So we know the 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:
Step 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|
Step 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?
Step 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.
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!