Welcome back. If you’ve been following along this week, you now have a shiny new evening ritual complete with a:
Yesterday we talked about how tracking can hold you accountable and be used as a simple reward.
Checking a ritual off a habit tracker app, marking a big X off a calendar, or using AE’s free Excel tracker are all a type of reward. Tracking works as a reward because humans are all motivated by progress. Tracking your successes helps you see that progress before it’s visible. For example, 3 workouts won’t give you six pack abs, but one hundred sessions might. And it’s not likely that you’ll get to that 100th session without the accountability and motivation that comes with tracking.
More traditional rewards can also be a motivation tool to complete your evening ritual. There’s nothing wrong with dangling a Fitbit in front of your sleepy eyes if it helps you get to your first evening ritual 21-day streak.
Just make sure you:
- are clear on what you want to do and commit that outcome in writing
- track your evening ritual to ensure accuracy
- pick a reward that aligns with the goal of your evening ritual (e.g. give yourself a sleeping mask, not a Red Bull)
At this point, most of the heavy lifting is behind you. The trigger, routine, and reward you’ve built make up the Habit Loop.
Keep on this virtuous loop and see the evening ritual results compound.
Now it’s time to fine-tune your environment. These adjustments will make your evening ritual even easier to perform. They will also make sleep come faster.
Top 3 Sleep Hacks
I like to call this part of the ritual building process, finding your friction. Your friction points are distractions or inefficiencies that will get in the way of implementing your evening ritual.
I’ll start with the number one, biggest, meanest, most evil bit of friction getting between you and the amazing restorative rest you need. Screens in the bedroom.
Sleep Hack #1: Get your damn screens out of the bedroom.
They need to go. All of them.
Do you have a TV in your room? Move it or sell in on Craigslist.
Do you use your phone as an alarm clock? Set it in the living room. You’ll hear it.
Do you journal on your laptop? Get a paper journal or journal before you enter your room.
Do you like to read on your iPad? Get a paper book or use an eReader that is not connected to the internet.
Electronics screens emit a blue light that suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin more than any other type of indoor light. Think of your computer, tablet, and cellphone screens as an espresso shot for your eyeballs. They will keep you up.
And yes. I know about f.lux.
Blue light is only one reason why I’m so crazy about getting screens out of the bedroom. The extra evening ritual crushing part comes from these screens being connected to a little thing called ‘the internet.’ The internet has decades worth of distractions a few clicks or taps away. This stimulation will keep you up. Leave the screens out of the bedroom.
You probably already know electronic screens are bad for sleep, so let’s talk about how you can execute your no screen in the bedroom policy.
- First, have a non-bedroom location where you can shut down and charge up your electronics.
- Second, make shutting down and charging up your electronics the first or second step in your evening ritual. This takes away the temptation of email, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Netflix or your internet vice of choice early on.
This is the only environmental factor I will be a hard ass on. If you don’t follow this simple “keep screens out of the bedroom” rule, you get zero sympathy for a bad night’s sleep from this guy.
Sleep Hack #2: Let there be (no) light
I’ve struggled with falling asleep (also called sleep onset) for most of my life. Once revved up, I have a hard time shutting down. My mind continues to race during the evening. One thing I would think about was sleep.
“Oh man. I hope I sleep well tonight. I have a big test tomorrow.”
That worrying about sleep would keep me up even later. It was a vicious circle I wanted to get off of. So, in high school, I started taking a prescription drug called Ambien to help with my sleep onset insomnia.
The drug seemed to break the cycle. I knew if I popped the little white pill there was almost no chance I wouldn’t fall fast asleep within 20 minutes.
I continued to take those little white pills until freshman year of college. Freshman year was when friends started to come up to me to tell me how funny I was the night before. They’d ask me to do the dance I had made up or sing the song about apples.
I was glad to have the adoring fans, but I had no memory of the performance.
Freshman year was also the year I woke up with wrappers in my bed. These wrappers were remnants of vending machine food that I had no memory of purchasing or consuming.
These side effects seemed too risky. I can only imagine the danger I would have put myself and others in if I did a little dance to my car and drove to an unconscious fast food trip.
So I stopped taking the pills. My sleep continued to be hit or miss. But last summer something changed. I got 6 weeks of beautiful, uninterrupted, easily slipped into sleep.
Why was my sleep so spectacular?
Light. Or lack thereof.
I was on a 6-week camping trip with my girlfriend and dog Gus. I was out of the city and the apartment. I had no artificial light to keep my body stimulated. The sun went down and it got dark around 8:00pm. My body then wanted to sleep at 8:30pm. I was waking up at 5am without an alarm (or reverse alarm).
That experience helped me realize the strong role light played on my body’s internal sleep rhythms.
After dinner, I now try to turn off and dim as many lights as my girlfriend will let me get away with. I should probably start to light a few candles so she thinks I’m being romantic and not just looking to get a better night’s rest.
Romantic or not, less light leads to better sleep.
Here are a few easy changes you can make to get more zzz’s with less light:
- install blackout curtains
- install dimmer switches
- make sure there are no electronic screens in the bedroom!
- invest in a sleep mask (works great for traveling)
- buy a night light for the halls and bathroom
- buy lamps with low wattage light bulbs
I have a set of Christmas lights on my headboard and a nightlight in the bathroom. Approximately 30 minutes before lights out, I try to navigate using only those two sets of dim lights.
Let there be (no) light has been the best environmental hack I’ve made to my evening routine in a long time. I’d encourage all the folks who have a difficult time falling asleep to give a few of the above low light suggestions a try.
Sleep Hack #3: The cold is your friend.
A recent study found that the best temperature for sleep falls between 56 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 66 is ideal.
66 is a little cold for me. After much tweaking, I’ve found 71 is my sweet spot. But anything over 75 degrees will make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
So if you have indoor air conditioning, pay the extra few dollars a month for a cool sleep in the summer.
If you live in a cooler climate, consider opening a window. US Founding Father Benjamin Franklin used to strip naked, open the window, and take an “air bath” to cool himself with fresh air before sleep. He even took one of his “air baths” while sharing a room with the 2nd US President John Adams. This was pre-White House Revolutionary War days. Things were rough back then. But Adams was not happy about the temporary roommate situation. He wrote many letters to his wife Abigale to complain about the unfortunate roommate situation.
If you have a basement, consider sleeping down there. It’s often cooler and darker. Double win.
I’ve also invested in portable air conditioner units when the house I lived in did not have any built-in cooling system.
Stay cool. Sleep well.
1. Perform and track your evening ritual:
- keep your reverse alarm on
- adjust your routine or reverse alarm clock if necessary
- track yesterday’s evening ritual using the tracking method selected yesterday
- complete all the steps to the routine before slipping off to your great night’s sleep
2. Remove all the screens from the bedroom.
3. Make sure your physical environment is dim before bed and as dark as possible while sleeping.
4. Adjust (or find a way to adjust) the temperature of your sleeping space to your ideal temperature between 56 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Enter your name and address below to enter our evening ritual challenge giveaway:
The live challenge and giveaway are over, but you can follow along to the next day here. You can also enter your name and email address below to join us on our next challenge!
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