This article is an overview of some of the best practices for a consistent, high-quality sleep routine. The goal is to make this as practical and universal as possible. Whether you are a Lark (Morning Person) or a Night Owl (Night Person), a good sleep routine can be achieved for nearly everyone, and the ripple effects are literally life-changing.
I will teach you to make it simple, sensible, and enjoyable to prepare for sleep, sleep well, wake up when planned, and complete a morning routine that you find fulfilling.
For years, I tried to will myself into waking up early. It worked sometimes, but it never lasted for more than a few days or weeks in a row. I lacked the purpose and vision to sustain the habit with motivation alone. It wasn’t until I dug deeper into choosing what life I wanted to live and what a morning routine would do to help me get there that I generated the strength and strategy that pushed me past the tipping point.
Note: For a breakdown of my morning routine, read this article to the end.
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Benefits to a Good Sleep Routine
A good sleep routine includes three stages:
- Preparing for Sleep
- Waking Up and Morning Ritual
All three stages tie together to provide a slew of benefits including (but not limited to):
- REM Sleep – Primarily promotes recovery of the brain
- Deep Sleep – Primarily promotes recovery of the body
- More likely to be:
- At a healthy weight
- Of a sharper mind
- In a better mood
- More productive morning routine
- Recapturing lost time in your day
Look, things happen that disrupt a healthy sleep routine – events, travel, illness, and more. However, when it comes to how we spend most of our nights and mornings, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because of the exceptions to the rule. At the end of the day (pun intended), a regular routine of preparation, good sleep, and productive mornings will be a massive improvement to your life if you do it with purpose (Read more below).
To incentivize consistency of new behaviors/habits, you should always have the:
- Same Cues – Habits start and end with the cue or trigger that reminds us of the reward we are seeking. In this situation, the reward we are seeking lies within all the benefits listed above for good sleep. Remove the cue, and the craving for the reward goes away. Keep the cue, and ensure that the craving remains.
- Consistent Action – The 4-parts of a Habit are: Cue, Craving, Routine (Action), and Reward. Fun Fact – When we talk about changing habits, we are often referring to changing only the Routine (Action) while keeping the other three parts. Replacing smoking with running; TV with Reading; Scrolling through your phone with calling a loved one. We are designed to automate our behaviors through Habit, but it is the consistent Action itself that determines the outcome.
- Immediate Reward – The Reward System of the brain is as ancient as anything within our biology. Use rewards that don’t derail you from the goal at hand in order to incentivize you to continue (i.e. I put a small heating fan at my feet when I sit on the couch to read after waking up. It feels warm and comfortable, and it serves as a small reward for waking up and doing something productive).
- Helpful Environment – As I discussed in this 1-minute video, we can drastically improve the chances of breaking a bad habit and establishing a good one by setting up an environment that supports it (I.e. Making healthy foods more accessible in the house than unhealthy foods; Choosing a gym right along the way of your daily commute; Setting up your workstation the night before.) The idea is to remove friction from implementing good habits and increase friction for bad ones.
- Solidified Purpose – We do many things because we feel like we ought to, rather than doing so because we actually want to. While there are certain habit changes thrust upon us due to necessity (i.e. health, finances, etc.), the fact remains – whether it is dieting & exercising, reading a book, establishing better sleep habits, etc., be sure that your efforts align with your Keystone Pursuit (What you want the absolute most). Without being conscious of how a good sleep routine supports your primary pursuits in life, you are likely to struggle in seeing it through. In a nutshell – Know what you want, and it will be much more natural to implement healthy habits to align with the pursuit of that.
Do me a favor and give me some latitude on this section. This is not a one-size fits all, but it is a collection of practices that, most of which, can be achieved by all. Learn what you can from it, apply it, refine it for your life, and move forward.
Part 1 – Preparing for Sleep
Sleeping is as much about preparation for sleep as it is the act of sleeping itself. The idea here is to establish a routine to trigger your mind and body into winding down. As always, remember that there will be nights where we have parties, events, or breaks to our routine. This article is simply meant to lay out a brief guide to how to manage our standard schedules. Who knows? You might even learn how to use these tips and tricks to recover more quickly on eventful evenings as well!
Food & Liquids
- Stop drinking liquids 2-hours before bed
- This reduces the chances that you’ll need to wake-up and use the bathroom
- On the flip-side, to help fall asleep, you could drink Chamomile Tea (Again…for best results, at least 2-hours before you fall asleep)
- Alcohol and Marijuana
- Alcohol – Dr. Jeff Rodgers points out that the production of adenosine (a chemical in the brain that acts as a sleep-inducer) increases while drinking, allowing you to go to sleep quickly — however, this chemical quickly subsides, making you more likely to wake up. Additionally, I don’t think I have to tell you about the obvious negative affects you’re likely feel the next morning after a night of drinking.
- Marijuana – According to Sian Ferguson of Healthline.com People tend to get more “Deep Sleep” when taking in the THC of Marijuana (which is good for restoration of the body), but studies show that it also inhibits R.E.M. sleep (which is important for cognitive and immune system restoration). The jury is somewhat out on the balance of pros vs. cons, but it’s clear that marijuana changes sleep cycles.
- Occasional use is understandable, but a dependency on alcohol (definitely) and/or marijuana (probably) for sleep seems to be undesirable for long-term sleep habits and optimal benefits from sleep itself.
- Stop eating about 3-hours before bed
- Experts suggest the 3-hour window, but trust me, I find this VERY difficult because I usually finish work around 5:30, eat around 6:00 or 6:30, then I’m sleeping around 9:00. In between that time, I like to enjoy a small snack.
- The reason for this suggestion is because the biological processes of digestion can be very disruptive, keeping people awake and uncomfortable as they try to sleep.
- For what it’s worth, however, an empty stomach not only removes another factor for sleep disruption, but intermittent fasting has a myriad of health benefits as well.
- NOTE: I personally stack these two practices (Stop eating well before bed & Intermittent Fasting) together from about 7:30pm to 11:00am every day. It has made quite a difference in how I sleep and feel – not to mention how it has continued to help me drop a few extra pounds as I seek new personal fitness and body composition goals.
- Stop drinking liquids 2-hours before bed
Avoid Blue Light and Other Stimulating Content
Much like the benefits of caffeine, blue light actually boosts alertness, focus, memory, etc., but these are undesirable at night when we’re preparing for sleep. As you approach bedtime, try to:
- Avoid cell phones, tablets & computer screens as much as possible
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses when you do any of the above
- Avoid social media, provocative news, exciting television close to the time of sleep
- If you haven’t broken (or don’t wish to break) the habit of scrolling through your phone before bed, try ending the night by:
- Wearing blue-light blocking glasses
- Watching ASMR videos to fall asleep
- Using the Calm app, Headspace app, or free YouTube Meditation videos
- Turning on Do-Not-Disturb/Sleep Mode
- If you haven’t broken (or don’t wish to break) the habit of scrolling through your phone before bed, try ending the night by:
Take a Hot Shower/Bath
Humans tend to sleep best when our core body temperature is cooled down. Since our natural circadian rhythms fluctuate the body’s temperature in accordance to what we need to accomplish for the day, a hot shower about 90-minutes before bed has been shown to trigger a “cool-down” mode that aids in sleep.
Not only does this help with the biological component of sleep, it is yet another habit we can stack together within a larger bedtime routine. Win-Win.
Read a Book
Tim Ferriss recommends reading fiction books before bed as opposed to non-fiction. One benefit of this approach is that it allows you the chance to detach from the events of the day and into another world that the author creates for us. There is something uniquely cathartic to that.
Regardless of fiction or nonfiction, reading is a great practice for bed because it gets your eyes off of stimulating blue-light, sensationalism, and endless notifications designed to keep your attention. Not to mention all of the benefits reading has overall.
Set Up Your Environment for the Morning
REMEMBER: The more activities you tie into the routine, the more your brain will associate each one of those activities with sleep mode. The idea is to form a stronger bond between your activities and the act of sleeping.
Set up a work/read/journal/exercise station for the morning:
- This gives you a specific purpose to wake up at a designated time and produce something beneficial for your life.
- Additionally, it reduces friction between waking up and being active because all you’ll have to do is go through the motions the next morning.
Put a glass of water, coffee, tea in the fridge to chill overnight:
- We like rewards for doing things that are difficult.
- Each night, I make a latte and put it in the fridge next to a cup of water. When I wake up the next morning, the first thing I do is walk to the fridge, pick up the drinks, start with the water, then move to the coffee.
- Again, this is a reward in the morning because I reduced friction by setting up my environment the night before to foster comfort and action the next morning.
Set out clothes and a blanket to wear for the morning activities (and to warm up):
- There are all types of studies that show that changing our clothes into an outfit that is dedicated to the particular activity we are doing makes quite a difference.
- Wearing pajamas tends to put us into lazy mode. Wearing a suit tends to put us into work mode. Wearing workout clothes tends to orient our minds for exercise. Turns out that dressing for success actually makes people more successful, confident and productive in the activities they are participating in.
Mentally prepare to wake up and follow a routine:
In addition to physical preparation is the mental preparation to wake up and follow a specific routine. Here are some ideas:
- Affirm to yourself that you will wake up early
- Tell a trusted friend or family member that you are going to do so
- Make visualizing your plans for the next morning a part of your bedtime routine
In a nutshell, when preparing for sleep…make it easy, enjoyable and fulfilling to stay awake and follow through on your activities
NOTE: Feeling like you’re waking up to an organized and relaxing home is an oft-forgotten component to good sleep. It is obviously more immediately enjoyable for us to stay in our warm, comfortable beds, and go back to sleep for longer than needed when chaos awaits us outside of it.
Because waking up is the hardest part, focus your efforts on creating the best environment and routine that will incentivize you to get out of bed and into your morning routine.
REMEMBER: Methods over Motivation.
Part 2 – Sleeping
Everything you set up in Part 1 is designed to foster a continuously improving sleep routine. Now that you’re here, just make sure a few more details are in order, then you’ll be ready to snooze away.
Keep your bedroom a comfortable temperature for sleep – The SleepFoundation.org says the best temperature for optimal sleep is between “60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius)”.
Purchase a new pillow, heated blanket, etc. for max comfort – Considering that the contents of the bed make up a cocoon that supports and wraps up your entire body while you sleep, it makes quite a bit of sense to ensure that you are properly investing in a setup that works for you. Everybody is different, so be sure not to overlook this important component to good sleep.
Make sure you are in a proper sleeping position – How you sleep, as in the position of your body makes quite a bit of difference when it comes to staying asleep, alleviating pain, etc. Here is an article that can help you choose the right position.
Eliminate disruptive or inconsistent sounds and lights – Use earplugs and/or play a white noise machine or app. You could also consider running a box fan to cool down the room and introduce white noise to help streamline consistency of sound which will promote sleep. Finally, keep the room dark and/or wear a sleep mask over your eyes.
DISCLAIMER: As always, my writing is catering to the rule, not the exception. If you require special attention due to physical or psychological ailments, please consult with a doctor and/or specialist who is trained to help you get better sleep.
Just like anything, don’t get discouraged if this doesn’t result in the best night of sleep the 1st, 2nd, or even 20th time you try it. Practice makes perfect, and good sleep is no different.
Part 3 – Waking Up & Morning Rituals
This is the hardest part, so pay special attention.
For me, the act of sleep itself is purely restorative. It feels nice, of course, but it’s important to recognize that we sleep so we can be better versions of ourselves when we’re awake. Healthy, alert, focused, energized, joyous, and ready to take on the day. For these reasons and more, I find it equally as important to have a meaningful plan for what you want to do when you wake up.
Here are some tips for giving yourself the best chance at making that happen:
Choose activities that support your Keystone Pursuit
As discussed in another article, your Keystone Pursuit is one goal/habit/pursuit so important to you that it is capable of awakening and firmly establishing other new and beneficial habits in the process. Your morning routine is the perfect time to make huge strides towards this pursuit. Your mind, body, and spirit is usually refreshed and at its sharpest time in the day, so make sure that you know exactly what you want, because once you do, your mornings will become a time of incredible transformation for you.
Try to wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
I recommend waking up at least 2 hours prior to starting work for the day. If you truly need to recover with more sleep, do it, but as far as a routine is concerned, sleeping and waking up at the same times help tremendously with establishing the body’s sleep memory, thus making it easier and easier to continuously wake up at the same time as you continue.
Immediately reward yourself with a healthy (yet tasty) beverage or snack that you made the night before and put in the fridge
This is something that I implemented into my morning habits to reward myself for doing the difficult thing of getting out of bed. Read more in the section about my morning routine below.
Go from bed to the station you set up for the morning
Your environment should be set up to help you transition from sleep to activity as smoothly and enjoyably as possible. My set-up looks a little like this:
- Heating Fan
- Coffee and Water
- Book and Laptop
I typically start with easy tasks/actions and move to more difficult (i.e. Water and Coffee > Reading > Journaling/exercising)
A friend of mine employs a brilliant tactic. He uses his Philips Hue lights and Google Nest Temperature regulator system to automatically warm up the house around 4:30am and turn on a yellow-orange lighting in his room around 5:00am everyday to make it easier and more natural to wake up.
He relies on Methods over Motivation. And it worked…
I struggled to establish a good sleep routine for most of my adult life. Whether it was laziness, rebellion, or a natural predisposition, I felt that I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I tried to leverage willpower and motivation, it wasn’t until I identified a worthwhile purpose and plan (my Keystone Pursuit was to get my personal finances turned around – read more about it here) that I was able to consistently follow-through. I couldn’t just want to want it. I had to truly want it. This was a life-changing epiphany for me.
NOTE: These days, since I’ve got my finances in order (My routine worked!), I use my mornings to build this platform by writing, creating content, etc.
Knowing what you really want, and knowing how a good sleep routine will help you with that is the first step to establishing one that has a strong chance of sticking. For me, the following routine is a snapshot of what I’ve been able to solidify over the past few years. Even though I have days where I stumble, I am highly adherent to this schedule, and the consistency of doing so has made all the difference –
As we come to the final stretch of this article, let’s remember the 5 Key Factors to incentivizing new habits and a new sleep routine:
- The Same Cue
- Consistent Action
- An Immediate Reward
- A Helpful Environment
- A Solidified Purpose
Preparing for Sleep
- Stop eating and drinking liquids as early as possible after dinner/dessert (Consistent Action)
- Reminder App (Click here for Android users) notifies me at 7:45pm to start preparation for the night (Cue)
- Set up my morning workstation with book, laptop, blanket and heating fan (Consistent Action / Habit Stacking)
- Make coffee. Put coffee and glass of water in fridge (Consistent Action / Habit Stacking)
- Brush Teeth (Consistent Action/ Habit Stacking)
- Turn on A/C or open window to cool down the bedroom (Consistent Action/ Habit Stacking)
- Let dogs out to pee (Consistent Action / Habit Stacking)
- Turn on fan for white noise (Consistent Action / Habit Stacking)
- Set alarms: (Consistent Action / Habit Stacking)
- 3:30am (To pee); 4:55am; 5:00am; 5:02am; 5:05am (To make sure I don’t miss it)
- Read until tired (Routine / Habit Stacking / Solidified Purpose)
- Box Fan to drown out noise (Helpful Environment)
- Room is cold and pillow is firm (Helpful Environment)
- Move dogs out of way (Helpful Environment)
- Get into comfortable position
Wake Up and Morning Ritual
As you will see, because waking up is so difficult, I stack the deck with rewards to incentivize myself to get out of bed. Hats off to people who wake up and jump into cold plunges and all that jazz, but that’s not my cup of tea, and I suspect it’s not yours either. This routine is designed with me in mind.
- Alarm (Cue)
- Use Bathroom (Action)
- Walk to Fridge – grab water and coffee (Reward)
- Quick Stretch (Purpose and Reward)
- Turn on heating fan, then put on blanket and clothes (Reward)
- Start reading (Reward/Purpose)
- Start writing/working (Purpose)
As a result of this routine, which isn’t perfect (but is consistent), I’ve given myself a conservative average of 90 extra minutes per day that I would have otherwise used to lie in bed, watch TV, or mindlessly scroll on my phone. That 90-minutes over the course the past year alone has allowed me to recuperate about 547 hours, or 23 extra days.
We all want more hours in the day, more paid-time off, and more money for vacation, but are we efficiently leveraging the time we already have to build the life we want to live?
Methods > Motivation
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it took me quite some time to figure out that leveraging the habit-forming parts of the brain would be a much more effective strategy to building a solid sleep and morning routine than relying on motivation alone.
It isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it. The reason for creating a strong sleep and morning routine is within you, and now you have the methodology to build one that works.
Make it simple.
Make it rewarding.
Make it what you want.
Be Well & Be You,
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