If you find yourself lying awake in bed at night, or waking up later or earlier than you would like, your sleep timing is most likely to blame.
Poor sleep timing is the number one reason teenagers and young adults suffer with insomnia. During this time their body clock naturally prefers to sleep late and wake late, which makes it harder to keep to good sleep timing. Add this to late nights out and early morning wake up times and you’ve got a recipe for insomnia!
Despite being such a huge problem for so many people, getting the right timing isn’t that tricky. Not in theory anyway. Even if you haven’t had good sleep timing in years, stick to a few rules and with a lot of determination and self discipline, it will be back on track in no time. But you have to go all in. Take the half arsed approach and you won’t get anywhere!
Here I’ll take you through the steps showing you how to create perfect sleep timing from the ground up so you can sleep and wake whenever you want and feel your best every day.
Decide what you want
Like with anything in life, the very first thing to do is to decide exactly what you want. If you have nothing to aim for, you’ll have nothing to achieve.
Choose your sleeping pattern
The first step is to choose your sleep pattern. Your sleep pattern is like a template for your body to align its sleep wake cycle.
For most people the monophasic sleep pattern would probably be the easiest and most natural sleep pattern to stick to.
Alternatively, the biphasic sleep pattern might be a better option if you find it hard to stay asleep the whole night or suffer from a significant dip in alertness during the day. Older people may have more success with this sleep pattern.
I would definitely recommend avoiding one of the polyphasic sleep patterns until you’ve mastered the monophasic or biphasic sleep pattern. It might seem attractive from the outside, but if you can’t stick to one or two sleep / wake times, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to stick to 4 -6!
If you really want to adopt a polyphasic sleep pattern, start with a consistent monophasic or biphasic sleep pattern and then try out the polyphasic sleep pattern when you’ve mastered it. Take it one step at a time.
Choose your sleep and wake times
With your sleep pattern decided, you’re ready to choose the times you want to wake up and go to sleep.
To do this, first choose a time to wake up. Then work out your bed time by taking the amount of hours sleep you need per night away from the time you wake up.
For example, if you want to wake up at 6am and need 8 hours sleep per night, your bedtime would be 10pm.
The amount of hours sleep an average adult needs is around 7-8 hours per night, but this is only a rough guideline. If you’re not sure how many hours of sleep you need per night, try 8 to start with.
Choose different wake times and work out your sleep time until they fit perfectly with your daily activities. Make sure you can stick these times every day of the week, even the weekends to begin with.
Some people like to wake early in the morning to get a head start on the day while others enjoy socialising into the night. Choose the times that suit you best.
Sleep timing best practice
Now you’ve set out the plans, lets go ahead and create your ideal sleep pattern.
Wake up at the same time each day
The keystone of your sleep pattern, wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
For the first few weeks at least, stick to this like glue. To begin with, your sleep pattern will be very fragile and easy to mess up. Only once it has set in place can you afford some flexibility, but even then you would need to be careful.
This will no doubt be very hard to stick to when you first begin so you’re going to need a good dose of self discipline and motivation to get you though it.
To help with this, before you go to bed each night set your alarm and imagine yourself getting up as soon as soon as it goes off. Go through in your head what you’ll see, what you’ll do first and what you’ll do for the rest of the morning. Doing this will renew your commitment to getting up on time as soon as your alarm goes off.
If you can’t find the motivation to wake up before you go to bed, you certainly won’t find it when it’s time to wake up. If you leave any room for negotiation, you’ll end up convincing yourself to go back to sleep so make sure you give yourself a good enough reason to wake up.
If you really want to hammer it home, you can actually practice waking up. Set your alarm clock to go off in a few minutes, get undressed, go to bed. Get up as soon as it goes off and get dressed. Do this until you don’t even need to think about it. Sounds crazy but this technique works really well. By going through this process again and again, you’ll condition your mind to do it almost on autopilot. Fantastic if like me you’re not fully with it in the morning!
The Wake Up Fresh and Alert hypnosis download takes you through this process in your mind and helps to associate the sound of your alarm clock with the feeling of waking up fresh and alert.
Go to bed only when you’re feeling sleepy
While the time you wake up should be the same each day, you should only go to bed when you’re sleepy.
Doing this increases what’s called your sleep efficiency, the time between going to bed and falling asleep. Not only do you save time wasted lying in bed, but you begin to associate your bed with falling asleep instead of lying awake, avoiding what’s called learnt insomnia.
The more you do this, the easier it will be for you to fall asleep in the future. It usually takes me around 10 to 15 minutes to fall asleep when I first get into bed. Compared to the two hours it previously took me, that’s quite a result!
While ideally you should only go to bed when you’re sleepy, to begin with you should aim for a window of around 2 to 3 hours before and after your suggested bed time you worked out above. When you’re first starting out, it’s likely you’ll either not feel sleepy or feel sleepy way in advance so you have to give it some boundaries.
You should never go to bed early if you’re not sleepy, or try to force yourself to sleep. One of your peak points of alertness during the day is actually just before you feel sleepy before bed time. This stage of alertness has been nicknamed the forbidden zone by sleep experts because trying to sleep at this time can be very difficult. Even if you do manage it, you may well wake up during the night and not be able to fall back to sleep.
If you still find yourself lying awake in bed, consider what’s called sleep restriction therapy. This technique involves going to bed only at the time you usually fall asleep. For example, if you usually go to bed at 10 but don’t get to sleep until 12, go to bed at 12 instead, sticking to the same wake time.
The idea make you so sleepy that you fall asleep as soon as you go to bed, making your mind associate you bed with falling to sleep. Once you’ve done this for a few days, you can slowly move your bedtime earlier. This technique is very difficult to stick to because it will inevitably cause sleep deprivation, but it’s reported to work extremely well if performed correctly.
Stick to regular meal times
Meal times are one of the cues your body clock uses to calibrate itself and work out the time of day. This in turn effects your bodily cycles that align themselves to this time and this includes your sleep wake cycle.
So basically, the more regular your meal times, the more regular and predictable your sleep timings will become.
The timing of your last meal is especially important since it’s the last meal time of the day your body clock has to calibrate itself.
Keep the night times dark and the day bright
Your body’s sleep timings are naturally wired to align themselves to the day night cycle, so that during the day you’ll feel bright and alert and during the night, calm and sleepy. This process is known as the circadian rhythm.
You can give your sleep timing a helping hand by exposing yourself as much daylight during the day. This can include:
- Opening your curtains as soon as you wake up in the morning
- Going for a morning stroll
- Using a lightbox in the morning if it’s still dark outside
At the same time, you could avoid light during the night before you go to bed, by:
- Avoiding any bright lights
- Keeping your computer’s screen brightness right down in the evening
- No watching TV just before you go to bed.
You don’t have to be a vampire avoiding all forms of light, just allow yourself to notice the darkness and allow your body to naturally wind down as it prepares for sleep.
Transition between sleep timings
The final and often hardest part of the whole process, the transition from your old sleep pattern to your new. This stage is often make or break. If you’re going to succeed or fail at any part of this process, it will probably be this one.
Here’s a few tips to help you through this all important stage:
Adjust your wake time by no more than 1 to 2 hours per day
The worst thing you can do (and most tempting) is jump straight in and set your alarm clock 5 or more hours from your normal wake time. Unless you’re a miracle worker, you’ll fail and end up waking at your normal time, if not a bit later. Believe me, I know all too well!
Just take it easy. Wake up no more than one or two hours earlier, go to bed only when you’re tired and soon enough you’ll be at your desired wake time. You might find staying up and moving your wake time later instead of earlier by an hour or two might be the shortest route to your ideal time. Whatever works best.
Allow yourself some down time
Even if you’re adjusting your wake time little by little each day, you’re still likely to lose out on some sleep. You’ll probably feel some of the effects of sleep deprivation or at the very least you won’t be feeling your best.
So with this in mind, allow yourself some down time. Treat your transition time between sleep timings as a bit of a break. Don’t schedule in any hard core mental activity. Just take it easy and expect your productivity to take a bit of a fall. But that’s alright, your new sleep pattern will more than pay for itself in the future once it’s all set up.
Stick to it!
You sleep pattern needs to be regular and consistent. It’s like gluing an object to a piece of wood. If you keep moving the wood and don’t give it time to set, it’ll never stick.
If you mess up one morning and wake up a few hours later than planned, don’t panic. Just take the steps to put your wake time back on track.
So, you’ve had 4 hours sleep and your alarm goes off. It’s time to get up and you feel shattered. The realisation hits you that you’re doomed to spend the day as a zombie. And your bed’s only a few inches next to you. What would you do?
Hopefully that situation won’t happen if you adjust your wake time by one or two hours per day, but you can’t say for sure.
That’s why it’s so important to keep motivated through this whole process. It could be one of the hardest things you’ve done, but if you do it right you’ll only have to do it the once. Give up though and you’re doomed to your old messed up sleep pattern, until you decide to go through it all again the next time you attempt this.
Remind yourself of all the benefits your new sleep timing will bring you once it’s all set up. You’ll get up at the same time each day full of energy. You’ll fly through your tasks with ease. You’ll never have to resort to coffee again! And at the end of each day, you’ll go to bed and drift off sound asleep.
Make sure you really want this before you begin. If you’re not motivated at the start, you certainly won’t be with less sleep.
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Once your new sleep timing firmly in place, it won’t take much work to keep it there. As you stick to your new timings you’ll find yourself able to relax some of the rules and mould it around your life instead of the other way round. If you see it slipping away though, stick to guidelines like glue until it gets back in line.