How successful were you at sticking to a New Year’s resolution last year or the year before? Have you tried to lose weight, quit smoking, or get fitter in the past with limited success?
According to Bensons for Beds’ resident sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock, sleeping well is a shortcut to feeling happier, healthier, and more resilient. A small change in your sleep habits could help you find more energy, focus, self-control, and support from others.
With this in mind, Dr Bostock shares the resolutions you should be making for 2024 when it comes to better sleep.
How do I change my sleep habits and behaviour?
According to Stanford behaviour change expert B.J. Fogg, a new behaviour requires a combination of motivation, the ability to make a change, and a reliable prompt, or trigger, to remind us to act at the right time.
Motivation is a bit unreliable; if you’re tired or busy, motivation drops below the level needed for action, and your prompt may fail. It’s therefore best to keep your new habit as simple and easy as possible, so that you always have the ability to repeat it.
To choose a simple yet effective new pro-sleep behaviour, try and follow this 5-point plan from Dr Bostock.
1. Brainstorm: What can I do to sleep better?
Step one is to get creative. What could you start or stop doing that would improve your sleep time or quality? Write down all the ideas you have at this stage, even if they sound challenging. For example, if you frequently work late, you might write down “stop work by 6pm”. In the next step, we’ll figure out how to make these ideas more feasible.
If this sounds daunting, set a timer for two minutes and see how many ideas you can come up with.
2. Make it really easy to get better sleep
Now take your top 10 ideas and try to come up with a simple, easy, and specific version of that behaviour that you could repeat every day. For example, if you wrote “cut down on caffeine”, you might want to replace this with:
- Alternative coffee with water
- Only drink decaf tea at home
- Drink herbal tea after 4pm
Or, if your goal is to cut back, one easy way to start this goal is simply to start tracking your caffeine intake for your sleep. You might be surprised at how monitoring can influence your choices.
If your goals were around work, you might need to discuss this with your colleagues or manager, but perhaps you could start with one night of the week that you will not work beyond a certain time and build from there. Experiment with a weekly prioritisation meeting with your manager to discuss what really has to be done and what could wait.
The goal of step two is to come up with a list of 10+ ideas that sound doable to you. These will be different for everyone and might look like:
- Stop eating each night after 9pm
- Set the alarm for 7am six days a week
- Only buy decaf coffee for home
- Wear an eye mask each night
- Take three long, slow breaths every night
- Start the kids’ bedtime routine at 7pm every night
3. Map your sleep habits to find the top 1, 2, or 3
If you try to change too much at once, it’s likely that you’ll forget after a few days. You will also never know what is making a difference if you change everything!
Instead, map your top 10 habits on the axes to identify the easiest and most impactful for you:
Impact: Is it likely to improve your sleep? Put higher-impact habits at the top. Take a best guess; it may take some trial and error.
Ease: How easy will it be for you to do? Put easier habits to the right and more difficult habits to the left.
The sweet spot belongs to actions that are a good fit with your desired future identity (the ideal you), are simple, and are impactful.
Focus on no more than three habits moving forward, ideally from the top right quadrant.
4. Identify a prompt for your new sleep habits
For each habit, try to think of a prompt, or trigger, to remind you to do it. The most reliable prompts are things that anchor the new behaviour with an existing part of your routine, for example, brushing your teeth or having dinner. Other prompts include setting an alarm, leaving yourself notes, or asking for help.
5. Celebrate better sleep habit successes
Feeling positive when you’ve completed your new habit is the key to repetition. How will you savour the sensation of success? Smiling, punching the air, doing a little wiggle of joy, whatever makes you feel good!
Compare notes with your partner or family; can you support each other to feel good when you’ve met your goals? Perhaps you could treat yourselves to something special at the end of each week when you’ve met your habit goals.
When you’re launching a new habit, it can be really satisfying to tick off your successes each day in a sleep diary. You can download a template for a sleep diary on the Bensons for Beds website; simply replace the habits with the first, second, or third priority behaviours you have chosen.