Creating Habits and Getting Sleep

I’m someone who dreams almost every night. My dreams are vivid, with full scores and intricate plots and evocative smells, and on particularly bad nights I will wake up feeling like I haven’t slept at all, as if I only dreamed I had been in bed while my body wandered all over, doing things without my permission.

A month ago, those bad nights were so frequent that I was waking up almost in tears, starting my day not only exhausted but with my head buzzing with the anxieties of the dream, in a sort of fog that would take me better than an hour to shake off.

Things have improved since then, I think due to two changes I made: 1) increasing my exercise, and 2) taking a magnesium supplement. But habits are NOT an easy thing to get rolling, and I wanted to share a how I managed to implement these new habits consistently and tell you about a new plan I’m going to start and how you can make it work for you.

About a month ago, I discovered Habitica, and I can state very sincerely that it has Promo_habitica_stickerchanged my life. I do not say things like that lightly, nor do I say them after only a month, but this is one of those situations where the changes are so marked that they simply must be acknowledged. Habitica is an app, both on iPhone and Android (and a web app for desktop) that turns your habits and to-do lists into an RPG game. You create lists for yourself in different categories, from daily repeated tasks to one-time-only errands, and as you check them off you gain points towards gaining a new level, find food, get potions to hatch collectible animal eggs, rack up gold to buy new weapons, and join up with friends to fight monsters in Quests. It’s silly, and super fun, and just really really well-designed, and it has taught me something about myself that I didn’t want to admit.

I need constant validation and immediate gratification. 

Now, I know these are not particularly mature or admirable qualities to have, but there it is. I make up for it in other areas (hopefully) but I have an awful time with long-term goals and delayed results, and I think that can be hard for many people. Otherwise, we’d all be fit and rich and prepared for life’s setbacks.

I have tried habit apps of all kinds, even the ones where you put down money that gets forfeited if you lose. But in every case, from simple ones to those with higher stakes, I would get annoyed and resentful and stop using it at some point. Habitica is different (and free to use unless you want to subscribe for extra fun stuff, which I did), because there’s always something to find, some animal that you’re trying to grow, a boss that you’re trying to fight. Plus, if you don’t complete everything on your dailies list, well…not only do you get hit with damage, but so does everyone else on your team.

For the first time in my life, and for the stupidest of reasons, I managed to finish an entire 30-Day fitness challenge. For the first time, I hit my step goal on FitBit every single day for a solid month. For the first time, I am on top of monitoring my patron pledges and usernames on my website, and I got things done in August that had been sitting on to-do lists for literal months. I cannot believe the difference this silly game makes! The creators are geniuses, and I just hope that they continue to expand the game so that I don’t reach a point where I’m out of things to do.

The tricky thing for me is that it’s really easy to overdo it; I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, and when I’m not wrapped in a blanket procrastinating I’m pushing myself way too hard and getting burnt out. Predictably, this has led to a Dailies list on Habitica that is a little too ambitious, and I’ve had to move things or cut back in order to ensure my expectations are sustainable. You can do anything, but not everything, as they say.

dreamlandFor 30 days I’ve been following an evening routine that involves starting my dishwasher, picking out clothes for the following day, writing down quick to-dos for tomorrow so that they’re not circling in my head creating anxiety, and generally just putting things in place to ensure that my mornings go smoothly. But the part that eludes me is being ready to sleep.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m not tired by the end of the day. I’m wiped, especially now that I’m being more consistently productive and active during the day. But there’s a difference between being tired and being ready to get into bed and end your day, and even with my evening routine, my body is firing on all cylinders until the moment I turn the lights out in my room. There’s no cool-down period, there is no sense of slowing down; I’m busy loading the dishwasher, thinking about to-dos, dealing with laundry, all right before I lay my head down. It doesn’t make for a sense of restfulness.

So I’ve decided to start a Challenge on Habitica. If anyone reading this uses Habitica and isn’t a member of my party, but wants access to the challenge, I will create a public Guild for it. I just didn’t want to bother spending the gems on a Guild that might only be of interest to those in my party anyway.

Here’s my before-bed ritual, to start this evening:

Ready For Beddy Challenge

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TIPS: Begin at leasts 9 hours before your alarm is set to wake you in the morning, at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. It is best if this routine is done in the living room or somewhere other than the bedroom, so that it sets a firm boundary between where you sleep and where you complete activities. 

 

  1. Be sure your bed is made. It makes all the difference.
  2. Change into pajamas. (This may seem obvious, but I rarely change out of my day clothes until a minute before I climb into bed. I think this will be a nice cozy way to start getting my body relaxed.)
  3. Take evening meds, wash face, etc. Get it out of the way before trying to settle down and relax. (Although I would wait on brushing teeth until after you’ve had your evening drink unless you’re just having water.)
  4. Put phone on charger and do not pick up again. (This is crucial. Not only has the bluish light from electronics been proven to disrupt sleep, but there is rarely anything restful to be found on Facebook or in our email inbox.)
  5. Set mood lighting: turn out all the lights but the ones you immediately need for reading or what have you. Light a candle if you can, which doubles as mood light and aromatherapy, or use an essential oil diffuser/room spray to create a calming scent in the air.
  6. TURN OFF THE TV. Television 100% does not count as a calming activity, the only exception being if you are playing one of those fireplace log videos or something like Moving Art.
  7. Lower your thermostat. Cooler temps make for better sleep.
  8. Pour yourself a soothing drink. This can be anything from a glass of water to a cup of herbal tea to a small glass of red wine. If you’re choosing alcohol, though, be sure to limit it to just one drink; too much can actually have a disruptive effect on sleep during the second half of the night.
  9. For 30 minutes, read, journal, meditate, listen to soft music, or do all of the above. I’m a big fan of the Baroque station on Pandora.
  10. Blow out candle, brush teeth, turn off lights, and get in bed at least 8 hours before your alarm is set to wake you.

What do you think? Do you have any before-bed rituals?

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