How to Win in 2021? Prioritise Your Sleep | Part 2: How to Choose a New Sleep Habit | Sleep Hub

Posted by Dr Sophie Bostock - Sleep Expert on 8th Jan 2021

How to Win in 2021? Prioritise Your Sleep | Part 2: How to Choose a New Sleep Habit | Sleep Hub

So we know the importance of sleep, but how do we put it into practise?

The new behaviours which become lasting habits are those which feel easy and achievable, and which can be built into your daily routine with very little - if any - effort.

Start with small, easy changes, which you can repeat daily. Every time you succeed in your habit, celebrate! Feeling good helps your brain to wire in new behaviours so that you are more likely to repeat them automatically. The more times you repeat something, the more likely it is to then become part of your identity. Succeeding at small changes can also help to give you the confidence to succeed at bigger changes later on.

Warning: putting pressure on yourself to fall asleep faster is a shortcut to feeling more anxious, and lying awake for longer. To improve your sleep, focus on practicing healthy sleep habits during waking hours instead.

But how do you know which habits to start with? These habit design tactics were inspired by Stanford behaviour expert, B.J. Fogg, in the book, Tiny Habits:

1. Make a list of all the ways you could improve your sleep

Write down a list of as many ideas as you can which could improve the quality or quantity of the sleep that you get.. the more the merrier, big and small. It might help to think about all the things that get in the way of sleep now, even if you don’t think you can influence them. Don’t rule anything out at this stage - get creative! We’ll narrow them down in step 2.

For example (this list is not exhaustive, or necessarily recommended)..

1. Wear ear plugs  11. Cut back on caffeine  21. Stop eating 2hrs before bed 
2. Get a non-snoring partner 12. Do more exercise 22. Read before bed 
3. Buy a new bed 13. Start the day earlier  23. Have more cuddles with my partner 
4. Use blackout blinds  14. Move house somewhere quieter  24. Meditate every day 
5. More regular routine  15. Help the kids sleep better  25. Write a daily journal 
6. Wind down before bed 16. Buy a light alarm clock  26. Lose weight 
7. Dim the lights at night 17. Stop scrolling on my phone in bed  27. Eat more healthily
8. Drink less alcohol  18. Use blue light filters on technology  28. Find a CBT therapist 
9. Work less  19. Tidy my bedroom  29. Warm bath at night 
10. Be less stressed 20. Get out of bed at the same time each day  30. Listen to music before bed

2. Map your favourite ideas by impact and ease

When you have a list of possible behaviours, you can prioritise. Some of the things on the list will have a big impact on your goals, whereas others might sound good, but would be very hard to do.

Map your list of possible habits using the axes below:

1. Impact - is it likely to improve your sleep? Put higher impact habits at the top.

2. Ease - how easy it is to do? Put easier habits towards the right, and more difficult habits towards the left.

You might want to use a big piece of paper and use post it notes to place each behaviour

If you’re not sure where something fits, simply make a guess for now. Part of the new habit process is trial and error. What works for one person may not work for you, and vice versa. Prioritise things which have a good fit with your desired future self. What ends up in your top right hand corner?

3. Choose up to 3 habits and create prompts for each

In the top right corner of your map you will hopefully have at least 1 new behaviour which feels easy and could have a significant benefit for your sleep.

Now think about the easiest possible version of that behaviour that you could start with, and how you could make this part of your daily routine.

One of the best ways to remember to repeat a new habit every day is to anchor it with an existing part of your routine as a trigger - such as brushing your teeth. Try and come up with a trigger, or prompt, for each behaviour.

For example...

You want to set yourself up for success, so to start with, I’d recommend just choosing up to 3 new habits to try - you can always build on this later.

Tell a close friend or family member what you will do, and when you will start. Ask them if they have any resolutions they would like support with, and aim to check in with each other once a week.

Every week, review your progress. Congratulate each other for every success! If obstacles arise, ask yourself: how could I make the behaviour even easier? Is there another prompt I could try that I won’t forget?

If the habit starts to feel easy, or boring, you’re ready to add something new… and the process begins again! 

authors profile
Dr Sophie Bostock
Sleep Expert
Sophie brings a wealth of expertise to the role having spent the last six years researching and championing the importance of sleep science in NHS and corporate settings. Sophie was responsible for improving access to the award-winning digital sleep improvement programme, Sleepio, as an NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellow. She has delivered hundreds of talks, including for TEDx and Talks@Google, and regularly features as a media sleep expert.
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