How to get better sleep and relaxation

This year, I am a little obsessed with habits so I’ve decided to try out 12 habits this year and, hopefully, make a bunch of them stick. (If you want to join me, download my Year in Habits worksheet here.)

For February, I am working on my current number one pain point: sleep. I have put myself on a schedule that accommodates eight hours of sleep almost every night, but often enough, it’s not restful sleep. I tend to wake up a lot and dream of work-related stuff. Then when I wake up, I feel like I’ve worked a few hours—just that I don’t have the results to show for it. 

Fact is, if I want to get more restful sleep, I’ll need to learn to wind down better. So for the past week or so, this is the plan I have been following:

Shutdown ritual 

I work from home a lot, so I feel I need more structure for the point when I call it a day. As Cal Newport is one of my efficiency heroes, I’m going pretty much with what he suggests in Deep Work: I start with reviewing open points, go over my schedule and make my to-do list for the next day, print it out and put it on my desk along with whatever I will need. Anything else will be put away where it belongs. This gives me a solid start in the morning and I feel I can leave work behind better. That done, I sit down for a mini-meditation visualizing a successful next day and/or sending loving kindness into the world, whatever I feel like.

Lay out clothes for the next day

I think this move has a different quality for people who work from home a lot than for anybody else—because we could stay in our sweatpants all day long, and honestly, that’s what I tend to do. Years ago, a TV anchorwoman told me that on hot summer days, she may be all dressy on top but wearing workout shorts under the desk that nobody can see. That’s often me when I do online coaching. Setting out a nice (though probably still comfy) outfit saves me time in the morning and I feel more put together. And on days when I do have morning appointments outside of my home, it’s even nicer to not spend any time thinking about what to wear. 

Decide beforehand what to read or learn 

Right now, I am pretty undecided about what to do with my evenings. I have been going to bed much earlier since I turned myself into a morning person. I still enjoy grabbing dinner with people, but hanging out at a bar has lost its appeal now that I don’t drink anymore. Unfortunately, I can’t make decisions in the evening at all (read about decision fatigue here). So my default option is reading a mystery. Which is fine, but I have a lot of non-fiction books to read and webinars to watch, and I want them on my schedule so that I’ll actually read and watch them for an hour or so before I go to bed—with or without that murder mystery.

No screens after 9 pm

This point is pretty easy for me as I don’t watch a lot of shows or movies. If our TV broke, it would probably take me a few weeks to notice. My phone has been on mute since about 2012, so there’s usually no pinging to attract my attention. But I’ve now scheduled the night mode to start at 9 pm on all devices because I figure if I get in my one hour of intelligent reading or learning a few nights a week, I need to be mindful not to be carried away and stare at screens for too long before bed. Plus, I still have some evenings where I get into pretty mindless scrolling—and knowing that I’ll get a reminder to stop at 9 pm makes me feel less guilty about it.

Bedtime journaling & gratitude 

I do most of my journaling in the morning, but for the past year, I’ve had a small 5-year journal by my bed just to write down what happened that day every night. I feel this might become interesting when I move into Year 4 or 5. When I researched evening rituals I came across the tip to write down three things that went well and why—and I found it intriguing. So I put a little notebook on my nightstand and tried it, but it didn’t feel right to me. Though as I had already started a new notebook, I decided to keep it there and just write down three gratitudes every night. That’s something I’ve always loved and had fallen out of the habit. So now it’s back.

If you want to see my ritual checklist, subscribe to my bimonthly newsletter. I’ll include it as a PDF for download plus a blank version for you to fill in and a 30-day habit tracker.