Why It’s Cool That I Woke Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed and 5 Other Sleepy Time Stories

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had sleep issues. And, over the years, I’ve tried to start a few new sleep rituals that would help me get to bed easier. I failed miserably at keeping up with most of them — you often hear that it takes 21 days to create a habit, and I likely kept up with these brilliant routines for a week, tops.

Fast forward to now. I’m finally starting to make progress with waking up. This is mostly because I finally realized the importance of a routine, that going to bed IS in fact a routine that needs attention.

Too often, in the past, I’d do whatever I was doing until I nearly fell asleep doing it. Something hit me while watching the last Olympics games; I took notice of many athletes who get pumped up for their events by listening to music. While I’ve read time and time again about the importance of a routine, something hit me as I watched the potential-medalists prepare to get in the game. Why can’t someone warm up to go to sleep?

I need to get my mind in the Zzzone.

If I do not prepare for slumber properly, then I might not fall asleep right away, which means I might not wake up refreshed, which means my day might not start off well and I might not be at my best during the day.

Here are a few things I’ve started to do to help me get ready for bed, which lead to better sleep, better routines, better mornings, better days — and even better dreams.

#0 Remember Why It’s Called a BEDroom

New bedding has a way of making me want to get into bed. But replacing cute, cozy comforters can get costly. For that new feeling, simply wash sheets regularly!

I will NOT allow a TV in the bedroom. I will NOT allow a computer in the bedroom. Those are two sleep hygiene tips that I began to take seriously many, many years ago.

I only associate the bedroom with the two things beds were made for, and a How I Met Your Mother marathon ain’t one of ’em. These rules have become so ingrained in me that, in hotels, I never turn on the TV because those temporary homes are pretty much a bedroom–the sleek black electronic unit virtually becomes invisible.

Even when I lived alone, I always made sure to only lease two-bedroom apartments so I would not have to shack up with my iMac. It’s not that falling asleep to the TV is bad; it’s just that when the bedroom becomes a place to do other things, you can’t properly get into sleep mode.

However, there’s a smaller screen that does just as much damage as a TV and a computer. And, somehow, I did not make this connection until very recently.

My iPhone was iNvading my unconsciousness.

I’d find that if I couldn’t sleep, I’d check reach for the slim device to check my email — this would lead to me thinking about work, solving problems, brainstorming and, worse, responding. I quit Words with Friends a while back, but before I did, instead of reading I’d try to make seven-letter words before bed. Long after my last move, anagrams would keep me alert. A-L-E-R-T.

And an anagram of ALERT is LATER. I had a habit I needed to ALTER.

See?

Taking your smartphone to bed with you is an awful, awful idea. I realized that it’s far worse than watching TV before bed, or making the bedroom the location for family movie night. It’s a computer. It’s a TV. It’s a radio. It’s a friend-contacting, work-connecting, (in some cases) booty-calling machine. What I mean is that you’re, in essence, sleeping with the world.

So, in addition to the no electronics rule, I leave my iPhone out of the bedroom and kindly asked my wife to leave hers in the living room as well. Admittedly, that part is not for her hygiene, but to prevent peer pressure. See #4 to learn how the heck we wake up.

(I didn’t even think about this reason not to sleep with your smartphone: Check out “Why Your iPhone is Ruining Your Sleep” by Fast Company’s Drake Baer.)

#1 Our parents WERE on to something: Bed Time

No 30-something wants to be told when to go to bed. One of the beauties of being on your own for the first time is staying up late — every night! Not just on special occasions, like slumber parties and vacation and holidays.

The novelty of pulling all-nighters should have worn off in college, but it didn’t. Sometimes, in recent history, I’d burn the midnight oil and think, “I’ll be totally fine because, that one time, when I was 29, I went to a concert on a work night, three hours away, and then I went out to breakfast on the way home and made it to work on time and lasted the whole day.”

Those memories of those few days I pulled through with little to no sleep stand out because they were special — the exceptions. When reality set it, when I remembered my body has had some wear and tear, I reconsider that midnight oil turning into 1 a.m. oil and hit the sack.

No matter how much I don’t want to have a bedtime, I need one. Of course, I gave myself a time range rather than just a time. I aim for 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. I set an alarm for 10:15 p.m. — one of the calmest default iPhone ringtones, as not to increase my heart rate at the very moment I want it to go down.

At 10:15(ISH!) I begin my evening routine. Sometimes I begin it earlier, but this alarm triggers me to get in bedtime mode. Once or twice I hit snooze. Sometimes I ignore it completely. But the bottom line is, when that alarm goes off, sleep becomes top of mind. The bedtime alarm is a work in progress, but it’s working.

#2 Actually Get Ready for Bed With As Much Effort As Getting Ready for a Hot Date in Reverse

Not really a hot date — but I mean — do it with gusto! Like you care!

I finally understand the notion of “getting ready for bed.” As a kid, I surely understood this: brush teeth, change into footy pajamas or She-Ra nightgown, maybe read a story (or have one read to me), say goodnight to toys and people I love, maybe get a glass of water and then go to sleep.

In my teens and early to mid-20s, I probably slept in my clothes many — too many — nights and missed brushing my teeth more than I’d like to admit — I’m not just talking bar nights here guys and gals, but also nights where I worked all day, went to class at night and just walked RIGHT into bed. It’s funny how, when you really take going to bed seriously, you revert back to childhood routines.

So, #2 is simple. Get READY for bed.

At about 10:15, when my alarm goes off, I’m usually already in pajamas. But when the phone sounds, I take a melatonin, wash my face, brush my teeth (maybe floss), spritz some lavender in the bedroom, lay out my outfit for the next day (saves so much time!) and climb into bed. Bonus of bedtime routine? I’m paying way more attention to my overall health!

Going through these simple routines is good for your body and hygiene, but also good for prepping your body for bedtime.

#3 Get Your Mind to Mind Its Own Business

In the previous section I wrote about working on a task until you absolutely cannot do so anymore, until you realize you absolutely need to get some shut-eye. But you know what happens when you suddenly decide “enough is enough; I must get to bed!”? You lie there and think about what you didn’t do.

And the unfinished business eats away at your soul. You toss and turn. You listen to the clock tick (if you have a clock with a ticker; I’ll get to that in a minute). You blame your wife’s snoring for keeping you awake when your silent thoughts are really making more noise than her snorts.

Getting into bed when you’re not in bed mode is like getting into a car that’s out of gas — you can’t get from point A to point B. So at my bedtime I needed to do some things to get my mind to calm down so I can transition from reality into the nonsensical world of my dreams.

Here are some things I’ve done:

  • Sleep hygiene: At 10:15 or shortly thereafter, I begin getting ready for bed, as I said earlier in this post. We wash sheets and pillowcases more often than before. During this time, I try (very hard) to refrain from looking at my phone.
  • Read before bed: I keep some magazines and a book or two of short stories and essays on my nightstand in case I’m not working on a larger book at the time. Reading helps me focus on something else other than the day’s thoughts. Plus, this helps me with my reading goal!
  • Limit pillow talk: I think it’s awesome that I’m part of a duo that can talk about anything and everything and explore life’s big questions. However, I noticed that we’d go to bed at a good time, and then we’d talk until after midnight. I feel absolutely terrible for suggesting cutting back on long talks in bed. I’m not talking about intimate stuff, or those rare times we need to work something out — what I mean here is talking about what-ifs and philosophical questions that lead to us plotting science fiction novels or new businesses or crazy inventions. Helena said to me, “Well, this is the only time we have to talk.” And she has a point. So that’s another reason why one of my goals is to spend more quality waking time with my wife — we can have these talks over dinner, on walks and while we’re driving or hanging out. If I’m making an effort to get more and better sleep, I can’t afford to lie in bed talking for two hours. But to get in this great conversation, I’ve got to make other changes. (See how everything is all connected?!) This sleep issue remedy that I thought would hurt feelings actually made me realize other important parts of my life that need attention.

Here are some things I want to do:

  • Learn to meditate. Or do yoga. Or both. I hear this does wonders for learning to relax.
  • Journal before bed. This might be more effective than reading to clear my mind.
  • Get a sound machine. Remember. I removed the iPhone from my room. This means I can’t use an app I love: Sleep Stream.

#4 Find More Time (Keepers)

Trade in your smartphone alarm for a single-purpose device that specializes in waking up. Took this picture months ago for an Instagram shot with the caption “we needed more time.” Ha. Never thought I’d be using this in a blog post!

Here’s a novel idea: use an alarm clock to wake you up.

iPhones have become our EVERYTHING. I don’t want to live without one, but I do want to become less reliant on it. So, I bought a small, battery-powered Sharp alarm clock. It has everything I need — even a snooze button (a habit I’m trying to break). It even lights up with the push of a button. But — it’s not ALWAYS lit up which prevents me from clock-watching!

Another bonus: it’s a true alarm clock sound and it’s way more effective than my iPhone’s ringtones. As much as I love technology, I sometimes long for corded phones, alarm clocks and phone books.

We also went out and bought a wall clock; partially for décor, but also for practical reasons. To become less tied to the iPhone, it also helps having a big clock in the bedroom to check while getting ready in the morning instead of carrying around the phone. The ticking, at night, has become kind of soothing.

So our bedroom now has two clocks — and it actually really means we have MORE time. Finally.

#5 Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

We had to make a somewhat significant change for me to implement these new habits. I’m a “door side” sleeper. I don’t know if I have an affinity for the right side of the bed, or if I just want the easiest escape route.

In our apartment, though, there is only enough room for a small nightstand on the left side of the bed. This was all well and good until I made up all these new plans — I needed the alarm clock right next to me, I needed to read before bed so I needed a place for a lamp and to keep my books. Moving to the night-stand-side also allowed me to put my glasses within arms reach.

So I switched sides with wifey. And now what I need for a good night’s sleep and good morning’s wake are within (literal) reach. And that’s why I don’t mind waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

In Summary

  • Remove distractions (OK — keep your spouse and cat) from the bedroom: TV, computer/laptop, tablet, ereader, smartphone, etc.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Create and stick to bedtime routines.
  • Find an activity or two to help you clear your mind.
  • Set an actual alarm clock.

Sleep Tips from Other Sources

Here are some other articles I found on the web about sleep routines and getting a good night’s sleep:

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