In June I was struggling with sleep, which is a surefire way to jump-start my depression and tank my running. And I think my primary sleep issue was that I was sabotaging it, so I’d have an excuse for not managing other parts of my life. My counselor suggested a lot of sleep hygiene concepts. I explained how they had failed in the past. I had lots of excuses why I couldn’t do them now. But after a few days, I decided to work on this issue so I could keep up my rigorous marathon training and reach the next level in managing my depression. I decided to spend 2 weeks overhauling my sleep routine. If I didn’t like it, I’d toss it out and tell my counselor, “I told you so”. And thus, the experiment began.
Overhauling my Sleep Routine
My old sleep routine
My unpredictable job schedule meant that sometimes I woke up super early and other days I slept in. I would try to go to bed the night before accordingly, but often had trouble convincing myself to go to bed. I would watch TV until I fell asleep on the couch. I would watch a movie in bed and play on my phone. I would do crossword puzzles or read in bed. I would exhaust myself before trying to close my eyes.
I wake up a few times a night, but I typically fall back asleep quickly. Sometimes I wake up too early, but that’s not too awful either. It was the going to bed and falling asleep part that I was failing. I began feeling anxious about going to bed. I like being busy and the idea of laying in bed and doing nothing actually scared me.
I actually tried to set up a routine wake-up time earlier in January and failed. A lot led into that failure. I was in the peak of marathon training. I didn’t do any of evening bedtime support. I decided to wake at 5AM with little transition to that time. The experiment was too long, maybe a month. And I had nothing to do that early in the morning that I couldn’t do later in the day.
I disliked the bedroom rules suggested by my counselor the most, so that is what I tackled first. In a 20 second bout of courage, I unplugged and removed my reading light. I removed my stacks of reading and puzzle books. I removed my DVD player. I made sure the room was dark, cool, and comfy. The bed was now only for actual bed-things.
I installed an app-blocker on my phone that blocked Facebook, Instagram, and my internet browser starting at 10 PM, my new bedtime. I could no longer browse Facebook while laying in bed. (Side note: I also block these apps the first hour I am awake, so I don’t waste my morning on social media).
The bedtime ritual
I moved all my books and reading light to a new area of the house. At 9:30, I brew a cup of tea. I dim the lights in that room. I read. I journal. I stay way from digital screens. I create this transitional period between “awake” and “asleep” to signal to my brain it’s time to settle.
If after laying in bed for 15 minutes without falling asleep, I return to this place and read a little more.
6 AM wake up
I wake up at 6 AM every day, even on the weekends. Sleeping in on weekends actually messes up your circadian rhythm… sucks, right? I told myself it was OK to do this awful thing, because it was only for 2 weeks. If I thought I had to do it for the rest of my life, or even a month, I think I would have given up.
I turned off the snooze option on my alarm, and set a back-up alarm one minute after the first. I rush to turn off the second alarm so it won’t disturb TH, which jolts my brain awake. I created a small wake-up routine that mostly involves chores and breakfast.
The first morning I woke up, I realized I had created time in my day. I didn’t want my usual activities to just expand and fill up that time. So, I decided to start a new project and devote an hour to it each morning. It was unintentional, but it ended up being the “pretty please” I needed to get up every morning. I am now debuting my first ebook Thursday. (My weekly subscribers received it earlier this morning. I hope you like it.)
The Sleep Experiment Conclusion
I am now 3 weeks into my 2 week experiment, and I am going to continue. I don’t get to tell my counselor that she’s wrong.
The routine isn’t fun. I get annoyed when I remember I can’t stay up late and watch movies on the weekend. But truthfully, I have back-to-back hard workouts on the weekends, so it actually makes sense to sleep well. This routine, whether I like it or not, is good for me.
Now when I go to bed, I have spent roughly 30 minutes relaxing in dim light, journaling my thoughts, and reading things. It is dark and I just focus on relaxing every body part, bit by bit. If I start thinking on something, I tell myself “no” and remind myself that I’m waking up super early, so there is plenty of time to worry then before anyone else wakes up (for real, that’s what I tell myself).
I am getting regular rest and have had little issue falling asleep. More importantly, I am less stressed about falling asleep and bedtime. Turning this into a routine (and eventually into a habit) has removed all the stressful decisions and excuses I was making. I can’t sabotage my sleep to hurt other parts of my life.
Ways to improve
There are still suggestions that I haven’t implemented. I haven’t placed any strict restrictions on alcohol or caffeine, but I have moderated them more. It’s also suggested to nap only in your bed so you’re training your body to sleep in your bed and only sleep in your bed, but I take naps on the couch or the guest bed in my office. I’d like to buy some blackout curtains, because light from the streetlights comes through the windows. I am considering using my sleep-cycle alarm again, which wakes me up during my lightest sleep in the morning.
I am also considering an earlier wake-up time, because some workdays I’m still rushing out the door with a 6 AM alarm. I am hesitant to go to bed earlier though, because TH gets home so late. I already miss that transitional period before bed at times, because I’m watching TV with TH.
4 simple hacks for better sleep
- Create a 3-step bedtime ritual, no matter what time you go to sleep. Spending just 15 minutes preparing for bed can train your body to sleep, rather than just asking it to be ON then OFF.
- Download a screen filtering app for your phone. As the sun sets, it will remove the blue light from your display which suppresses melatonin production.
- Buy blackout curtains or a sleep mask. Complete darkness encourages melatonin production.
- Install an app block on your phone that will turn off distracting apps when you should be sleeping.
Read more: My favorite Android apps for better sleep.