Go to bed

Despite decades of robust research showing that +/-8 hours of sleep is the magic number for adults, many people still insist that they’re “fine” with scanty sleep, or that they “need” excessive sleep. In addition to depression and other mental health conditions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites decreased productivity, poor mood and erratic management of emotions, increased motor vehicle accidents, elevated risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and early death as risks of inadequate sleep. I find this to be a pretty convincing list of reasons for going to bed.

Here are some tips for better sleep:

Do the math. Figure out what time you need to get up in the morning in order to get out the door on time, then count 8 hours backwards from that to when you need to be asleep. Add 1/2 hour so you can get ready for bed.

Set an alarm for that time. Everyone uses an alarm to wake up, but the truth is this: if you’re getting enough sleep every night, you probably won’t need the alarm to get up. Most of us need the alarm at NIGHT to remind us to stop what we’re doing and get ready for bed. Try it.

Create a routine. Having a simple, regular, step-by-step process each night will help your brain unwind and will make it easier to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow. You probably already have a tooth-brushing ritual – add to it any other simple tasks you need to do, and make a checklist if that helps: let dog out, lock doors and turn out lights, start dishwasher, plug in phone, kiss sleeping children, make sure laundry is in hampers, brush teeth, lay out clothes for morning, reflect on day, close eyes.

Don’t look at the clock. Turn the clock away from the bed, turn it upside down, or cover with in a towel. Don’t look at the clock as you fall asleep, and don’t look at it if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Don’t panic. It’s helpful to have a plan for what to do if you don’t fall asleep immediately. Rather than lying there getting anxious or angry, you could count sheep. Or count breaths. Or simply watch and narrate breaths (“In. Out. In. Out.”) Or visualize your body relaxing one body part at a time from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. Or say a blessing for everyone in the world, starting with those you love and extending to people you know less well, animals, and all living beings. Still not falling asleep? That’s ok. Just relax and rest till morning. But probably you’ll fall asleep. Really.

Park the thoughts. If thoughts prevent you from falling asleep, keep a pad and pencil by the bed to jot them down. That frees your mind to get back to the business of sleep.

Ban the screens. Bedrooms are for rest, relaxation, and romance, all of which are undermined by screens. Screens are distracting and addictive, and they emit light that inhibits production of melatonin making it harder to fall asleep. Ban all screens (including phones) from your bedroom. Allow yourself to be screen-free before falling asleep and again while your body greets the day.

Easy on the caffeine. Caffeine has a 1/2 life of 6 to 9 hours. That means that the coffee you drank at 2:00 this afternoon is still having an impact at 11:00 at night. Drink less caffeine and stop earlier in the day to improve your sleep.

Exercise. Regular exercise during the day makes it much easier to sleep at night. Instead of another cup of coffee at 2:00 when you’re feeling a bit drained, get up and go for a 20-minute brisk walk, or run up and down the stairwell a few times.

Many people resist going to bed at a reasonable hour because “there’s so much to do.” As a Certified Professional Organizer, I want to assure you that being organized and productive is not about getting it all done. Rather, being organized and productive is about getting the right things done. That means you have to make choices. And being well rested is key to decision-making. Prioritize sleep. You’ll be more focused and efficient the next day.

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