I love sleep. I like taking naps, sleeping late in the morning and spending money on the most comfortable mattresses, linen and pillows I can find.
But for years I indulged in bad habits throughout the day that meant every night I went to bed I’d never get the quality of sleep I really yearned for. Until I invented my own 12-Step Sleepoholic’s Program.
Each step below is a carefully mapped out in a program that spans from the moment you get up to when you go to bed. It will help anyone prepare mentally and physically for a good night’s sleep.
The Snoozers Anonymous 12-Step Program can help anyone quit their bad sleeping habits and have a more restful snooze each and every night.
My 12-Step Program for quitting bad sleep habits
In the morning
1. Wake up at the same time every day.
This can be difficult, especially on weekends when you want to sleep in, but this step is crucial for creating a consistent circadian rhythm. Sleeping in may seem like you are catching up on sleep, but ultimately it will make it more difficult to fall asleep at night, and this can create a vicious cycle.
2. If possible, expose yourself to natural light and fresh air right away.
Open the curtains and a window as soon as you wake up, or just step outside. Exposing yourself to light and fresh air as soon as you wake up will stimulate your circadian rhythm and help you feel more alert and awake when you get out of bed.
This is not just an old-wives tale. Peer-reviewed studies have shown there is certainly something to this.
During the day
3. Exercise regularly.
Exercise, as you know, is good for you. It raises the metabolism, makes you fitter and stronger, reduces anxiety, and also helps you sleep. Try to do it earlier in the day, and do it outdoors if possible. Make sure you do not exercise too close to bedtime, as it can be stimulating. Also, remember that some exercise is better than none.
4. Eat healthily.
A healthy, balanced diet is a crucial step to feeling good and getting good sleep. Snacking after dinner is not advisable, but if you must snack then try to choose a healthy, protein-based snack like nuts and seeds. This way you will not spike your blood sugars (as you would with carbs and sugars) and sleep better.
5. Eat your meals earlier.
Try to shift all your meals earlier in the day. This might be difficult to fit into your regular schedule, but it is very important for feeling awake and ready to face the day in the morning. You could try to shift every meal back a bit every day if you are used to eating late.
Ideally, you should have breakfast within 30 minutes to an hour of waking up. Try to make breakfast a more significant meal. Try to see breakfast as the big meal, lunch as medium, and dinner as small. For the best results there should be a 2-3 hour gap between the last food you eat and bedtime.
6. Do not have any caffeine after 3pm.
Caffeine and alcohol are the two biggest sleep saboteurs. Caffeine lasts four to seven hours and boosts anxiety. Remember that tea and chocolate also contain caffeine, and try to avoid them later in the day. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but ultimately results in fragmented, less restful sleep.
7. Routine, routine, routine!
Some people like to have a hot drink before bed, including milk, chamomile, valerian, rooibos, or just hot water with lemon. While these are not clinically proven to have an active effect on putting you to sleep, you may find it relaxing and it could be a powerful trigger for your brain.
No matter what you do, if you do it regularly, your mind and body will associate it with going to bed. Other things you might do every evening are having a shower, brushing your teeth, putting on pajamas, or reading a book. As long as you do it every evening, it will help create a routine.
8. Stick to a screen blackout at least an hour before bed.
This is one of the most difficult and most important steps. When you watch television, use your computer, or look at your phone, you are looking at bright lights that are unnatural for the circadian rhythm. Screens are bad for sleep! Ideally, you want to turn all these devices off at least an hour before bed.
If this is not an option for you, you might consider lowering the brightness of the screen or using a specialized program like Flux, which gradually reduces the blue tones that keep you awake.
9. Reduce light levels later in the evening.
Similar to turning off screens, it is important that you turn off bright overhead lights as it gets closer to bedtime. If you need light to read, try to use task lights rather than overhead lights.
Getting into bed (hack your senses)
10. Sight and sound
You want to train your mind and body to expect sleep and be prepared for it. One way of doing this is by watching a relaxation video (if your computer is on anyway) or listening to the same music every evening.
You do not need to sit there and watch or listen, you can just have it on in the background while you do other things, but the routine will help you get into “sleep mode”.
A cool room combined with a warm bed are the most conducive to sleep. You can achieve this in many ways. Try leaving your bedroom window open during the day or at night, and make sure your heating is not set too high.
Keep the bed warm using flannel sheets or other high quality sheet options. You could also use hot water bottles or an electric blanket for additional warmth. Keeping sheets clean with proper care techniques is also an effective way to maintain the quality and feel of your sheets (and therefore the consistency of your touch-experience at night)
An underrated sense when it comes to sleep routines, smell can be a big help. Pick a relaxing, enjoyable scent and expose yourself to it when you’re going to sleep, and ONLY then.
This could be a pillow spray, a cream, a particular kind of soap, or anything else you can think of. Once you learn to associate this smell with sleep, it will help you “switch off” when you want to.