If you’re a night owl, you’ve probably experienced this scenario: It’s 10:30pm and you’re wide awake. You’re completely alert and you’re not remotely ready for bed. Nevertheless, you know that if you aren’t in bed in the next 15 minutes, you will not get eight hours of sleep and you’ll feel tired all the next day.
So, you get into bed and you lie there and it gets later and later and you just can’t fall asleep.
You’re not alone. Us night owls ended up with the shortest straw working-hours-wise. For many of us, staying up late and waking up late is our natural rhythm.
As such, with working schedules favoring the early bird, the rest of us ended up in a delicate dance to adapt to wake up earlier. As a result, we have to figure out a way to feel tired and fall asleep earlier.
If you’re a night owl trying to fit into an early bird schedule, it’s important for you to know how to make yourself go to sleep. This is where a sleep routine and sleep hygiene come into play.
Lots of people have issues with their sleep routine. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can start to shift your schedule. If you’re looking for a way to adapt to an early bird's schedule, it is possible. It just takes some planning.
How to sleep earlier?
Routine is the key to your success. Not just during the week. It takes time to taper to a new sleep schedule so if you wake up early during the week but then stay up late on the weekends, Mondays will be all the more terrible.
Adapting your rhythm to fall asleep earlier than usual won’t happen in one night, but you can follow some rules for getting better quality sleep.
Go to bed at the same time every night.
First, you need to get your bedtime under control, then you can move up your sleep time.
What does this mean? Give yourself a consistent bedtime. Bedtime just means that you get into bed with the expressed intention of falling asleep within 30 minutes.
To begin with, you might choose a late bedtime like 11:30p or 12:00a. As part of this, you’ll want to institute a routine. Your routine should be between 30 minutes to an hour prior to your bedtime. During your routine, you’re basically in the landing pattern of sleep. Everything you do should be in preparation for a smooth transition to sleep. You can learn more about what makes for a good three-step sleep routine here.
Get up at the same time every day.
The natural corollary to the above rule is waking up at the same time. The whole idea here is to stabilize your body’s circadian rhythm with a consistent sleep/wake cycle so that when we head to bed we are consistently able to get sleepy and drift off quickly.
Even if it is your day off, you should still keep the same routine. All too often people suffer with their sleep because they stay up later and get up late on the weekends. Don’t fall into this trap.
Move your time up an hour at a time.
You can’t decide to turn your sleep schedule around in a day, but you can taper your bedtime forward. It helps to create a plan of action to shift your sleep time. Start by moving your sleep time forward by an hour. Then, once you are comfortable falling asleep at this time, you can continue to move the time up.
You should expect to spend a few days at your new sleep time before you try to go to sleep earlier. Remember, shifting to an earlier bedtime is like altering the course of a shipping vessel: It takes a long time.
If you want to fall asleep three hours earlier, you can expect to devote several weeks to changing your schedule.
Make your room a sleep-friendly environment.
Your bedroom should be cold and without light. The light from smartphones, television, or other electronic devices can mess with your internal clock and delay sleepiness. Light, especially blue light, inhibits the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy.
Also, your bed should be comfortable and only used for sleep. These are some basic sleep hygiene strategies, you can learn more about sleep hygiene here.
How to go to sleep quickly?
Now that you have started thinking about a sleep routine and how to taper your bedtime forward, you’re halfway there. The other half is part physical and part mental. As mentioned before falling asleep is like an exercise in landing a plane. If you haven’t landed a plane before, that’s ok, the good news is that it is only metaphorically like landing a plane.
As with landing a plane, you have to make sure you are on the correct trajectory, that you are slowing down.
A bedtime routine is one one way to simplify this delicate process, by practicing it you develop a positive reinforcement feedback loop that facilitates slowing down and preparing for sleep. The nice thing about sleep routines is that you can personalize them, with a mix of meditation exercises, natural supplementation, and some relaxation techniques accompanied by good sleep hygiene.
Here are a few ways to get started.
Pre-sleep wind down meditation.
Throughout the day and night, your brain operates at different frequencies of activity. During your workday, for most, our brains are operating at beta frequencies. As we start to calm our minds, we transition to alpha and when our brains are ready to transition into sleep, our brains slow into theta waves.
Meditation is an excellent way to facilitate this slowing process and allows us to take an active role in preparing our minds for sleep.
Meditation comes in many forms from exercises focusing on breath to visualizations, body scans and many more. You can access Remrise’s full list of free sleep meditations here.
Don’t watch the clock.
It may be helpful to get the alarm clock off the nightstand all together. One reason for this is that it can be anxiety inducing to watch time pass. Also, looking at a light when you’re trying to fall asleep increases your alertness. The best thing to do is to remove lights from your room and to not stress about falling asleep.
Try some meditation, bring a bit more order to your falling asleep process and keep confident that sleep will come. Your brain evolved to do this over millions and millions of years.
Work out early.
Doing physical exercise, preferably outside, will help tire your body. After a hard day’s workout, when you go to lay down at night you will actually be tired. It’s important though not to work out too close to bedtime, since this tends to raise our body temperature, metabolic rate, and cortisol levels, thereby delaying sleep.
Cut out the caffeine.
You’ve probably heard this before. And it probably stings most because your mom has been telling you this for years. Caffeine can be a helpful and enjoyable stimulant to get you through your day, but it can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule when used too close to bedtime.
Most people don’t realize that caffeine has a half life of five to six hours, which can translate to difficulty falling asleep. If you’re trying to move your bedtime forward the best place to start is to not drink caffeine in the afternoon.
This might sound hard at first, but as you ease into a new routine, you won’t be caffeinating for alertness to compensate for your drowsiness. Give it a couple weeks, and tell us what you think.
Don’t eat or drink anything for a few hours before bed.
You might be thinking we sound like real party poopers here. But, if you eat a large meal before going to bed, you’ll feel uncomfortable when you lay down. You’ll also need to wake up to use the bathroom before the night is over.
It is better to eat well before bed and to only have a small snack to tide you over for morning if you wait until too late to eat.
How to force yourself to go to sleep?
If we could snap our fingers and go to sleep, nobody would have sleep issues. Unless we didn’t know how to snap, that is.
As you would expect, there is no easy remedy to going to bed earlier and instantly. The biggest thing to remember is the bedtime routine. If you’re lying there and sleep just isn’t working, then you should get out of bed.
Your brain needs to associated laying in bed with sleep, particularly the feeling of sleepiness. It’s better to get out of bed and do a calm activity like read a book on the couch until you feel tired. Then give it another shot.
Is it better to sleep before midnight?
Chances are, if you are reading this, you stay up past midnight. You probably enjoy it. We know how you feel. It’s great. But we also know what the following morning feels like getting up for work. It feels like death.
So, how do you know when to go to bed? The easiest way to start is to aim for seven to nine hours of sleep. Just to map that out for you: If you’re going to bed at 1am and getting the minimum seven hours of sleep. That means you’re waking up at 8am. If this works for you that you are sitting pretty.
The problem though is that if you are a night owl you’re probably not getting enough sleep, especially deep sleep, which we drop into the most earlier in the night. If that’s the case, you're sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation is a bigger deal than just feeling groggy and tired, it changes how your body metabolizes sugars and fats, increases your risk of diseases, and lowers your cognitive performance.
Don’t fret though, changing your schedule might be a delicate process to begin with, but it is certainly achievable. Plus, once you’ve shifted to an earlier schedule, you might just take a liking to being an early bird after all.