I’ve always had trouble maintaining a regular sleep schedule. I’m not sure if you feel that your sleep cycle gets off kilter when you go out for a night and then you’re tired for the next few days. After a few more days, you feel sleep-deprived. You can’t seem to wake up at five thirty because you went to bed at two a.m. the previous night. You’re not alone.
Hold yourself accountable.
Have someone hold you accountable and to meet you for coffee so that you can avoid feeling guilty. Having a friend call you is a bigger motivation. Make it into a fun game where you can try to wake up before the person calls.
Remind yourself that you'll be happier.
We’re all in a better mood and think more clearly when we get more sleep. Even studies show that college students experience more positive moods and are more extraverted when they get better sleep. Focus on the benefits of getting to bed an hour earlier. If the motivation is coming from within, we are more likely to follow through with the desired behavior.
Find a nightly routine.
An hour before bed, create a bedtime ritual. Whether that means turning off the lights and getting out your favorite book (on Kindle or in tangible form), do something relaxing on a nightly basis. When you start to do this activity, your body will associate bedtime with this activity.
Some of my clients have found it helpful to set a timer an hour and a half prior to the "desired" bed-time. The "desired" bed-time might be the ideal time that you'd like to crawl into bed. The reason for the timer is the mental preparation related to going to sleep. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by what sleep entails, and how it means that we're one step closer to tomorrow. What do I mean by this?! Maybe we begin to go over all the things we need to do the next day and that's what makes it anxiety-provoking to think about going to bed. I like the idea of an hour and a half because it gives me time to relax and remind my body that I have plenty of time to wind down before going to bed.
Watch your caffeine intake.
I’m definitely guilty of this. We all need our caffeine. If you need your daily cup of coffee, see if you can stop drinking coffee by 3pm. This way, your body has time to rid of the effects of coffee before you go to sleep. Studies show that coffee intake six hours prior to sleep can disrupt sleep quality.
Invest in bed-time tea.
Sometimes I think that it’s the act of drinking tea that is calming. This means, avoid caffeine-based teas before bedtime. Herbal teas including valerian root, chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm can reduce stress and anxiety. After having this tea before bedtime a couple weeks in a row, your body will begin to associate drinking that sleepy-time tea with going to bed. Think back to your Intro to Psych class with Pavlov's dogs. For those who want a refresher, the researcher Pavlov trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Yes, we are human beings, but the key is that we can retrain our behavior and pair our actions with a particular situation.
Amsterdam, J.D., Li, Y., Soeller, I., Rockwell, K., Mao, J.J., & Shults, J. (2009). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recutita (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 29(4): 378-82.
Drake, C., Roehrs, T. Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(11): 1195-1200.
Gray, E.K. & Watson, D. (2002). General and specific traits of personality and their relation to sleep and academic performance. Journal of Personality, 70(2): 177-206.