Having problems sleeping? One of the best (and easiest) ways to improve you sleep is to create a sleep ritual. The ritual is a set of actions that you use to communicate to your body that it is time to sleep so you can fall asleep easier and get better quality sleep and wake up refreshed.
Learn how to create your own here!
Sleep is one of the most important inputs for your health and well-being. Countless scientific studies have demonstrated that getting enough sleep leads to incredible benefits. Lack of sleep has been linked to many health issues such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity. Lack of sleep is also linked to increased risk of injury, especially in car crashes, but any type of accident is more likely to happen when you are sleep deprived. Lack of sleep affects your mood too, leaving you more apt to get angry, sad or depressed. Additionally, a lack of sleep shuts down your immune system. And, lack of sleep can make you overeat, causing you to crave high sugar and high-fat foods.
Most of us are aware that we need to sleep 7–9 hours a night, however, many of us fail. We are busy and stressed and don’t have the time to schedule a full night's sleep. Even if we do schedule the time many of us don’t get high-quality sleep, tossing and turning through the night.
There is no hack for the amount. You either schedule enough time to sleep or you don’t. It is that simple. But once you have made the time there are many ways we can increase the quality. Especially if you are closer to 7 hours instead of 9 this can have huge benefits in your life.
One of the best tools for this is a sleep ritual. Just like we can’t go from 0 to 100 instantly first thing in the morning, neither can we go from 100 to 0 instantly at night. However, if we prime our bodies with a predictable set of actions we tell our bodies it's time for bed, and we can fall asleep faster and have better sleep.
Of course, it will never become instant, and you also need time for the ritual, ideally at least 30 minutes. But if all you can manage to start with is 5 minutes, start with 5 minutes. Anything is always better than nothing. All we are looking for is better, not perfect.
After you have figured out how much time you have for your ritual, you need to know what time to start it. Do this by working backward from the time you need to wake up in the morning. For example, if you have to wake up at 6:00 am and want 7 hours of sleep you need to be asleep by 11:00 pm. You need time to fall asleep, so rewind another 15 minutes to 10:45 pm. If you want a 15-minute sleep ritual, your routine starts at 10:30 pm.
You will need an alarm for that time. Otherwise, you will miss it and be rushed and stressed. We want to lower your stress, not increase it.
Now you know what time to start, what do you do?
First, set up an environment conducive to sleeping well. Your first thought should be LIGHT. The most important reason for this is light makes all those distractions which keep you awake possible. How late do you think you would stay up without electric anything? Reading by candle light won’t keep most of us up all night. Additionally, light causes the production of hormones which tells your body to stay awake. Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Avoid any SCREENS. I am aware how easy it is to fall asleep watching TV on the couch, but even so, TV and light are quite stimulating and they make HIGH QUALITY sleep difficult. Turn off your TV and laptop and stop using your cell phone. Dim or turn off all lights not necessary for getting through the rest of your sleep ritual. In your bedroom, if there are any small lights that need to stay on, cover them to block the night. If there is lots of light coming from outside, invest in better shades.
If you have problems with self-control, set yourself up for success. One of my favorite tricks is a Shabbat Timer. This is basically a plug that goes into the wall with a clock attached that allows you to decide what times electricity will be running and what times it will not be running in advance. For example, if you are always staying up too late working or watching Netflix on your laptop, use the timer to automatically shut off your internet router. In this example, no power in the plug from 10:30 pm until 6 pm. Now when it’s time to start your sleep ritual the internet will die, reminding you that it's time to stop. This works for anything that needs a power cord such as TV, or lights as well.
Your cell phone is a special case. It holds its own power, provides its own light, and has its own independent connection to the internet. All these factors make it the most dangerous threat to your getting a good night’s sleep. Additionally, it often sleeps next to you, because it has an “alarm clock” and you need an alarm clock to wake up.
But you can still buy alarm clocks, and your phone can sleep elsewhere. Preferably an alarm clock that doesn’t have a light display, since your bedroom should be as dark as possible. If you are really afraid that the alarm won’t work, take the advice of Jocko Willink, retired Navy Seal and business consultant: one alarm clock that plugs into the wall, one alarm clock that runs on a battery, and one alarm clock that is manually wound. But I have found that one works just fine for me, but no one's life actually depends on me not sleeping in.
If you insist on not buying an alarm clock, most smartphone models have a “Do Not Disturb” mode where it will block incoming messages and calls so that you can sleep through the night. It also allows you to put it on a timer, so it happens automatically every night, another great example of technology solving the problems that it created.
I have found that many of my clients have resistance to turning off their phones or putting on “do not disturb” mode saying, “What about if there is an emergency and someone needs to reach me?”. “Do Not Disturb” does have a function that allows calls to go through from selected contacts, so setting that is one option. If that isn’t adequate, and this is still a concern, then you can to invest in a landline or a separate cell for emergency calls. But first, think–is there anything that someone could need to call YOU for that can’t wait until morning? Get the line and give the number only to people that you can actually answer the question for. Human beings lived fine for a very long before the instant worldwide communication that we now enjoy. And that was without being able to call emergency services and use their cell phones.
Second, consider sound. The general rule is as quiet as possible. However, many people fall asleep better with some white noise in the background. Don’t use this as an excuse for your cell phone because of the “free” app. Fans and humidifiers work very well, and there are some great devices that you can buy for noise canceling. Especially if you live somewhere loud, like a city, white noise can help nullify the background.
Now that you have turned off the distractions, lights, and sounds, we move to the actual ritual. What is important here is that it is relaxing and consistent. Consistency is important because your mind reacts well to triggers. Have you ever noticed that when you walk into your house you tend to do the same things, in the same order? Or that when you get into the car you probably put on a seat belt without even thinking about it? After repetition, your brain will subconsciously associate the behaviors with going to sleep, which will make the process faster and more consistent.
Different people find different things relaxing. For example, meditation has been scientifically proven to help people relax. But if you are averse to meditation, because you don’t believe you are doing it right or you associate it with hippies who you don’t want to be like, it can stress you out. In this case, do something else. You are an individual. But here are some good ideas that tend to work for most people:
-Light fictional reading (just make sure it's not too engaging)
-Self-massage with a foam roller
-Warm bath (Epsom salts can be very useful)
-Listening to relaxing music
Experiment with them and figure out what works for you. There is no “right” answer–just find what helps you get the best quality sleep the most consistently.
Imagine waking up in the morning, refreshed, and ready to take on the day. Maybe enjoying a cup of coffee for the experience instead of stumbling towards it because you can’t function without drugs. This could be you in the morning. Maybe not every morning, some things are outside of your control. A baby, the ambulance that drove by in the middle of the night, or just restless from a high-stress workday. But with this new approach to sleeping, more days than not this will be you.
Remember, you have control of your behaviors. If you start doing everything you can to set yourself up for enough quality sleep, you will soon be having more productive energy-filled days, and it will take your enjoyment for life to the next level.
1: Figure out what time you need to get up in the morning
2: Decide how much sleep you want (7–9 hours is the correct answer)
3: Calculate what time you need to be in bed (Wake up time - Sleep time - Transition time [10–15min])
4: Decide how long your sleep ritual will take
5:Calculate what time you need to start the sleep ritual (Answer from step #3 minus sleep ritual length)
6: Set a reminder to start your ritual at that time
7: Create an environment that supports sleep (minimize lights, sounds, and distractions)
8: Pick relaxing and enjoyable actions to do as your sleep ritual
9: Experiment with relaxing actions and order until you find something that works for you
Creating a sleep ritual is one of the simplest ways to improve your life, health, and well being. But it is not easy. Saying NO to all of the wonderful distractions that our modern world has to offer us is never easy. But you will be able to enjoy all those things, even more, when your body, and brain, are functioning better from a full night's rest.