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How to change my sleep habits in order to get more sleep.

Why read this?

Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours of sleep per 24-hour period1) is one of the best things we can do for our health, mood, and performance. However, research shows that many people do not get enough sleep. For example, a study in the US with more than 400,000 adults found that one in three participants did not sleep enough.2 Sleep deprivation could be attributed to the fact that sleep is often not a priority over fitness/nutrition, work and hobbies/interests.

As shown in Figure 1, when people were asked to select which of the five items was the most important for them, only 10% selected sleep.3

sleep priorities infographic

Figure 1. Americans’ priorities (Study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2018)3

There are many reasons why sleep is often a low priority. For example, some people sacrifice sleep to work a second job to pay all of their bills. Other people are not aware of the benefits of getting enough sleep or do not know how to make the changes necessary to improve sleep. During the Covid-19 pandemic, have been affected by disrupted sleep due to worry and/or loss of a daily routine.

This document is intended for people who want to make changes that will help them to get more sleep and provides advice on turning your good intentions into actual behaviour change.

 

Tips on how to change your sleep habits to sleep more

  • Keep it simple – Identify one sleep habit you want to change and slowly build on that. For example, if you want to get more sleep, start by going to bed half an hour earlier. Changing too many things at once can be overwhelming. Try to change your sleep habits while on holiday as it is easier to find the time to work out a new routine and to stick to it. Good habits foster more good habits.
  • Write detailed action plans – Research has shown that the most difficult aspect of changing habits is implementing those changes. We all want to improve our health, but simply reading an article, having a positive intention or realising we need to change does not always translate into action. One of the reasons for this is that a busy lifestyle makes us forget our good intentions even when we are highly motivated to change. An action plan, however, can help us make health-related changes like increasing fruit consumption, exercising more often, and sleeping more. It is best to use these action plans for sleep habits that you find particularly difficult to change.

Action plans involve writing ‘when, where and how’ you intend to change your habit in an ‘if (insert situation, e.g. a time and a place) then I will (insert solution)’ format.4 Evidence shows that such plans, called implementation intentions, are effective across a range of health behaviours such as improving diet, sleep and exercise.5-7

 

Here is how action plans can help you to change some of your sleep habits;

  • Exposure to bright light helps our body clock synchronise to the cycle of light and darkness in the 24-hour period. In other words, light tells our body that it is time to be active. If you work day shifts, then exposure to bright light in the day can help you to fall asleep earlier at night and, thus, get more sleep. You could prepare action plans like the following to increase your exposure to bright light; ‘if I am at work and it is lunchtime, then I will have my lunch outside’ or ‘if it is not raining in the morning, then I will walk to work’.
  • Since bright light tells our body it is time to be active, we should avoid being exposed to it for 2-3 hours before we go to sleep. For example, we can use dimmer, ambient light instead of overhead lights and avoid using our smartphone before going to bed because it emits bright light. The action plans for these two strategies could, for example, be; ‘if I am at home at night, then I will turn the overhead lights off and turn on the dimmer lights’ and ‘if I am at home at night, then I will leave my phone on the charger in the kitchen and only use it there’.
  • Keeping a regular bedtime at home on both working and free days helps you to fall asleep early enough to get adequate sleep. Here is an example action plan to help you achieve that; ‘if it is 10 pm, then I will make a cup of camomile tea and read a book for 30 minutes before bed’ .
  • Linking specific situations to a particular action makes it more likely that the action becomes automatic in response to cues (e.g. work). This way we overcome the barriers associated with forgetting our good intentions or becoming distracted by other tasks. To make sure you do not forget your decision to make a change, you can keep the action plans somewhere visible (such as on a pinboard) or set your phone alarm as a reminder (e.g. to start a bedtime routine).

 

  1. Be prepared for the difficulties

When you start your effort to improve your sleep habits, you may realise that changing what you have been doing for years is difficult. This is normal because most life changes bring us out of our ‘comfort zone’. If your intention is to get to bed on time, to increase the likelihood that you do not quit, you can

 

  1. Track your progress

You might find that tracking your progress helps you to stay motivated and inspired. All you need is a notebook and a pencil to record each day, for example, the time you went to bed and the time you woke up. Instead of your notebook, you can use a sleep diary like the one shown here. Keep the notebook or the sleep diary in a place where it will remind you to track your progress daily, for example, on your bedside table or in the bathroom. Even just a week of tracking can be useful. Monitor your progress by assessing how you feel after the changes you have made. Are you more alert in the morning? Do you feel refreshed after you get up? Are you in a better mood?

Besides the notebooks and sleep diaries, you can also measure the duration of your sleep with a sleep tracking device. There are many such devices available to purchase, for example ones that look like wrist watches that track sleep. Of all the sleep trackers, only the wrist-worn ones are recommended. However, note that they provide an imperfect indication of sleep duration.  For more details see the information sheet titled ‘How to use personal sleep tracking devices’.8

 

  1. Seek support from your family and friends

Reverting to old habits is a normal part of making new habits. Don’t give up, involve your family in your new plans as social support is a vital part of changing our habits. For most of us, sleep is not something we do in isolation because we sleep with other people in the bedroom. For example, you may be sharing your bedroom with a partner who snores or a new baby. To get more sleep, you may need to talk to and seek support from your family and friends to help you to make the necessary changes.


To summarise

Getting more sleep requires changing some of your sleep habits, as with many life changes, this can be difficult. Changing one sleep habit at a time, writing detailed action plans, writing down the expected difficulties, tracking your progress, and seeking support from your family and friends can help you to make this happen. If you follow these tips but still cannot change your sleep habits, you may need to seek expert advice.

 

What should I read next?

To learn about how to improve the timing of your daily activities to improve sleep, read ‘How to adjust my daily routine to improve sleep’.9

For further information on our Fatigue Risk Management Research, Training and Consultancy services contact + 44 (0) 203 805 7792, hello@bainessimmons.com


References

  1. Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S.M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., Don Carlos, L., Hazen, N., Herman, J., Adams Hillard P.J., Katz, E.S., Kheirandish-Gozal, L., Neubauer, D.N., O’Donnell, A.E., Ohayon, M., Peever, J., Rawding, R., Sachdeva, R.C., Setters, B., Vitiello, M.V., and Ware, J.C. (2015) National Sleep Foundation’s Updated Sleep Duration Recommendations: Final Report. Sleep Health 1(4), 233-243.
  2. .Liu, Y., Wheaton, A.G., Chapman, D.P., Cunningham, T.J., Lu, H., and Croft, J.B. (2016) ‘Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults – United States, 2014,’. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 65(6), 137–141.
  3.  National Sleep Foundation (2018). Sleep and effectiveness are linked, but few plan their sleep. National Sleep Foundation, Langer Research Associates.
  4.  Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐analysis of effects and processes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 69-119.
  5.  Silva, M. A. V. D., Sao-Joao, T. M., Brizon, V. C., Franco, D. H., & Mialhe, F. L. (2018). Impact of implementation intentions on physical activity practice in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PloS One, 13(11), e0206294.
  6. Ruscitto, C., & Ogden, J. (2017). The impact of an implementation intention to improve mealtimes and reduce jet lag in long-haul cabin crew. Psychology & Health, 32(1), 61-77.
  7. Mairs, L., & Mullan, B. (2015). Self-monitoring vs. implementation intentions: A comparison of behaviour change techniques to improve sleep hygiene and sleep outcomes in students. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 22(5), 635-644.
  8. Holmes, A. (2019). How to use personal sleep tracking devices. http://www.clockworkresearch.com/publications/
  9. Ruscitto, C., & Holmes, A. (2019). How to adjust my daily routines to improve sleep. http://www.clockworkresearch.com/publications/

About the author 

Cristina Ruscitto

Senior Researcher

Dr Cristina Ruscitto is a Senior Researcher at Baines Simmons. She specialises in the psycho-behavioural predictors of jet lag and fatigue in the aviation sector. Her role involves fatigue management training, the development of fatigue surveys and survey analysis, the scientific study of roster patterns to quantify fatigue risk as well as writing evidence-based recommendations to improve sleep in different operational settings. Cristina is a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society and an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


About the reviewers

Dr Alexandra Holmes

Research Director

Dr Alexandra Holmes is Research Director at Baines Simmons, specialising in scientific safety cases and the implementation of Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) in aviation. With a PhD exploring the health effects of sleep loss and shift work, Alex is a current member of the ICAO Helicopter Fatigue Management Task Force and assists the UK CAA and Irish CAA to evaluate FRMS applications and safety cases.

Sarah Booth

Senior Manager, Fatigue Risk Management

Sarah Booth is the Senior Manager of Fatigue Risk Management at Baines Simmons. A specialist in human performance in the aviation and aerospace environments, Sarah has worked with aviation operators to develop and implement Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) across multiple regulatory environments. A regular speaker at both academic and industry conferences, Sarah is also a trainer, delivering to operators in the implementation of Fatigue Risk Management, as well as courses in the use of biomathematical modelling.

 

Our Fatigue Risk Management Team help organisations manage the risks associated with fatigue and workload and specialise in delivering fatigue risk management solutions for companies whose employees are involved in safety critical work, such as aviation, the petrochemical industry, road transport and the emergency services. Their work provides organisations with the evidence needed to ensure that the business is operating within an acceptable risk threshold.

 

For further information on our Fatigue Risk Management Research, Training and Consultancy services contact + 44 (0) 203 805 7792, hello@bainessimmons.com