You might’ve heard that it takes 21 days to create a habit. I’m going to create some margin and give a new habit a month, one month. One month of being persistent, but not perfect. One month to make a small, but an impactful shift in your life.
“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard
It’s these small and lasting changes that often have the most effect on our lives. Focusing on shifting one small habit is a nice balance of impactful and do-able.
That’s why I’m starting a new series on the blog, “Cultivating Habits.” We are going to “acquire and develop” habits that lend themselves to our goals and decrease decision fatigue. Because when you make something a habit, it is easier on your brain. You don’t use up willpower (a limited resource) trying to do the right thing when your brain is already wired to do it because it’s a habit.
So together, let’s change a habit, the one that I believe needs to shift first: honoring sleep.
Why Sleep Comes First
There is a cycle that happens when you try to make changes in your life, and it all starts with sleep.
Are you going to try to get up early and have a good morning routine? It’s hard when you don’t get good sleep.
Do you want to manage your time better? It’s hard if you don’t start your day with a good routine.
Are you going to change your diet or try a new exercise? You don’t have as much willpower when you have had good sleep.
If we are wanting a complete habit overhaul, sleep really is the place to begin.
Created for Sleep
The first thing to do is acknowledge our need for sleep. This might seem like an obvious observation, but we don’t always live like it’s true.
We know we need sleep (here are 23 reasons; in case you were wondering). Sleep is important for your mental and physical health. But sometimes, deep down we (I) can feel like, “I’m the person who can burn both ends of the candle.”
At its root, this is PRIDE.
It’s easy, in this culture, to brag about how busy we are and how little sleep we get, but that usually doesn’t come from a humble and content heart. There’s a humility and acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty when we respect our physical need for sleep.
I understand that there are different seasons of life; if you have a newborn or a little one going through sleep recession, sleep might not be happening. But I’m talking about choosing to put sleep on the backburner.
I would challenge you (and myself) to address WHY we are choosing to put sleep on the backburner, and not be intentional about it. Choosing instead to crash each evening, completely depleted.
I have (and sometimes still) approach sleep this way. Together, let’s change our habit of how we approach sleep.
Assess Your Current Routine
Whether we like it or not, humans are creatures of habit. What matters is that our habits are intentional and not just the path of least resistance. Before we intentionally choose our bedtime habits, it’s important to assess what they already are.
Only you know what your current evening routine looks like, but whatever it is, consider what’s at the heart of it. What’s driving it? Do you watch TV to unwind or to escape from reality? Do you have a snack because you’re bored? Do you jump on social media (because FOMO). TV, snacks and social media are NOT bad things! What can make these things harmful is the heart that is driving them!
My heart isn’t always in the right place and I could never assume to know yours, but together, let’s commit to examining what’s driving our habits. Maybe we will decide that we have good motivations and great habits! Perhaps it’s a combination of good habits with a bad motivation. This is really between you and the Lord.
Whenever you’re assessing your heart, take time to fervently pray and seek the scriptures for wisdom. Ask a trusted friend or mentor to help you think through things.
Creating a Positive Bedtime Routine
Once you know what (and why) your old habits are, intentionally decide what you want your habit to be! Your new habits will become your body’s cue that it is time to sleep.
While I lean towards “only you know your season,” there are some practices that are proven to be positive for the majority (if not all) human beings. You might not choose to do all of these, but try to pick a few to implement in your routine.
- Brain Dump – If you can’t stop thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list and “don’t forget…” take a pen and paper and write down everything going on in your head. Allocate the tasks or just leave it for the next day.
- Get Ready for the Next Day – There’s a sense of peace and completion when we go to sleep with our preparation for the next day complete.
- Stretch / Breathing – The practice of stretching and taking deep purposeful breaths (without distractions) is soothing and prepares your body for relaxing sleep.
- Ditch the Tech – There are SO MANY reasons to avoid screens (particularly your smartphone) before bedtime. Try to set a specific amount of time (15 min, 30 min, 60 min, exc…) that you are screen free before bedtime.
- Prayer / Read Your Bible – Also known as quiet time, it’s important to have a discipline of getting into God’s word and bringing your heart before Him in prayer.
- Read Fiction – This (personally) turns my brain off and helps me to unwind without screens.
- Other – There are lots of things that make for a good bedtime routine. If you have other ideas, leave them in the comments!
Sticking To It
It is SO easy to be motivated and full or resolves…until the moment of decision comes. When creating a new bedtime routine, consider “gamifying” the process. Create a way to track your progress and set up small incentives along the way, maybe even a larger reward for a full 21 (or 30) days.
Don’t create an incentive that is counter to your goals, for example: “If I have a good bedtime routine for 21 days straight, I will stay up late on the 22nd day.” The purpose isn’t just to conquer a challenge for the sake of winning but to actually change our habits.
Some incentive ideas might include…
- A special cup of tea with a good book
- New pajamas
- A plant or decor piece for your bedroom
Try to have a small incentive every evening (like a checkmark on the calendar), a medium incentive every week, and an overall 21 (or 30) day incentive. It doesn’t have to be something material, but something that encourages and fits your overall goal of good sleep habits.
Let’s take one month to focus on sleep. Building healthy sleep habits is the first step to creating good habits in your lifestyle; your day really starts with the night before. Understand your physical (and spiritual) need for sleep, understand why you have your current sleep habits, decide what you want your habits to be, and stick to it! This is an area I personally need to work on, so together, let’s change our bedtime habits and prioritize sleep.