Have you ever heard of sleep training? Typically, it’s something new parents think a lot about, because they desperately want their newborns to sleep, so they can. Have you ever thought of sleep training for adults? No? Well I have…
I am not a good sleeper.
I never have been. Even as a kid I fought bedtime, crying until my mom or dad would come back to check on me. I’m a light sleeper, and I have anxiety, and so that combination makes it hard for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. My first year of college I slept an average of four hours a night, and then would bound awake to make it through classes, new social settings, and living in a dorm life.
My preferred sleeping environment is cave-like: dark, cool, and quiet. But not too quiet, because then I can hear myself think. How do I achieve that? In college, I just didn’t sleep. When I moved to New York City, I found the street noise soothing, like ambient white noise that I could tune out.
Except for when I could hear my neighbors screaming at each other through our shared paper-thin wall. Then I’d bang on the wall until I discovered I could wear earplugs. My bedroom door was a french door, with glass and panes that had an opaque film stuck to them for privacy. Which meant no one could see in, but I could see all the light coming through from the living room. I slept with my comforter over my head for nine months before I bought a sleep mask.
So, to recap, I had developed tools to help me sleep: I made myself blind with a sleep mask and deaf with ear plugs.
But I still had trouble falling asleep. I’d come home from work, make dinner, and then go into my room and watch hours of Netflix until I turned the light off to go to sleep. Or, if I went out to meet friends after work, when I got back to my apartment, I watched Netflix or scrolled through my phone for an hour and then turned the light off to go to sleep.
I wasn’t sleeping though, I would lay there for hours trying to unwind, analyzing the day’s conversations, stressing about what I needed to do the next day, or counting down the hours I had left to sleep before my alarm would go off.
When I moved to California for graduate school, I immediately slept better because I left the stressful work environment. But as I built my momentum, getting a job to go along with my schoolwork, making friends, and dating, I was back into my no-sleep-spiral. I noticed I felt best when I went back to my room and read for an hour quietly before I turned the light off rather than just trying to go to bed and immediately fall asleep. So, I decided to build a sleep routine, one that I could stick to.
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The key here is routine.
It doesn’t matter what you do, it just has to work for you. I highly recommend, however, avoiding screen time an hour before bed. Studies have shown that the blue light from the screen, and the rapid scrolling, interact with a part of you brain that gets more active, which will keep you up at night.
Sleep Training For Adults:
Decide what time what time you’d like to wake up and how many hours you need to feel well-rested.
For example, if you need to wake up by 6 am and need 8 hours of sleep, you’ll want to be asleep by 10 pm.
Add 30 minutes to the time before you’d like to be asleep. This is your downtime.
So from the previous example, you should be completing your routine and getting into bed around 9:30 pm.
Set an alarm. Wake up every day at that same time, if you can.
You will see noticeable results in that you will feel less groggy, and your body will begin to wake you up a minute or two before your alarm, which is a bonus because when my alarm goes off it scares the crap out of me every time.
Now that you know your schedule, set your habit for winding down.
For example, I like to be asleep by 10 pm. So, at 9 pm I try to be in bed, teeth brushed and PJs on, so I can read for an hour.
This is my personal preference, because I know that it takes me a long time to fall asleep. I choose books that are interesting but not exciting, so I can plod along and get sleepy, and also distract myself from any worries from the day.
I made a rule for myself: no phones in bed, and no screen time after 9pm. This is the rule that is hardest for me to keep, but the most important. On the nights I’m edgy already and pick up my phone, I spend at least two unnecessary hours scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest.
Editor’s note: Try keeping your phone in another room to avoid the temptation. If you’re not able to do that, at least try to keep it across the room and out of reach.
Do this every night for four weeks.
Journal every few days when you first wake up or as you’re winding down to help track patterns and see if you notice what works for you.
When I go through my sleep routine but my anxiety prevails and I still can’t sleep, instead of playing games on my phone or going back to that Instagram, I’ve started listening to audio books or podcasts.
The chatter and hum of certain voices lulls me to sleep within 10 minutes, the fastest I’ve ever crashed, and with the added technology of a sleep timer, I can listen to a podcast through a series of nights.
The only downside is that it’s awkward to sleep with headphones in for some people. I’ve gotten used to it, but in the middle of the night I usually pull them off and throw them on the floor.
Everyone is different. Everyone needs a different routine or a different amount of sleep to feel good. The important thing is to get enough sleep for you, so that you can still kick butt during the day, manage juggling work, studies, friends, relationships, and still have time for yourself without getting so burnt out that you want to cry.
Sleep goes up there with water on the “make sure you get enough” list. You’ll feel better physically, emotionally, and I bet you’ll have more energy at work, at the gym, and with friends.