How To Finally Get To Bed On Time

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BeautyStock_012714_0154Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
Gretchen Rubin, author of two New York Times bestsellers, is our go-to gal for the best get-it-together know-how. Every week, she'll be dishing up her wisdom straight from her popular blog, The Happiness Project, to get you on the road to a more productive, healthier you. Here's to a 2014 resolution that sticks!

When I video-posted about the Pigeon of Discontent, “I can never get to bed on time,” a few readers rightly pointed out that while I emphasized the importance of having a bedtime, I didn’t address the challenge of actually getting yourself to turn off the light when it’s time for bed.

That’s a very important question. Since I’ve started my Happiness Project, I’ve become more and more convinced that sleep is vital to happiness and energy. (Here are 14 tips on getting more sleep.) If you want to get more sleep, but have a hard time getting yourself to turn out the light, try these strategies.

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Give yourself a specific bedtime.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night, so take a look at your wake-up time, and do the math. Even if you don’t regularly go to bed at your bedtime, knowing, “Well, it’s midnight, so I’m two hours past my bedtime” might help prod you to bed.

Don’t wait until you feel sleepy.
It’s all too easy to keep yourself alert and busy way past the time that you should be asleep. If you insist that you’re quite wide awake at 1.00 a.m., test yourself: Sit in a dim room with your head back for five minutes. How does it feel? Are you still wide awake?

Stay away from the internet for at least an hour before your bedtime.
Television, too, but I think the internet is even more apt to make me feel artificially wide awake. I used to try to go through my emails one last time before bed, to get a jump on the morning, but I realized that this stimulating activity made it much harder to go to sleep.

Don’t drink caffeine for several hours before your bedtime.
This is a no-brainer.
BeautyStock_012714_0810Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
Remind yourself how great it feels to wake up naturally.
Before the alarm goes off, without that sickening jolt into wakefulness. Then, when you’re surfing the internet at 11.30 p.m., ask yourself, “Am I making a good trade-off?” I was recently talking to a group of medical students, and one guy protested, “But if I go to bed at 11.00 p.m., I won’t have time to watch some TV before bed.” I asked, “Is watching that block of TV so fun that it outweighs the pleasure of getting enough sleep?” (I don’t know what he decided.)

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Get ready before bed well ahead of time.
I realized that, perversely, I often put off going to bed because I was too tired to take out my contacts, brush my teeth, and get changed. Now I get ready earlier in the evening. Side benefit: Once I do these things, I’m less likely to head to the kitchen for a snack.

Create a bedtime ritual, and do it at the same time every night.
Maybe you fix yourself a cup of herbal tea, maybe you read in bed, maybe you do an evening tidy-up. By doing the same thing every night, you will cue yourself to start heading to bed.

One bit of folk wisdom that I heard when I had very young children was that “Sleep begets sleep.” I found that to be true of my children, and also of myself. I sleep better when I’m well-rested than when I’m over-tired.

How about you? Have you found any effective strategies for coaxing yourself to bed on time?

Click here to order Happier at Home or to be notified about pre-ordering Gretchen's next book, Before and After, about habits, coming in 2015.

Gretchen Rubin, author of two New York Times bestsellers, is our go-to gal for the best get-it-together know-how. Every week, she'll be dishing up her wisdom straight from her popular blog, The Happiness Project, to get you on the road to a more productive, healthier you. Here's to a 2014 resolution that sticks!