If you find yourself lying awake in bed at night, or waking up later or earlier than you would like, your sleep schedule is most likely to blame.
A poor sleep schedule is the number one reason teenagers and young adults suffer with insomnia. During this time your body clock naturally prefers to sleep late and wake late, which makes it harder to keep to a good sleep schedule. Add to this 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 a good sleep schedule isn’t that tricky. Not in theory anyway. Even if you haven’t had a good sleep schedule 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 or you won’t get anywhere.
Here I’ll take you through the steps showing you how to create a perfect sleep schedule from the ground up so that you can sleep and wake whenever you want.
Step 1: Choose your Ideal Sleep Schedule
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 sleep schedule
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 a biphasic sleep pattern.
I would definitely recommend avoiding one of the polyphasic sleep patterns until you’ve mastered the monophasic or biphasic sleep patterns. 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 late into the night. Choose the times that suit you best.
Step 2: Move from your Old Sleep Schedule to the New
With your new sleep schedule decided, now it’s time to make it a reality. To move from your old sleep schedule to the new.
Adjust your wake time by no more than 1 to 2 hours per day
The worst thing you can do (and most tempting) is to 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.
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.
The earlier you can fall asleep the much easier it will be to wake up earlier. Stick to good sleep hygiene, habits that make it easier to fall asleep. You might also want to consider using herbal sleep aids during the transition period to give your sleep that crucial edge.
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 schedules as a bit of a break. Don’t plan in any hard core mental or physical activity during this time if you can possibly help it. Just take it easy and expect your productivity to take a bit of a fall. But that’s alright, your new more efficient sleep schedule will more than pay for itself in the future once it’s all set up.
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, so you need to plan for the worst.
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 and you’re doomed to your old messed up sleep schedule, until you decide to go through it all again the next time you attempt this.
Remind yourself of all the benefits your new sleep schedule 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.
Step 3: Solidify your New Sleep Schedule
When you’ve completed the transition from your old sleep schedule to the new, now’s time to secure it in place. This is a very important step. Your sleep schedule is going to be very fragile at first. It only takes a few slip ups to be right back where you started.
Calibrate your body clock
Because the timing of your sleep has changed your body clock’s circadian rhythm is going to be a little off track. You’re going to experience symptoms very similar to jet lag until your body clock can reset itself.
Get plenty of natural bright light exposure during the day and avoid light late evening. You might want to use light therapy to help with this
Try to make your daily routine as regular and consistent as possible, including meal times and social activities.
Wake up at the same time each day
The keystone of your sleep schedule is regular timing. 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 schedule 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.
Before you go to bed each night set your alarm and imagine yourself getting up 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 at this time 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. 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 extremely well. By going through this process again and again, you’ll condition your mind to do it almost on autopilot.
You can also use hypnosis to help you wake up at the same time each day. Wake Up Fresh and Alert is a hypnosis session designed to form a strong subconscious association between the sound of your alarm clock and the feeling of waking up feeling totally refreshed. Take a read of my Wake Up Fresh and Alert review if you’re interested in trying it out.
Have a “soft” bed time target
Whilst 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 5 to 10 minutes to fall asleep when I first get into bed, compared to the two hours it previously took me.
While ideally you should only go to bed when you’re sleepy, to begin with you should aim for a bedtime window of around 2 to 3 hours before and after your suggested bed time you worked out previously. When you’re first starting out, it’s likely you’ll either not feel sleepy or feel sleepy far in advance, so you have to give it some boundaries.
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, still sticking to the same wake time.
The idea is to 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 it!
Your sleep schedule needs to be regular and consistent for it to work. It’s like gluing an object to a piece of wood. If you keep moving the wood and don’t give the object time to set, it’ll never stick.
Be rigorous with your wake times. 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.
Benefits of a Strong Sleep Schedule
A good sleep schedule comes with two key benefits.
Your sleep efficiency will improve. You’ll have a strong association with getting into bed and falling asleep enabling you to fall asleep much faster.
You’ll have better sleep quality. Because you’ll go to bed only when you’re sleepy, your sleep will be deeper. This means you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed.
Once your new sleep schedule is 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.
Once you’ve developed a good strong sleep schedule, I have two further more advanced articles that will help you take your sleep to the next level.
Fall Asleep Fast – A system to optimise and fine tune your timing, mindset and environment.
Fall Asleep Quickly – A method to train your brain to fall asleep almost immediately when you go to bed.
Don’t try the two above articles until you’ve really mastered the basics in this article and have gained a good solid sleep schedule.