Last week, I wrote about some of my thoughts on the importance of sleep to our health, focus, and creativity, and I promised to talk this week about the changes I’m making in my own life.
Some of these things might take some adapting to make them work for you because—let’s be honest—my life and circumstances aren’t yours, and your life isn’t the next person’s.
For example, I’m single and don’t have children, so I have a lot of freedom to do whatever I want with my routine as long as I have the willpower and motivation to see it through. But I also have limitations in other areas you might not have.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t all make strides in these general areas.
Keep a regular sleep schedule.
Honestly, this has been the hardest one for me. I’m a natural night owl who finds it almost physically painful to put down a good book just because it’s bedtime. However, I have obligations that mean I have to get up at 5:30 every morning, and according to Walker in Why We Sleep, trying to make up a sleep deficit by sleeping extra one or two days a week just doesn’t work. Our bodies aren’t designed that way. And constantly changing your routine really confuses your body.
So, I’m trying hard to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even my days off.
That means I set an alarm for both the morning and the evening. And it means I have to exercise a ton of willpower to not hit the snooze button, both in the morning and in the evening.
After the alarm goes off at bedtime, I finish my chapter and turn out the lights. I’ve found that if I allow myself more than that, I look up three hours and several chapters later, cursing my poor decision-making skills.
If bedtime comes at the same time every day, I have no excuse for not being ready to turn out the lights in a timely manner, so I have to plan my bedtime routine accordingly.
Every night I know I need to shower and brush my teeth before bed, so it makes no sense to wait until my bedtime alarm is ringing to attend to those things. Also, I need some time for reading for pleasure before bed, so I have to start winding down at a certain time.
Actually, I use that reading time as a motivation to attend to my other chores in a timely manner. If I put them off until too late, my time runs out, and I don’t get my reading time. And I need that time.
Planning ahead also means I’ve had to take a look at my priorities throughout the day. It’s a simple fact that there’s not enough time in the day for all of the things I want to get accomplished, much less wasting hours watching movies or YouTube videos.
Maybe it’s Netflix for you.
That’s not to say that I never get sucked into the black hole of YouTube, but I have to ask myself if it’s worth not getting my evening reading time or completing a project on time.
Stop eating before bed.
Studies show that we rest better if we don’t have a full stomach, so I try to stop eating two to three hours before bedtime and cut off caffeine at about 1 or 2 pm. If I’m getting enough sleep, I shouldn’t need caffeine, and cutting myself off in the early afternoon gives any caffeine I do consume time to work its way out of my system.
It also means I have to think ahead to make sure supper will be ready and on the table by 5:30 or 6:00.
This change has taken some work to figure out because of stomach problems. In order to not wake up with discomfort from too much acid sloshing around my empty stomach, I have a cup of herbal tea about an hour or two before bedtime and may take a small dose of Mylanta if my stomach is feeling a bit iffy when it comes time to turn out the lights.
Reduce blue light.
I know we’ve all been hearing about this one from every side these days, but we still sit there scrolling through our phones at all hours. But is there really anything that needs our attention in the evenings?
I’m trying to turn off screen time two or three hours before bed. First of all, I have no illusions that anyone needs my attention that badly, and if they did, they’d call. It helps that I don’t have a television or any streaming services to tempt me, but I also force myself to close down the computer and stop work at a certain time in the evening.
The trouble for me comes in that I do a lot of reading on an e-reader. While I try to read paper books whenever possible, the fact is that I have access to exponentially more of what I want to read through ebooks.
Fortunately, technology companies are starting to recognize how hard all that blue light is on our eyes and are building features into their apps to mitigate the problem. Our phones and computers have settings that will automatically adjust brightness and color according to the time of day and ambient light. (In my blog post about reducing eye fatigue, I talk about how to adjust the settings in Windows 10.)
And a lot of the reading apps give you options for changing the background color. I set all of mine to sepia tones, and after a minute or so, my eyes adapt, and I can’t even tell that the color is different.
Lower the room temp.
In order to achieve good sleep our body temperature needs to lower slightly at night, and most of us maintain our houses at temperatures above the ideal.
I have to admit I hated this one. I have my thermostat set at 72 during the day and still have to dress in long sleeves and warm socks. I am not a cold weather person. But I decided to give it a try.
At night, I’ve started turning the thermostat down to 69, and I also keep the door open but close the heating vent in my bedroom at night because having the warm air blowing directly toward me made my temperature fluctuate too much and would wake me up repeatedly.
So far, I’m not waking up from the cold, and when I forget to turn the temperature down, I wake up feeling too warm. I guess the scientists might be right about this one after all.
It takes time to truly reverse the effects of the long-term mistreatment of your body, but I have noticed some subtle effects.
For the last year or so, I’ve been having some digestive issues, and whether it’s the better sleep hygiene or not eating before bed, my stomach seems to be responding favorably to the changes.
I’ve also noticed a slight improvement in my mood, mainly in the morning. Admittedly, I’ve never been a morning person, and I’m still not. But I’m waking up more easily, and by not hitting the snooze button for an hour, I have time to take my time in the morning and even linger over a cup of tea before starting my day.
I would love to hear about your tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy routine and how it’s affected your life and work.
Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep. New York: Scribner, 2017.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.