How do I make myself want to go to bed earlier?
January 15, 2008 5:38 AM   Subscribe

What techniques can I use to help motivate myself to go to bed earlier?

Remember that old Jerry Seinfeld bit about How “late night guy” always wants to stay up late, but “morning guy” always feels exhausted (and hates late night guy)? That’s me in a nutshell. I don’t get enough sleep, and now that I’m out of college I really have no excuses. My problem is, each evening, I just don’t feel much of a desire to go to bed. Consequently, night after night, I stay up just a little too late, and by the end of the week I’m completely exhausted.

What tricks should I use to help change my habits? Is there anything I can do to help make myself want to go to bed at an earlier hour?

Extra special bonus question: due to my work/volunteer schedule, one night a week I don’t get home until at least 11:45 pm, which means I’ve been away from my apartment for more than 15 hours. On these nights, I find it very hard to go to bed quickly after getting home. I feel a strong desire to spend time unwinding first, and that frequently means I don’t end up going to bed until 1:30 or 2 on those nights. Any suggestions on how to get from “just got home after a very long day” mode, to “it’s time to go to bed” mode more efficiently, would be greatly appreciated.
posted by dyslexictraveler to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
Over the last couple of years I have gone from always being in bed by 11 to never going to sleep before 2 whilst still getting up at 730ish .

I either just make do with this and catch up at the weekend (no alarm & long lie-in) plus little siesta around 5 or 6 or, in the week do my unwinding in bed. This means physically getting into bed earlier but reading, playing on the PSP or watching a film. The light still doesn't go out till gone 2 most nights but i fall asleep pretty much straight away, and am more relaxed than if i were still up sat in front of the PC or telly...
posted by jontyjago at 5:46 AM on January 15, 2008

I used to have my living room lights on a timer. When they went off, it was bedtime. If I wanted to stay up, I had to get up & turn them back on, which made staying up later a very conscious decision.
posted by belladonna at 5:51 AM on January 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I struggled with this, and still am, although I've found a few things that worked. Basically, for about two and a half years, I was doing a job that had pretty long hours, meaning I rarely got home before nine or ten at night, often later. I found myself resenting this and got into the habit of staying up at least until midnight, often one or two in the morning, usually playing video games or staring at the TV/internet. Then I did myself the huge favour of falling in love with a girl who lived in a different time zone, meaning I never got to sleep before 1am, as I stayed up to talk to her.

I went through about two years in a kind of haze where I forgot what it felt like not to feel permanently drained and tired. It did bad things to my health and mood and productivity, both at work and in my own stuff. I'm a pretty cheery chap normally, but I became pretty morose, and it's only because my now wife is a saint and loves me despite my grouchiness that our relationship didn't founder.

I got into these habits at university, where they had a limited impact, because I could always sleep in and miss a lecture if I really couldn't face getting up. Not so in the real world, unfortunately, and it's only now, five years after graduating, that I'm slowly realising how much those extra hours staying up can really, really grind you down. I'm still working on these, but these are the tricks that have worked for me.
  • 'Landing routine' - much like a pilot bringing a 747 in, I'm developing a set routine that I go through every time I come through the front door. I come in, dump my shoulder bag, change out of work clothes, immediately iron my shirt and trousers for the next day, make my lunch and do any dishes left over from the night before/morning. No sitting down, no computer games, nothing. I don't have a TV, so that's one major time-suck out of the way, but doing this 'landing routine' means that you get the niggly 'prep' stuff out of the way, which makes it a lot easier to actually relax. If you come home and spend four hours noodling around with stuff while the thought nags that you haven't ironed a shirt for tomorrow, it's really, really hard to actually unwind.
  • 'Time check' - if it's after 10pm, no computer games, no TV (if I had one), no internet. Nothing with a big, bright screen. No idea where I heard this, but I believe there's research that says all of these bright, eyeball-focused light sources trick your brain into thinking it's still light, meaning you remain wakeful. Instead, I'll get something to drink (a beer if it's been a tough day, or just some juice if I just need to rehydrate), kick back on the sofa and read, or listen to music, or Radio 4.
  • 'Midnight cutoff' - from experience, I now know that midnight is the latest I can be awake and remain reasonably functional. My phone plays a Jeeves sample at me ('Now it's time for Sir to sleep') at 11.45. You'll find your own 'drop-dead' time, but there's an old wives tale that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after, so worth keeping that in mind. Obviously the earlier the better.
  • Rigid wake up - this is the one I'm struggling with most - getting up at the same time, every morning. What I'm trying to do, in essence, is shift that 'dammnit, I'm staying up so I can have some time to my damn self' feeling to the early morning - getting up when the world is still quiet, listening to early morning radio, writing a bit, reading. The key here is to have your admin done the night before so you can enjoy the morning quiet, rather than spending it ironing your shirt.
It's tough, but it's been worth it so far. Good luck!
posted by Happy Dave at 6:16 AM on January 15, 2008 [57 favorites]

Use a lightbox in the morning. Whoo, I'm very much a night-person who suddenly thinks that 12:30 is a nice time to go to bed.

I agree that going directly to bed after getting home from work late is frustrating. Give yourself time to relax, but with a few caveats. 1) Pick a bedtime for those nights, even if it's 2. Stick to it like glue, no excuses. 2) Don't futz around on the computer -- do something semi-constructive, even if it's just watching a movie.
posted by desuetude at 6:19 AM on January 15, 2008

You might need to begin the process much earlier. I find that caffeine after 2pm means a late night, so I set that as my coffee cut-off time.
posted by dws at 7:13 AM on January 15, 2008

I'm a night person myself. While my wife and I aren't sure what sort of person she is on that front, she has a job she needs to be at by 8am. I'm an independent consultant, so can pretty much work whenever.

I'm very photosensitive. I can't sleep in a bright room, and I wake up quickly in one. We have light blocking backing behind the curtains in our bedroom. Also, anything emotionally exciting wakes me up too. Here are all the things we do to make it so I can keep the same schedule as the wife:

We have timers on a main light in our house, which is a big box floor lamp. It comes on at 630pm and goes off at 1130pm to signal bedtime (which we do as soon as we finish the current activity). We have auxiliary 30w lamps on side tables in our living room. We have the same lamps in the bedroom. We don't use the overhead light (140w or so) anywhere near bed time.

In the bedroom, one of the lamps in there is set on a timer that comes on 15 minutes before time to get up. This can wake us up, or just make it harder to go back to sleep.

We don't do *any* activities in bed other than sleep and sex. This includes mental activities. No lazing about in the mornings, weekend or no. This is a matter of good sleep hygiene. No talking about things in bed. No reviewing your day tomorrow. No reviewing your day today.

Getting some exercise at least 3 hours before trying to go asleep also helps. Avoiding intense discussions for a similar amount of time also seems to help. As do avoiding "intense" video games.

posted by gte910h at 7:23 AM on January 15, 2008

I've found that a rigorous exercise program (and for me, in the morning) really helps facilitate wanting to go to bed at night. It's not a matter of exhaustion, but it just feels good to crawl in bed and get some rest at the end of the day. If I do this along with making sure that I'm getting up early at the same time every morning, my body adjusts nicely to the rhythm.

I also have a bit of a routine at times that helps me enjoy sleeping. I make my bed really comfortable, and I have a couple of enjoyable books on hand. Light reading for me can help facilitate sleep, so the whole thing is relaxing, and before long, I'm falling asleep doing something I enjoy.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:39 AM on January 15, 2008

What I do is read. Reading in bed makes me fall asleep in about 15 minutes, even if I felt wide awake beforehand. Of course you have to make a conscious decision to stop what you're doing at xxPM and wrap things up. Go brush your teeth (and floss!), get your book, and lie down in bed. No TV on. Just read. My eyes close a few times while I'm reading. After that I turn the lamp off and I'm done.
posted by poppo at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2008

Agreed on a lot of the suggestions above.

I usually turn off most of the lights in the house at least 90 minutes before bed. I turn off all screens (TV and computer) at least an hour before bed.

If I'm going to take a shower, I do it after I turn off the computer or TV. This relaxes me physically, and starts the process of getting my mind off the day's concerns.

The last stage in my routine is reading for 30-45 minutes, sitting by lamp in an otherwise dark room. Reading (and not from a screen) is the only way I can completely calm my mind. I prefer lengthy fiction and non-fiction books and articles (avoiding anything that deals with contemporary politics, which gets me too wound up).

Having said all that, I have exactly the same problem you do -- I consistently go to bed way too late. I know what I need to do to unwind; I usually just don't start the process early enough.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:13 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find popping a Melatonin pill and going back to whatever I was working on brings on sleepiness in about half an hour to an hour. This might work if you don't want to eliminate computers from your bedtime ritual... I usually start nodding off over Metafilter!
posted by Scram at 11:20 AM on January 15, 2008

Some people want to go to bed early. Some people want to do laundry. The rest of us just do it when we have to and try not to complain too much. Try getting into the "it's just like doing laundry" (or some other chore which you regularly complete, don't enjoy especially, but don't really rail against) mindset. (Note that I'm reading your question as having trouble actually leaving whatever you're doing and going to bed, rather than trouble falling asleep once you lay down. If this isn't the case, please correct.)
posted by anaelith at 12:35 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've heard a suggestion that you set two alarms a day. One wakes you in the morning. The other, which you should take just as seriously, tells you its bedtime.
posted by 4ster at 1:27 PM on January 15, 2008

Seconding all the good advice; sometimes sleep has to be more important. Create a schedule that will work (opposed to a schedule that you want to work, but that you know deep down that it won't), agree with yourself to follow it, and then do it.

Caffeine is insidious, it has a longer half-life in your system than intuition might suggest. The buzz is gone in a couple hours, but the side effects remain for another 3-6.

Dim lights at night.

Try to follow the sun, if the sun is up, you ought to be awake.

You can't make up for lost sleep, and don't try to make up for lost work. If the dishes didn't get done, leave them for tomorrow, and then adjust your behavior so it doesn't happen again. To bring it back to the Seinfeld thing, why punish sleep guy for things awake guy was too disorganized to do? Make awake guy do it tomorrow. YMMV
posted by gjc at 8:36 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ironically, I'm reading this page when I should be going to bed...

Damn you metafilter!
posted by BeaverTerror at 12:09 AM on January 16, 2008

I have this same problem. Exercise definitely helps, but in the end, it's a matter of sheer willpower. To me sleep is boring & seems like an admission of defeat. "That's it, that's all I'm going to experience or accomplish today."

My wife loves to sleep. Maybe she likes dreaming? I guess look forward to dreams, which Borges called "the original fiction."
posted by jcruelty at 11:42 AM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: O.P. here--thanks to everyone for their thoughtful answers. The MeFi community never ceases to impress me.

Some additional thoughts:

I really like Happy Dave's comment about having a "landing routine" for when you come into the house after work, and specifically the point about doing everything that needs to be done before you go to bed immediately upon arriving home, instead of say, waiting until after dinner. Now that I think about it, my "going to bed problem" may have more to do with proper time management than I realized. One of my common pit falls is that I'll procrastinate on some task that needs to be completed before the next day, and because I won't let myself go to bed before it's done I end up going going to bed really late. This pattern also prevents me from truly relaxing before I sleep, which I think reduces the quality of the sleep I do get.

There are many suggestions about using alarms and timers to remind yourself of your commitment to go to bed. Like any attempt to change a core hapit, placing reminders around yourself can be a helpful tool. But they are only effective if your truly committed to the goal, and if you've got a sort of "I have to go to bed at 11 pm no matter what" type attitude. In my case, the activity that I'm most likely to be burning the midnight oil doing is suffering the Internets. With this in mind, a co-worker of mine suggested using a Firefox extension, Leechblock. The extension is primarily designed to help you stay productive at work by blocking your access to certain sites on a schedule you set, but it can also be configured to block the entire web after a certain hour at night.

Part of the reason I've found this so difficult to change over the years is that I think my emotional attitude towards sleep is similar to jcruelty's--sleep seems boring to me and very much feels like an admission of defeat in terms of what I can accomplish in a day. There's just nothing appealing to me going to bed, and I think that's why developing fun pre-bed routine that I could look forward to would really help a lot.

Finally I put my googlefu to work, and found some additional links that others may find useful:
posted by dyslexictraveler at 6:58 PM on February 4, 2008 [14 favorites]

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