Better bedtime behaviors
August 29, 2019 5:35 AM   Subscribe

I want to move my bedtime earlier, so I can get more sleep. If you have successfully pulled off consciously choosing to switch permanently to an earlier bedtime, please share your secrets.

Every day I say, OK, I'll go to bed early. And then every day stuff comes up, or I just keep procrastinating bedtime, and instead of 9:30 or 10 it's 11:30 or 12 when I actually go to sleep.

I know part of the problem is I feel I have so little time to myself. But my late night hours aren't quality productive hours because I'm too exhausted to do anything but vegetate anyway. (I am hoping that once I'm not exhausted all the time I'll be able to think of a creative solution for the "no time for me" problem).

The other part is that, exhausted as I am, my body still isn't used to an earlier bedtime... So I just lie awake, wasting time by being in bed...

If you managed to transition to earlier bedtime:
1. What did you do to help make the change?
2. How long did it take to stick?
3. What challenges came up and how did you solve them?


(I've read this excellent previously but its over a decade old)
posted by Cozybee to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I had much the same problem - when MrsMogur went into long-term care and I found myself sleeping alone, I wound up staying up late and was exhausted the next day.

Luckily, I'm a creature of habit, so for a long time have had a bedtime ritual (set the coffee up, take medication, brush teeth, do a Sudoku puzzle, etc). When I realized I needed more sleep, I moved the first step (set the coffee up) a half-hour earlier. Then another half-hour. And so on. This worked because the first step is not at all bed-related, so didn't trigger any anxiety about going to bed. And then I'd find myself taking my pills, brushing my teeth, and so on, just out of habit. So, ritual.

The other thing I did was have a relaxing treat (in my case, it was a Sudoku puzzle, don't @ me) (okay, sometimes it was a beer) that I would only get when I got in bed. So lying down became a good thing, not a stressful thing.
posted by Mogur at 5:45 AM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

The best way I’ve found to shift my bedtime is to spend a week in another time zone. When I come back my body is on the new schedule so I don’t have it fighting me.

Unfortunately I tend to backslide and my bed time creeps back to what it was before, so no advice there.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:46 AM on August 29, 2019

This is an ongoing struggle for me too, especially since we have a toddler who goes to sleep at 8, so the temptation to have more me or couple time and go to sleep later is huge.

A couple things that I've found that help. A bedtime alarm - I set this for about when I'd like to start winding down and head to bed - 9:30 in my case. Even if I don't immediately head to bed, having that alarm reminds me that I'm staying up later than I'd like to, and at least prevents me completely losing track of time and suddenly realizing that it's 11:30.

Another issue is that it's often hard to muster up the energy to do the a few things you need to before you go to bed. So to avoid that hurdle, I have pared down my bedtime routine to the extent possible - all I need to do before jumping into bed is brushing my teeth, removing all makeup with a wipe and drinking a glass of water. I try to do these things earlier in the evening, so that there's less energy required for the final step of getting into bed. (Bonus: brushing your teeth earlier in the evening makes you less tempted to snack, since then you have to brush your teeth again.)

Finally, this is one that I am pretty bad about honestly, but it really is easier to go to bed if you read a book in bed instead of your phone. If you must read on your phone figure out how to change your light settings to produce dim red light instead of blue light - disrupts your sleep less.
posted by peacheater at 5:54 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

In terms of the "not used to an earlier bedtime so I lie awake" problem, here are some things to consider that can trigger sleepiness (you could set an alarm on your phone to start one of these about an hour before your ideal sleep time):

1. Blue-light-blocking goggles -- especially good if you tend to be watching TV or on your phone before bed. You can get a goofy-looking pair for like $10, or there are semi-stylish options too.
2. Tea or other hot beverage (no caffeine, obviously)
3. Light over-the-counter sleep med, e.g. Unisom or similar. I understand that not everyone is interested in this option, but it could be helpful in getting over the hump of the early bedtime.

Exercise is great for making sleep better, but only if it's done earlier in the day.
posted by Bebo at 5:56 AM on August 29, 2019

I have a strict bedtime and wake up time, which helps my body know when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake up. Routine is important and makes life a lot easier than making a daily decision about when to go to sleep. For me 11-7 works well and balances getting enough sleep with having enough time in the mornings and evenings so I feel I have "me time". There's not much to miss going on between 11 and 7.
posted by Balthamos at 6:04 AM on August 29, 2019

When this is a concern for me, I set an alarm for about 45 minutes before I want to go to bed. After that alarm goes off, it takes me about 45 minutes to wind down and finish my day -- clearing up whatever I was doing, getting ready for bed, reading facebook one last time, etc. Having the alarm come early helps much more than having one at the time of actual going to bedness.

I try to start with the last FB check, so that I can then put my phone away to charge, and not take it to bed with me, which also really helps.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:29 AM on August 29, 2019

I LOVE going to bed early. It's one of the chief pleasures of my daily life. The hardest part is getting my ass up off the sofa to go get washed up. The solution to this was to make being in bed more pleasurable than lying on the sofa. I make the bed in the morning so it's tempting to get into, and I have lovely bedding including a featherbed, Pendleton wool blankets, down pillows, etc. I have nice sleepwear that makes me feel pretty or cozy depending on the mood. I make myself a cup of mint tea and slide into the cool sheets and my Dovey dog hops up onto the bed with me and I read with him curled up next to me. If I feel like I'm not going to be able to sleep then I take either half of a benadryl or a quarter of a xanax, but I hardly ever need to do this. The whole ritual is just so cozy and comforting and way more enjoyable than lying in my exhausted, unwashed state on the sofa clicking mindlessly through the internet.
posted by HotToddy at 6:36 AM on August 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

I’ve had good results taking melatonin and doxylamine succinate (both OTC sleeping aids). This works for me even if I’ve been staying up late for a few days, such as on vacation. I take these about an hour before my desired bedtime.
posted by coldhotel at 6:36 AM on August 29, 2019

The key for me getting more sleep is to ensure that my evening plans end by 9 EVERY WEEKNIGHT, even though it makes me feel like a total party pooper. But that means I can be home by 9:30, have half an hour for fucking around and decompressing, shower and do bedtime routine stuff starting around 10, and be in bed by 10:30.

Having a very set pre-bedtime routine has been a big help for being able to fall asleep more easily. I always shower before bed, which I find relaxing and helps me get into bedtime mode, and putting on lotion and brushing/flossing/etc feels like sweet self care instead of a chore.
posted by spindrifter at 6:48 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

This might seem obvious, but it took a long time to occur to me: If you take any stimulants and you want to go to bed earlier, you have to shift the stimulants earlier in the day too. Let's say your last cup of coffee or your second Ritalin dose used to be on your break at 2 PM. If you want to go to bed two hours earlier, your new last cup of coffee or your new second Ritalin dose is at noon. If you drink caffeine or take meds with a meal, that might mean rearranging when you eat meals, or adding a snack to match the new time.

Similarly, if you have night meds that have sleepiness as a side effect, you need to take those earlier, which might mean eating dinner earlier.

And actually, you might try shifting dinner earlier anyway, even if you don't have night meds, because some people have trouble sleeping when they're still digesting.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:59 AM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, also: Do you have Feelings about the times of day that you do things?

Like, does eating dinner at 8 feel sophisticated and adult, and eating dinner at 5:30 feels like embarrassing kid stuff? Does eating lunch at 11 instead of 12 make your afternoon at work feel impossibly long and dull and featureless? Does going to bed early feel like you're being punished or missing out on life? Does waking up before the sun is up make the daily grind feel extra grind-y?

Because figuring out ways to subvert/redirect that stuff ("Now I get to watch the sun rise more often!" "Ok, I'll take a short break at 11 to snarf some food, and then I'll take my long break at 2 and go for a walk") will probably help.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:07 AM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

As a lifelong night owl, I’ve gotten it mildly under control in the last couple years with this technique: a micro dose of melatonin, like 0.2, six hours before bed (only for the first couple nights while you get adjusted), blue blocker glasses at dusk, and using a bright light visor in the morning for a half hour. This allowed me to successfully shift my sleep schedule about 5 hours earlier and hold it there, but it requires a decent amount of vigilance.
posted by hungrytiger at 7:13 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Try to finish dinner before 7 PM and wash your face and brush your teeth (and do other stuff like removing contacts, putting on your PJs, or whatever) at an earlier time than usual. Oh and if you plug your phone in at night, put the plug away from your bedside (across the room for example) and put your phone there at an earlier time than usual.
posted by sallybrown at 7:34 AM on August 29, 2019

There was a period when I was forced to switch to an early bedtime because I had a job that required me to get up at 2 or 3 in the morning. After a couple of days of getting up that early, I was very ready to go to bed early. Even if your ultimate goal is to get up at the same time you get up now, you might try setting your alarm for a really early time for a week or so, to help you feel sleepy when your desired bedtime rolls around.
posted by Redstart at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2019

I did this. I read up on sleep hygiene and implemented all those changes, many mentioned above.

The trick to actually moving bedtime was waking up at the same time every day, no excuses, no additional alarms to wake up. Then you just go to bed when you're tired. Eventually, your body will figure out when to get tired based on your wake time and the amount of sleep you need. I can't remember how long it took, but I'd guess a couple of weeks?

That includes the morning after your late night and weekends. After you adjust you'll be able to get away with sleeping in sometimes, unless you're really sensitive. (This is true for most of the sleep hygiene strategies - you'll figure out which ones you need to be strict about once you adjust.)

It might be a rough couple of weeks. It's well worth it.
posted by meemzi at 7:39 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have my lights on a timer. The “common area” lamps start dimming at 10 and go out completely by 11. At the point that they’re out and the bedroom light is also already set low, I’m ready to just crawl into bed and crash. I even do my last “toilette” stuff by nightlight.

I find that having cues like lights dimming and electronics getting turned off (reading a physical book in the early morning and late evening instead of looking at screens works better for me) makes it easy to actually feel tired and WANT to go to bed reasonably early. Also, don’t eat too late or take caffeine too late (for me, that’s after 9pm for eating and after noon for coffee), and if you’re having trouble take melatonin nightly for a week or two.

Of course, then I stay up all night on a Friday binge-watching something or whatever, and am totally off schedule come the weekend! Haha. But during the week, I try harder to be thoughtful about my sleep.

Oh and two ideas I remind myself of when I’m tempted to stay up: “you can’t do anything after 11pm that you won’t be better off doing tomorrow” and how much I used to fantasize about being able to go to bed early/anytime I wanted back when I was in school or doing shift work. Those thoughts make going to bed whenever I want, just based on being tired, seem both responsible and luxurious.
posted by rue72 at 7:52 AM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

You have to rework some of your narratives, make a goal of not treating any part of this process as bad or wrong or you'll get agitated and it'll make it worse. Resting isn't "wasting time", it's an important thing for your body to be doing even if you haven't locked in the sleeping part yet. You know that late-night hours are not productive, and that's a good thing to keep in mind. I also have some rules around not thinking about work at night because I don't owe them every minute of my damn life, and not treating stuff I could be doing except it keeps me up late as "lost" or "missed" or whatever - I know that quality will suffer if I stay up doing those things, and I'll just need to budget some daylight time to those things if I really want to do them.

You really should work out your bedtime routine on paper, set some alarms on your phone to note the critical start times, and then actually do what they say. This is really the critical pivot in your evening, when you stop doing whatever and start doing your wind-down process no matter what, no matter how compelling the distractions. Much like you get to work on time every day by completing your morning routine in time and leaving the house on time, you should treat your bedtime routine as the same sort of sacred routine that can't be messed with and is vital to the rest of your schedule.

I use an app called Insight Timer to listen to some bedtime meditations when I don't feel like I'm going to pass out immediately. Even the free catalog is quite extensive.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel ancient, but okay, my regular routine at this point is that at 8 or 8:30pm I'm usually in my living room. I get up, clean the kitchen if needed, pack my lunch for tomorrow, take the dog out, and get ready for bed. Now it's around 9pm. I get in bed, snuggle my wife and dog, and read a book or watch TV. Something calm and low-key. I usually go to sleep by 11, and often earlier since my body is in bed and snuggly.

THE TRICK TO ALL THIS is that you get up and start what I call the "bedtime train" no later than 8:30! Otherwise it's 10pm and you still have to MAKE A LUNCH and wake up IN 8 HOURS and everything sucks and you enter a vortex of despair.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:20 AM on August 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

Take a small dose of melatonin an hour before you want to fall asleep. It's not really a sleep aid, but helps to adjust your circadian rhythms so you naturally fall asleep earlier. A cup of chamomile or rosemary tea will help as well.

If you wont be upsetting a partner or roommate, turn your wifi off at 9pm. Or simply turn off your wifi and data on the phone itself (less ideal) Then you won't be tempted to use your phone later than your desired bedtime. I started doing this and it's made a huge difference.
posted by ananci at 8:46 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconded; my household sometimes has to put the router on a timer so there’s no internet during sleeping hours.

I deal with the in-bed-brain-whirring problem with bed headphones (like Cozyphones ) and an audiobook that

* I know really well, so I’m not staying awake for the plot
* has beautiful sentences, so whir-brain lingers over them
* pleasant narrator’s voice
* maybe I’ve turned the replay speed down a little

Also, I cut way down on caffeine, and cut it out after noon.
posted by clew at 9:14 AM on August 29, 2019

If you take melatonin in the beginning to help you transition, I've read that it's most useful to take it two hours before your bedtime.
posted by pinochiette at 9:56 AM on August 29, 2019

If you have to use screens in the evening, install an application that makes the light less blue and less bright during that time. Two examples are F.lux and Redshift.
If you already use such an app, change the setting so the evening starts an hour earlier.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:04 AM on August 29, 2019

In addition to all the other good suggestions, for me it was helpful to reframe the narrative around "wasting time lying in bed." At a minimum, think of it as "training my body to a new schedule FOR MEEEE" time. Better yet, your body is resting, even if your mind is not. I've read that even lying there awake, you get something like 70% of the benefit of sleep. Best of all, enjoy luxuriating in you yummy bed. Talk about me time! I tell myself, "At last! No one and nothing can disturb me here. It is my special place."
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 10:57 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Check what you're doing instead of getting ready for bed and what feelings or environmental cues are pushing that. Then see what you can change (in mindset or environment) to help you get to bed earlier.

For me, I'm usually trying to do JUST ONE MORE thing. And it helps me to say, hey, if I wake up early I can do it in the morning. That would be much more pleasant.

Or, I tend to get overtired and not want to go do my before-bed chores. So when I'm done with dinner and my brain is hunting "what will I go do?" It works out great to make the answer be "clean the cat box and remove makeup now, since I know I HAVE to do that". If I do my must-do things first, then I'm not dragging procrastinating on them when it's time for actual bed. I can skip straight to the bed part.
posted by Lady Li at 12:28 PM on August 29, 2019

For me the best method was to keep track of sleep times. There is something about looking at the information every day that helps me find the motivation to get to sleep at the right time. The power of accountability. You may find it easier, as I did, to use a cell phone app to help log the times I go to bed. I used Beddit, which has an accessory that lays under the mattress pad to detect my presence, but there are other apps which use the phone's microphone to track your sleep behavior. Or a wearable device such as a fitbit or Apple watch can track your sleep as well.
posted by conrad53 at 1:38 PM on August 29, 2019

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