Relaxing into a good night’s sleep

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Changing habits can be a process, writes life coach Jan Aitken. 

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken

How did you go with the challenge I set in last month’s Weekend Mix?

I set the challenge of doing two to five habits each day. Small things that you look forward to everyday, things you want to do for yourself. It was to help develop an easy daily routine that contributes to keeping you energised, nurtured and moving forward. The daily habits can help with getting us used to doing things differently and to give us a base for making other changes.

I chose to make my bed every morning before leaving the house, read the paper each day and to drink more decaffeinated herbal tea.

I did really well on the bed making, I love getting into a nicely made bed at the end of the day. I think many years of nursing has also reinforced the bed must be made! However, it’s not a chore to me and the pay-off is worth way more than the small effort it takes.

Reading the paper each day wasn’t quite as successful as my bed-making venture. On reflection, I didn’t set a specific time to read it, so it just dropped off the radar on busy days - make mental note to be more specific about when I’ll undertake my daily habits.

Changing my tea-drinking habit has been fairly successful too, although I got out of the routine a little when I was away from home for a week. The mental note for me here is that forming habits is easier when you are on familiar territory, certain things/places/objects become anchors to remind you to do something. When out of the familiar zone I need to be more aware and purposeful about carrying out the habits I’ve chosen.

It would be helpful to take some time to reflect on the following questions.

• What worked well for you and what wasn’t quite so helpful when setting up your daily habits?

• Do you need to tweak anything to make them easier to achieve, e.g., specify a time to do them?

• Did you choose the right daily habits, or were they not rewarding enough to engage you?

If you chose things you "should" do then you’ve set yourself up to fail. Daily habits are best when they are not obligation filled.

• What have you learnt about yourself during the February challenge?

Let’s look at each month as an opportunity to start a new 30-day experiment. Whether you eliminate a bad habit or establish a healthier routine, you'll learn a lot about yourself and the strategies that can help you live your best life.

Sometimes, one simple change is all it takes to make life better.

So, what’s the challenge for March 2020? Improve your sleep, create a sleep routine.

Why I hear you ask? As a coach, how to sleep better is one of the most common things I get asked to help people with and one of the major topics I speak on. Lack of sleep has been recognised as one of the most common health problems worldwide.

Creating a sleep routine helps by allowing you to wind down before going to sleep and helps you mentally prepare for the next day. It also puts you in a state that improves sleep.

Consider one or two of the following to start with and then add another one or two in each week:

• Create a routine around your sleep and make it a habit.

•Choose the time you want the alarm to go off and then work backwards (factoring in seven to nine hours sleep per night) this gives you your "lights out" time.

• Stick to the same lights out and alarm time all year round.

• Have low-light time ("blue light" reduction) one to two hours before bed. Blue light disrupts your body clock, causing poor sleep. Screens emit a lot of blue light. So, if you use your phone or computer in the evening, switch it to night-time setting or, better still, turn it off. Avoid using cool white LED light bulbs, they emit a lot of blue light. Warm white LED bulbs are a much better choice as they emit very little blue light.

• Have a pre-bed routine 45 minutes to an hour before bed - tidy, make lunch, clean shoes, hobby time, feed the cat, sort clothes for following day, brush teeth, have a shower or bath, listen to music, read a book ... it doesn’t really matter what, just as long as it’s reasonably similar each night. This helps the body and mind figure out sleep is on its way and puts you in a state that improves sleep.


• Get outside every day to help set your body clock for a good night’s sleep. Even on overcast and wet days "daylight" is still immensely beneficial.

• Avoid stimulants within two to three hours of bedtime: don’t smoke, drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks, eat a heavy meal or do energetic exercise.

• Make your bedroom suitable for sleep - keep it cool, dark and quiet and use it only for sleep and other non-technological activities!

• Remove any clock that you can see in your bedroom. Waking up and then calculating how many hours sleep you have left is a sure fire way to not sleep.

• If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something boring, in low light until you feel tired, then try to sleep again. Don’t lie in bed getting frustrated.

• Use relaxation techniques, sleep and mindfulness apps to help as well. has some great advice about getting better sleep.

Go well and may your sleep improve over the next 30 days!

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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