
The answer is to consciously set aside time each evening to relax before heading to bed, and plan a wind down routine to follow.
First, put aside time before your planned bedtime for winding down. Ideally this would be 1 – 2 hours, but put aside what you think is feasible for you. It's important to give this time the same status as your other commitments, so block it out in your calendar or diary.
Next, pick out activities that you enjoy, and that are relaxing in a passive way. Reading, going for a stroll or listening to music would all fit the bill. Avoid activities that are likely to leave you pumped up – strenuous exercise or watching a gripping movie for example.
Finally, make the preparations necessary for your nightly “me time” as soon as you get up each morning. Get your favorite book out, cue up your relaxation playlist, or whatever your equivalent is. Having these elements ready and available will make it easier for you start your wind down routine. And remember this is well-earned time for you, so it should be something you look forward to!
Get up if you can't sleep
Despite the best planning in the world, sometimes sleep just won't come. Or you find yourself suddenly awake in the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling.
At times like this, when you're awake for more than about quarter of an hour, the best thing you can do is get up and out of your bedroom. This way you make sure your bedroom remains a place for sleep, and is more likely to trigger a rapid “sleep response” when you do go to bed.
It can be a daunting task to get out of a warm bed during the night, so make it easier by preparing for these wakings. Leave the heating on, and your favorite book out in case you wake. Prepare a comfy chair in the living room, so that if you wake you can go into autopilot and head straight there.
Take your time to relax doing something you enjoy, and only when you feel sleepy (nodding off, yawning, your eyes starting to itch) should you return to bed. This should mean you're more likely to get to sleep quickly, rather than lying awake, staring at the ceiling and winding yourself up even further.