Get better sleep with a go-to-bed alarm

Guest post by Alissa
Avoid feeling like shit when your morning-time alarm goes off, by setting a night-time alarm. (Photo by: Zhao !CC BY 2.0)

I love sleeping. It’s one of my absolute favorite hobbies. If I didn’t have so many other things to do, I’d sleep for 12 hours a day. Instead I have to settle for eight hours.

What I don’t like is that it takes me forever to fall asleep — often because my brain won’t be quiet. Is this really the time to wonder which person living or dead has the most portraits in existence, brain? No, please just shut up and let me go to sleeeeep! I’ve lain in bed for hours just because my brain still wants to think about useless things.

So then I enacted the go-to-bed alarm…

Just like my alarm clock in the morning, I programmed my phone to chime every evening at 8:45. It’s not a jump-in-bed-and-turn-out-the-lights-right-now alarm, but rather a cue to start winding things down. Wrap up any chores or projects, put dirty dishes in the sink, change into jammies. If I’m not home, time to start thinking about heading home.

Another self-imposed rule is to turn off all screens. No more just-one-more-Buzzfeed-article on the computer, no just-one-more-episode-of-Friends on the TV, no just-a-quick-scroll-through-Facebook on my phone. Admittedly, sometimes I’ll cheat and extend things until 9:00 or 9:15. But the idea is to decrease stimulation and quiet my brain. Instead I might take a bath, do some tidying up, lay things out for the next day, and then curl up with a (not-overly-exciting) book.

By the time the lights turn out at 10:00, my body and brain are rested enough to be ready for a good night’s sleep.

So that’s what works for me in my life. How about you? Do you have any bedtime routines to help you get your Zzzzs?

Comments on Get better sleep with a go-to-bed alarm

  1. This is a great idea. I read somewhere that there’s a setting on your computer (or maybe it’s a plug-in? not sure, sorry) where you can turn off the blue light in your monitor. Blue light apparently disrupts the creation of melatonin, so while you think you’re relaxing with a quick article before bed, you’re actually making it harder for your body to produce the melatonin it needs to fall asleep and sleep well.

    • That would be great! As a grad student I am often doing school work in the evening. I will have to investigate this possibility. Does anyone have information on this?

      • I don’t know if we’re thinking of the same one, but I use f.lux – from their website, “it makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.”

        • I will second that recommendation. flux is the shit. It’s so helpful for better sleep if you’re a screen addict like me. And it’s fo’ FREE.

        • f.lux for the win!!! I had to disable it one night because some colors were messing up a little, and the instant bombardment of bright blue and white light put crazy amounts of stress on me, when I hadn’t even realized (before using f.lux) that it did that. Definitely helps me get sleepy at night!

    • I have an add on called f.lux that gradually and automatically decreases the blue light from the screen as it gets darker outside. Highly recommended!

    • I use the Good Sleep app on my phone … it turns your screen redder as the night sets in, so there’s no blue light to keep your brain on alert.

      Also! Don’t use the day light light bulbs at night! It’s fine for the day, but switch over to soft light in the evenings. Fiance and I were complete insomniacs until we finally figured it out and shut off the day light lamp by 5 in the evening. It’s easier to sleep now.

      • They actually make an LED bulb that doesn’t emit light in the blue spectrum!

        I have to find the details in a course text but I’ll link it back here when I find it!

    • I’ve heard of folks having great success using these types of light-shifting programs to help them wind down. The problem for me isn’t necessarily the screens themselves, but the way that the content they contain makes my mind continue churning. Blue light or no, it’s hard for me to shut off my internet addiction and jump right into bed because I’m still thinking about that other cat video that was linked at the end of the cat video I just finished watching… 🙂

  2. Brilliant! I might try this.

    My downfall is the actual process of getting ready for bed: brushing my teeth, washing my face, etc. If I wait until I’m sleepy to start the process, I tend to procrastinate because I’m “too sleepy” and ultimately get to bed later than I intended. What helps is if I get ready for bed earlier, while I still have energy, even if I’m not actually going to bed yet. Then when I am ready to sleep, I can just flop into bed without any process.

    • Exactly! After my alarm chimes, I still have a whole freaking hour before I’m going to shut of the lights. So brush teeth now, Alissa! Then you get some nice self-imposed chill out time. 🙂

    • Haha, I do the same thing! I even have a joke with my partner about how I wish I had a tiny robot that could just hop in my mouth and brush my teeth for me so I wouldn’t have to get up.

  3. This is a great idea. I may have to start doing it myself. I have really been trying to get myself into some healthier routines (sleeping better, eating several times throughout the day instead of 1-2 big meals, etc) and something like this may help. Now if I could just get my husband to stop playing computer games until all hours of the night before immediately crashing into bed… lol

    I know that usually when I get home, I like to change into pajamas right away. They’re more comfortable than work clothes and so I feel more at home and relaxed than when I’m all “buttoned up”.

    • “I know that usually when I get home, I like to change into pajamas right away.”

      Home is where pants are optional. One day I’ll make a fancy cross-stitch of this or something. 😉

  4. I have a fancy alarm clock that uses light and gentle sounds to wake you up and soothe you to sleep. It has a setting where it starts out with bright light and audible music, and over a period of time (you can set it for a half hour, hour, or hour and a half) the light will dim and the music will grow softer. Likewise, to wake me up it starts with soft light and when the light is at its brightest chirping birds (or music, or bells… whatever you prefer) start softly and then build up louder. I love it! Mine was so expensive because it has an iPod dock, but you can find pretty affordable light alarms online. I love them!

    • That sounds SO cool! My alarm clock is just my phone, but I do have an app (on recommendation from mom-the-accountant) that makes you do math problems in order to turn it off or snooze. You can set the difficulty and also the number of problems you have to get right before it turns off. It’s kind of awesome. If I can figure out 15 x 13, I’m awake enough to get out of bed.

      • That is a super good idea for an alarm clock! Which reminds me, I had an app on my Android phone (can’t find the exact same one on my iPhone, but the concept is pretty universal) that would do the same thing my alarm does – you could do, say, ocean waves or whatever else soothes you, and after like a half hour or an hour the noise would stop and theoretically by that time you would be asleep. Apps are great things!

      • Sleep Cycle is a great alarm app if you don’t have a super specific time to get up- you set it on your bed and it senses when you’re in your lightest phase of sleep, and wakes you up then so you feel more refreshed. It also maps your sleep phases (well, based on how much moving you do while you’re asleep) which is kind of interesting. I’m not sure it would work as well now that I’ve got a husband and two dogs on the bed but I haven’t tried lately. The CARROT alarm clock is pretty cool too, and does a similar “Make you do a task” thing (with lots of extra AI sass.)

        I also liked my friend’s method, which was to set his computer to start blaring “Heaven is a place on earth” when he needs to get up so that he’ll roll out of bed to turn it off before his roommates hear it. You need a strong sense of shame for that trick, though.

    • I have one of these, too! It’s so amazing…especially nice in the winter when I am often waking up before sunrise. I hate being jarred awake by harsh noises of regular alarms. A weird side-affect of this alarm for me, though, is that now I wake up whenever I hear ANY birds chirping, haha. I had the windows open last night and I woke up for a minute at 5:15am this morning because of the birds. My alarm was set for 6:30!

  5. I have insomnia, so stuff like this doesn’t work for me. My biggest problem is that when I quiet my mind, it immediately starts planning all the stuff I need to do for the next day/week/month. I’ve tried meditation, yoga, exercise, whatever. Doesn’t help. I ALWAYS worry and freak out and stress out.

    So the thing that’s actually helped me be able to fall asleep is to put on Netflix and watch a movie or show I’ve seen 1,000 times before. I can close my eyes and listen. This lulls my brain to sleep. It used to take about five or so episodes to fall asleep, but now I’m usually out halfway into one. It’s absolutely amazing!

    • I also have insomnia. What I have found works is to have the radio on very quietly while I’m trying to fall asleep. Music radio is a definite no, but talk radio (I’m in the UK so I listen to Radio 4 and the World Service) works a treat. I have it on at a level that I can only just hear so I have to concentrate a little to make out what they’re saying. That immediately stops my mind going round in circles and I fall to sleep fairly easily. It means I do have to travel with a radio though, because I just can’t sleep without it anymore.

      • I swear, the voices of the World Service people are always so gentle and calm they could probably sooth me right to sleep. They definitely help diffuse any road rage while I’m driving and listening to NPR. GREAT idea. 🙂

      • I listen to Radio 4, Radio 4extra and the World Service (if it gets that late) to get me off to sleep if I’m feeling wound up. My only problem is I tend to listen to the Comedy Club on 4extra and then at midnight it switches over sci-fi and horror, so I wake up to some weird dreams if I haven’t set the sleep mode properly.

      • My local public radio station broadcasts World Service in the evenings – I love the programs and hearing that it’s 5:00 GMT even though it’s the night before for me. It’s soothing to know that people will be getting up to start their day in the UK as I’m winding down to end mine.

      • The Welcome To Night Vale podcasts have a similar effect on me. Cecil’s voice is so soothing. Plus, the stories are weird as all get-out, so it’s like I’m dreaming before I even fall asleep, if that makes sense. The podcasts are free, which is nifty.

    • Sometimes I need to do this too. My ‘go to sleep, Amy’ show is Futurama. I know all the episodes by heart, so I can close my eyes and let them happen while Fry and Bender lull me to sleep with their antics. This is a big reason we got a TV for the bedroom.

    • Meditation can really help insomnia! It’s really hard to start at first, but over a couple of weeks it gets better and your mind quiets. You may even fall asleep while meditating!
      Many local yoga studios are alternative health organizations offer classes if you think you need some help & guidance to learn. (There are LOTS of kinds of meditation, but I recommend something quiet for night time, or progressive muscle relaxation.)
      If you find yourself *thinking* too much while meditation, it could be helpful to tell yourself out loud “Thank you brain for the thought, but I’m meditating right now.” And then let go of that thought.

    • Dinosaur documentaries or Fantasia are what I used to watch! I have no idea if newer TVs do this (I suspect they don’t), but I would watch them with a Roku or a VHS player hooked up to an ancient box TV that would turn off automatically after a while, so I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night to creepy ants or white noise or whatever you call the black and white grossness that is on old box TVs when you’re on the wrong channel, ha.

    • You might try ASMR videos. I just say this because I had the same problem – my therapist basically said that my mind would just get too anxious to sleep so I needed something to distract it. I started with documentaries I’d seen often (Ken Burns National Parks!) but then someone on reddit mentioned something about ASMR and I decided to give it a go.

      Some of them can be kind of odd, some might even say creepy, but even if you don’t experience that tingling sensation (which I do) they can be very calming and give your mind enough to think about.

      I think offbeathome did something on ASMR a while back, but it’s totally something to look at. Some of my ‘go to’ videos are these if you’d like to check it out:

      Note that I never watch the videos, that sometimes makes me feel a bit uncomfortable! I just pop in my headphones and listen to them on my phone with the screen face down on my bed.

    • It’s music for me. A familiar album will take up just enough of my processing power to get the rest of my brain to shut the fuck up.

      For the longest time I had myself trained to fall alseep to Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia album.

    • For that reason, I have a Sleep station on pandora. Complete with play timer that I can set for an hour. If I have my phone under my pillow, the music doesn’t bother my partner. I’ve done a LOT of things involving de-stressing and sleep hygiene to get proper sleep, but sometimes that insomnia or anxiety monster rages its ugly head and there’s nothing to do but wait it out. Melatonin supplements help me. As does making sure I don’t talk about wedding planning or old jobs less than 4 hours before bedtime.

      I also found that checking my nighttime meds for jazzing effects was necessary. I’d been taking Zyrtec for years and suddenly instead of letting me sleep and wake up un-groggy the next day, it made me dead to the world and barely breathing for about 14 hours. I would wake up with an oxygen-deprivation headache too. I switched to Allegra, and WHOA even though that stuff makes lots of people drowsy, if I take it after noon I’m not getting to bed by 2am. But it doesn’t make me jazzed up or jittery during the day, so it took me a couple weeks to figure it out.

  6. YES! I did this in high school with a CD of classical music. It ran about an hour long, I had it start at “Okay, start wrapping stuff up” time, it ran through “Brush your teeth and start reading a good book in bed” time, and wrapped up at “Shut your eyes” time. Every night for months. As a bonus, I’m so used to it now that even though I haven’t heard it in ages, that same music is a good cure for insomnia.

  7. I listen to enya as I’m falling asleep. I find that it’s just the right level of distraction for my brain to get off the hamster wheel and drift off. (And I’m glad the technology has evolved – when I first started doing this, it was with cassette tapes that made a noise when they clicked off and sometimes woke me up again.)

  8. What apps could I use on my iPad to cut out the blue light?
    I use it in the middle of the night while nursing my baby and then I find it hard to get back to sleep afterwards

    • F.lux works on jail-broken idevices, beyond that the best option is a “sleep shield” which is just a tinted plastic static cling deal.

  9. I brush/wash, etc. Take a benadryl, then hop into bed with a nonfiction book. It has to be interesting enough that it distracts me from racing thoughts but not too interesting that I want to stay up and read the whole thing! For some reason dog training and plant books work the best for me.

  10. I don’t use an alarm, but my bed time routine starts at the same time every night, and looks a lot like the original poster’s routine.
    My husband teases that I “go to bed” too early. But being *in* bed and reading, is not the same as falling asleep. Reading to fall asleep at night is a great way to get through your bedside table reading list, BTW. I get through about one novel a week by reading for 45-60 mins every night to wind down.

  11. As I’m a writer by night, I have a fairly set routine for my evenings. I put on my pyjamas, make a cup of tea, then sit on my bed with my kitty and my laptop and write from about 7.30pm-9. At 9, I shutdown, brush my teeth in my adjoining ensuite, then into bed with my book for 30-60 minutes. A lot of sleep material says that you shouldn’t use your bed for anything but sleeping, but I find being on my bed from 7.30 with only my bedside lamp on really helps me wind down so by the time I’m ready to sleep, I’m out like a light!

  12. Lately I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles or playing spider solitaire on my iPad just before bed. Kinda fun, but even less interesting/stimulating than a book, and eventually my eyes get droopy and I can cast it aside. For some reason staring at screens doesn’t seem to mess my rhythms up the way I always hear it said they will… but it’s possible I’ve just done so much screen-staring in my life that I’m immune to it.

  13. I’ve been dealing with anxiety recently and that keeps me awake at night, when I can’t deal with any of the stressors that are in my life. I’ve started listening to a ..uh.. Fall-asleep podcast (Einschlafen Podcast auf Deutsch), which I guess is kind of in the same vein as listening to ASMR/meditative things. He has a very smooth, relaxing voice, and just talks about whatever. He was talking about the game 2048 recently, and .. well.. i don’t remember much, because I fell asleep. This type of podcast is perfect for me because the topics are engaging enough to take my mind off of my anxiety, and not so engaging that my mind tries to stay awake.

  14. It’s good to see so many people who have different things they need to fall asleep. I no longer work an overnight shift…My work schedule is 2 pm-11 pm now… and I usually come home and have a healthy snack, watch one Netflix or Hulu show, and am in bed by midnight. So falling asleep is not the massive challenge for me that it was a few months ago. BUT when I had to sleep during the day, I ready every “sleep better” article I could find…and it told me my habit of falling asleep with the TV on was bad for me. It’s good to see I’m not the only one who needs something going on to fall asleep!

    But like many of you have said–it has to be certain things…something interesting enough to distract me from my racing mind (which I also appear to share with many of you!) but not SO interesting that I will stay up and watch it. Sitcom or Law & Order reruns or Family Guy DVDs help me.

    Setting an alarm is a great idea. Especially for the getting ready for bed things. The tasks of brushing my teeth and washing my face sometimes seem like the most impossible things to conquer ever. An alarm would probably help.

  15. I have a “no business/nothing serious” rule that kicks in an hour (or more if I’ve been having a rough time) before bedtime. I have anxiety issues, so there is no discussing anything that might get the mental hamster wheel going before I have to go to sleep. If the fiance has things he needs to remind me of but forgot until an hour before bedtime, he can email or text me but not talk to me about them. This also extends to whatever we’re watching or doing together. IE: no watching political documentaries or paying bills right before bed.

    I like to read in bed. I know that’s a big no-no, but I’ve found that I can get away with it as long as I stick to certain rules. One is that I tend to read books that I’ve read before. This helps cut down on that “just one more page… just until the end of the chapter… just until I find out what happens to…” that turns 20 minutes of reading into three hours. The other is that I read either children’s books or fantasy novels. Real world stories or nonfiction are too likely to remind me of real life problems that get the anxiety going. Harry Potter and Howl’s Moving Castle, not so much.

    • I also try to avoid high-realism fiction near bedtime and during stressful periods of life. I stopped watching Glee when my partner’s dad got diagnosed with terminal cancer because the drama they were dealing with was too Real Life Drama for me to deal with. Dinosaurs and Harry Potter? No problem. Doctor Who can be hit or miss though. Sometimes I end up having to watch another to finish a two-parter, or to watch a happier thing after a sad thing, but I’ve sincerely found that the extra episode is worth staying up “a little later” than bedtime when it means I actually get to sleep sooner–not just sooner after going to bed, but literally hours before I would have otherwise. I might not get to bed until 3 instead of 2, but it’s no 6am.

  16. I soo agree. If I could sleep 12hrs I would. My sister could compete in the sleep olympics if there was such a thing haha. I brush my teeth and wash my face and read for half an hour before I go and sleep. I found that reading a physical book is better for my brain winding down, I have a hard time putting down instagram and fb feeds. It’s too stimulating. The glare from my husbands iPhone, also bothers me when all lights are out. He plays games until the phone runs out of battery and has a hard time putting the phone away- were working on fixing that.

  17. I’ve found that falling asleep to an audiobook really helps me. Audible (an audiobook app) even has a timed “sleep mode” so it will shut off automatically after an assigned amount of time. Of course, I’ve been listening to the same 30 minutes of the book for days since lately I’ve only been listening before bed and I am never quite conscious enough to remember what happens, but at least it helps distract my mind enough to drift off to sleep shortly after my head hits the pillow!

  18. Yes, the screen cut off thing is so important! I’ve been working in a job where I have to be up at 4am, so it’s hard to go to bed early enough. I made myself put down the phone by 9pm, because I would lie in bed just aimlessly scrolling Facebook for 20 more minutes. It also just really helps to declutter and destress your brain when you work to limit screen time in your life in general.

    I love the go-to-bed alarm. It makes sense to give yourself that kind of a trigger too.

  19. I have been really, really sick the last 12 months. I was constantly tired and I put that down to being so sick. I didn’t think the tiredness was the cause or a thing entirely on its own. I had (or so I thought) a bout of tonsillitis over Christmas/new year (which is so great in an Australian summer…not). I went to a doctor near where I was staying, I wasn’t at home so settled for a walk in clinic. The doctor looked at me, listened to my epic list of medical issues and recent diagnosis, potential diagnosis (I was in the middle of testing for PCOS) and suggested I may have sleep apnoea. Turns out after testing I do. very mild but still it has me so tired I cry all the time, I stared at a green walk light and thought ‘what do I do at a green walk light?’, and a lot of other weird things. Turned out I would stop breathing a few times every hour and couldn’t sleep properly. I’m currently trialling a CPAP machine and they’re pretty simple but this addition to my bedtime ritual has messed stuff up.

    I am currently supposed to be in bed asleepish by 9:30 (my sleep doctor is trying to work out my perfect amount of sleep so I have an early set time) but usually I’m lucky if I’m asleep by 10:30. I will definitely try this! thank you.

    It does make me miss having a Dom to order me to sleep, I really need to get better at being my own Dom.

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