I’m a dad of two. That means I’m responsible not just for my own wellbeing, but also my family’s health and happiness.
And sometimes, the hardest part of that is convincing two school-aged kids to go to bed on time.
Through our many battles, I learned a few things about my own bad sleeping habits. I realized that the reasons behind sleeping problems are the same for all ages.
The solutions aren’t all that different, either.
1. Don’t make a big deal out of sleep.
It’s 3 AM and you should be asleep. You know you’ll feel like shit tomorrow, and yet you’re still awake.
With all those anxieties hovering above you, it’s no wonder you can’t sleep.
The more you think about falling asleep, the harder it is to relax. Stop trying to argue with yourself until you capitulate and fall asleep. Instead, just focus on relaxation. Breathe in, breathe out. Empty your mind. Sleep will come to you, and even if it doesn’t, rest is much better than fretting.
2. Be lenient.
I remember being a kid and wanting to stay up “just five more minutes” no matter how tired I was. I resented being sent to bed at 10 PM sharp.
With my kids, I try to be flexible. Some things in life are worth staying up for: a party, a great book, a family conversation that went on a little too long.
If it’s past their bedtime and I start yelling about it, they’ll be too upset to fall asleep anyway. The exact same thing happens if I yell at myself. My adrenaline gets flowing as I realize it’s too late to go to bed; I berate myself for letting it happen. Sleep eludes me.
Instead of guilt-tripping myself about going to bed, I go with the flow now and then. Missing sleep for one night won’t kill me.
3. But be persistent too.
But staying up “just five more minutes” needs to be a rare treat. Outside of those special occasions, it’s best to maintain a regular bedtime. Go to bed at the same time each day, weekends and vacations included.
I’m a morning lark so I go to bed relatively early. But you might function better with a late bedtime.
If you’re working from home and your time is your own, don’t hesitate to pick an eccentric schedule. Sleep in until 11 if you can get away with it, just go to bed at the same time every night.
Consistency matters more than anything else. Ideally, going to bed will become an unthinking habit instead of a chore.
4. Black-or-white thinking leads to failure.
You need seven hours of sleep a day (or more, depending on your genetics). That’s the most important part of good sleep hygiene.
But some people get fixated on that seven-hour minimum. They treat anything less as a failure.
If something comes up – and if you’re a parent, you can’t avoid life’s little emergencies – you may have to curtail your sleep a little. Don’t consider that a ruined night. Resist that little voice that tells you that since you’re already too late, you may as well check what Twitter’s doing.
Sometimes, the most important part of self-care is settling for “good enough”.
5. Always keep adapting.
Over the years, my kids have had to adapt to different time zones. The pandemic skewed their routine too – without school obligations, they would sleep in, and they’d struggle to fall asleep at the usual time.
It’s important to be patient with these changes. Make a firm decision: should you change your bedtime or not? If yes, you’ll need a few days – or at worst, weeks – to adapt.
If you’re forced to keep changing your bedtime erratically (because of shift work, frequent jetlag, etc), please take extra precautions. Don’t let your health suffer because your inner clock is confused.
6. Respect the human need for rituals.
Everyone has a wind-down ritual before bed, even if they don’t realize it. Brushing your teeth, changing into comfortable clothes, taking out your contacts — all of that is a part of the ritual.
But I recommend building a more elaborate and deliberate ritual. This tells your brain it’s time to switch to sleep mode. Humans are creatures of habit, at any age. Repeating the same steps every night comforts us and gives us stability.
Here’s my broad nightly ritual, if you’re curious:
- Officially end the working day. I define two primary goals for the next day and write them down. If I miss out on this, I’m guaranteed to stay up thinking about work.
- Dim the light and change into comfortable clothes.
- Write in my journal.
- Officially put my phone aside.
- After dinner, I usually watch TV for a while with my family.
- Finally, I go to bed and read a good book.
Once my eyelids are heavy, I put on my sleeping mask and drift off within minutes.
Make sure your evening ritual is fun and relaxing. Enjoy some fiction, take a nice bath, let go of the daily grind. Life isn’t just about self-discipline, it’s about pleasure too.
7. If your room is calm, you’ll be calm too.
Sometimes, there is no great mystery behind why you can’t fall asleep. The fault may lie with your bedroom.
Most importantly, the place you sleep should be free of distractions. Keep your phone away. Keep the TV off. Try to keep it relatively clutter-free. Avoid any buzzing, humming little gadgets.
Sound-proofing is also important. Falling asleep became a thousand times easier for me after I invested in insulated double-pane windows. I wasn’t even aware of how much the city noises got on my nerves until I was free of them.
You could also get a white noise machine. I’m not a fan personally, but this is highly individual, so it could be worth a shot.
Light pollution is another distracting factor. Even tiny light sources could cause you to stay up for no good reason. A silk sleeping mask can do wonders — total darkness tells your brain it’s time to calm down.
Finally, your bedroom might be too warm. The best room temperature to fall asleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (or 15.5 to 19.5 Celsius) according to Sleep.org.
8. Don’t bottle up your feelings.
There’s a time and place to think about life’s big questions. Bed isn’t it.
According to psychologist Bobby Wegner, married couples get into arguments late at night because everyone is “tired and burnt out from the day and feels safest expressing emotion to their partner. It is the same philosophy as a kid holding it together all day in school and having a meltdown at home.”
That’s just it! You feel safe in bed, and that’s when you get to feel everything you’re usually repressing. But you’re not thinking rationally when you’re exhausted.
You need to dial back the rumination and try to empty your mind. To achieve that, make sure there are other times during the day when you can express your emotions.
Keep a journal. Talk to people about what’s on your mind. Ensure you have enough peace and quiet to hear yourself think.
9. Procrastination has a root cause, and that needs to be addressed.
There’s an amazing term everyone should know about: revenge bedtime procrastination (報復性熬夜報復性熬夜).
It went viral on Chinese social media sites first, but the English-speaking world embraced it very quickly. Journalist Daphne K. Lee explains that “the literal translation for revenge bedtime procrastination is suffering through the night vengefully. It describes a trend in which modern-day workers resist sleeping early to seize the freedom of the night hours — even if it brings no apparent benefits.”
It’s self-destructive behavior that doesn’t solve anything. People engage in it because they feel helpless.
If you never get to sleep in time, you might be rebelling against something without realizing it. Your job/marriage/health could be making you feel trapped.
Of course, revenge bedtime procrastination doesn’t solve any of this. It just causes you to scroll through your feed or watch whatever’s on Netflix. Think of it like a tiger pacing up and down his cage: he’s not doing it to have fun, he’s just passing the time while nothing’s getting better.
I won’t lie, this isn’t an easy habit to shake. You need real changes, not just life hacks. But remember: it’ll be easier to change your life if you’re not exhausted all the time. Don’t spend your precious time on something you aren’t even enjoying.
10. The world will still be here tomorrow.
The reason why kids hate going to bed is simple and enviable: they’re having too much fun when they’re awake.
As adults, we are less free to have fun. But we still suffer from FOMO, and we’re anxious to always stay in the loop.
I’d like to tell you the same thing I tell the kids – the same thing I tell myself when I get too antsy: to sleep.
You’re not missing out when you’re asleep. Instead, you are gathering the strength you need to truly enjoy life. Your mind needs time to catalog everything you’ve seen and done. Close your eyes and let it do its job.
“Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.” ― Heraclitus, Fragments