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Evening Ritual Challenge Day 4: Crafting your best environment

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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.

Trigger Routine Reward

You can read more about the Habit Loop here: www.asianefficiency.com/habits/successful-habits/ Or pick up a copy of Charles Duhigg’s amazing book on habit formation, “The Power of Habit.”

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

Dog siesta sleep

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.

get off of soap box

Okay. I’ll get off my soap box now.

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.

Not good.

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.

Action Items

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:

EveningRitualGiveaway

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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23 Comments

Posted by Morgan  | August 7, 2016 at 11:32PM | Reply

The screens is a tough one, but I agree, probably the most important one.

Posted by Stephen Roe  | August 5, 2016 at 12:06PM | Reply

Great advice again! I actually experimented for two weeks going without artificial light at night a few months ago. As soon as the sun was down, no lights or electronics or anything.

Curiously, my sleep schedule went really wacky during that time. I’m not sure why, but I ended up going to sleep later and sleeping more than usual. Not 100% sure why, but I think it may have something to do with the way I had programmed my body for months beforehand. Had I continued the experiment for another few weeks, it probably would have adjusted back to normal.

Unfortunately, eliminating all light at about 8:00pm is nearly impossible to maintain with a social life, so I stopped. But if I had the opportunity, I would certainly try it again.

Posted by Bruce  | August 5, 2016 at 8:36AM | Reply

I will now start putting my cell phone in the other room when I sleep and put an old traditional alarm clock by my bed.

Posted by Liz  | August 5, 2016 at 4:34AM | Reply

I like being warm at night, especially when the temperature drops to zero Celsius

Posted by Cherie  | August 5, 2016 at 2:40AM | Reply

Moving my phone to another room, harsh. But will give it a go.

Posted by Barb  | August 4, 2016 at 10:21PM | Reply

I turn my phone to airplane mode when I shut down my other devices but I need the progressive alarm on it otherwise I would end up with a very cranky partner annoyed at being woken up at 4.15 by a normal alarm clock. I’ve tried to find something like a progessive alarm that’s more like a standalone clock but have had no luck, so until I can find something like that the phone has to stay!

Posted by Rachel  | August 4, 2016 at 9:14PM | Reply

I really appreciate all the tips and focus on sleep and am noticing many small subtle changes as a result of implementing some of these practices and getting some rest.

Posted by Jackie M.  | August 4, 2016 at 8:50PM | Reply

Dang – I guess I need to bust out the kindle again. I use my iPad to read at night before sleep. I do use the night settings, but I will take the advice here and get rid of the blue screen and internet temptation!

Posted by Katie  | August 4, 2016 at 6:15PM | Reply

I have really found the dimming of the lights to be super helpful in getting into ‘sleep mode’. Unfortunately, just at the moment, I can’t get my screens out of my room (my laptop, phone and iPad), but I make a point for them to be turned off and put away during my new bedtime ritual – so hopefully this helps!

Posted by Randy  | August 4, 2016 at 5:30PM | Reply

I feel like I’m at the head of the class.
I’m already doing these things before going to bed!

Posted by Cecilia  | August 4, 2016 at 4:59PM | Reply

No screens in the bedroom! Check!
I will think about installing night lights…

Posted by E. J.  | August 4, 2016 at 4:21PM | Reply

The cell phone thing will be difficult but not impossible for me. The much harder task will be to try and convince the Mrs. that it would be a good idea for us both to do!

Posted by Catherine S.  | August 4, 2016 at 4:10PM | Reply

Well, it looks like my power bar and chargers are moving into the hallway (or another room)!

Posted by Ellen  | August 4, 2016 at 4:08PM | Reply

Hmm, hacks #1 and #2 are hard to implement if you have a partner that insists on sleeping with the TV on.

Posted by Heather  | August 4, 2016 at 3:37PM | Reply

I laughed out loud a few times on this post! The reverse alarm clock is so easy an idea but realizing my 5:15 wake up for the gym means I literally have to get in bed right after my daughter goes to bed around 9. That’s rough!

Posted by JL  | August 4, 2016 at 1:59PM | Reply

No, I’m not going to sleep at 2:00 PM!
As I live in France, it is now 8:00 PM, and it’s time to switch off internet screens!

Posted by JL  | August 4, 2016 at 1:57PM | Reply

Just have All a nice sleep!
See you tomorrow!
;-)

Posted by Eric  | August 4, 2016 at 11:13AM | Reply

A couple of years ago I created my own blackout ‘curtains’. They are not really curtains but more a double set of Louvre doors. They allow air to pass through, but not the light. The problem however is that with the air also come the sounds from the street which wake me up too often. If have not found a solution for this yet. I need the fresh air at night so I cannot just close the window.

Posted by Hema  | August 4, 2016 at 10:59AM | Reply

I’ve been resisting losing my phone from the bedroom. If I’m more than half a metre away away from it I get withdrawal, but I’m going to try it 😬 ! I can journal on day one earlier in the evening, and use an old fashioned alarm clock. I can read on my kindle. Wish me luck!!

Posted by Shawn  | August 4, 2016 at 10:56AM | Reply

So far everything’s been good. I sleep in air conditioned room and it is a total blackout. The tips and suggestions from the challenge are great and very insightful. Can’t for tomorrow. :)

Posted by Peter  | August 4, 2016 at 10:28AM | Reply

The only thing I can’t leave out of my bedroom is my iPad because I use it for the “Sleep Cycle” app to wake me up (see comment on earlier day of the challenge.

Before I used my iPhone but after Sleep Cycle became available for iPad I switched to be able to use only the WiFi of the iPad for Sleep Cycle and leave the iPhone outside the bedroom.

Posted by toetsie  | August 4, 2016 at 9:51AM | Reply

super. thanks. Its good to be back on the reverse alarm clock again.

Posted by Darlene  | August 4, 2016 at 9:24AM | Reply

Thank you for the challenge and for the great blog posts and instructions! Things are going great and I am right on track! After implementing my original evening ritual, I am happy to report, I got a full night of GOOD sleep (7 hrs, 39 mins); Last night (Day #3), I made a few adjustments to the order of my ritual, but hit my goal again! (7 hrs, 22 mins)! This is the best sleep I’ve gotten for MONTHS and MONTHS =) I cannot even remember when I’ve EVER had 2 nights of good sleep in a row!!! Now I’m ready for a super productive day and I feel fantastic!

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