Create a routine that works for you
To obtain quality sleep for optimized performance there are some tried and true practices that can get you to dreamland. The first thing to do is establish and maintain a bedtime routine.
The purpose of the routine is to optimize your sleep so you can be productive, mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day. Tweak the timing of activities so that it works for you.
- Establish a target bedtime and adhere to it.
- Sleep in a comfortable, cool, quiet, dark, and safe area.
- Relax and wind down to get ready to sleep (30–60 minutes before lights out).
Establish a consistent bed/wake time, even on weekends. (However, if you have not obtained adequate sleep during the week, do "sleep in" on weekends to help pay off the sleep debt that you accumulated over the prior week).
1. Set a bedtime
When setting bedtime, backwards plan to set the appropriate number of hours of sleep you need. This ensures your ability to have adequate time to wind down, bathe, brush your teeth, and prepare for the next day.
2. Prepare your sleep area
Having a comfortable sleep area is essential for quality sleep. Comfortable means different things to different people. Take a look at your sleep area, is it soothing, relaxing, and comfortable? For some, comfort is a freshly made bed with soft sheets. For others it is a mattress and pillow that supports their sleep positions.
Whatever your preferences, ensure that your sleep area is 'sleep friendly' for you. Your sleep area should be dark, cool, and quiet. Use room darkening curtains or blinds to make the room dark and block out distracting light. Have soft ear plugs or soothing white noise to assist with sleeping.
A safe sleep area will depend on where your mission takes you. In the U.S. and most garrisons in the western hemisphere, your housing is generally considered to be in a safe area. In a deployed setting, safe is a relative term. It will depend on your location, current operations, and operational environment. In such situations, getting as much sleep whenever you can, will be important. Despite the danger, it is still important that you sleep in relative safety, taking appropriate force and individual protection measures.
In an operational or training environment put safety first. Sleep away from vehicular traffic and do not sleep in front of or behind trucks, tracked vehicles, etc. Avoid and protect against environmental hazards and pests. Take care to ensure snakes, spiders etc., are not in your sleeping area, bag, or shoes.
What about my room?
Take the time to look at your room and determine if it is sleep friendly. Your ability to enhance your room's sleep friendliness may vary depending on where you live. Focus on what you can change and do it. Some areas to address when looking at sleep friendliness:
- Light: Make your room dark. Block unwanted light with curtains or blinds.
- Sound: Is there noise that is disrupting your sleep, or do you need white noise to block unwanted sounds?
- Touch: Room temperature should be cool: around 65–72ºF. Think about your sheets, bed, pillows, and pajamas. All should feel comfortable for you and your sleep positions.
- Smell: Offensive or soothing? Does the bedding smell fresh? 77% of Americans say they get a more comfortable night's sleep on sheets with a fresh scent.
What about my bed?
Getting good quality sleep may be less about your bed and more about your mattress. Research shows that people sleep better, suffer less back pain and experience fewer symptoms of stress when sleeping on newer beds. You may need a new mattress if:
- Your mattress is five to seven years old
- You wake up with stiffness, numbness, aches and pains
- You had a better night's sleep somewhere other than your own bed (such as a hotel or friend's guest room)
Your mattress shows signs of overuse (it sags, has lumps, etc.)
3. Relax and wind down
Give yourself 30–60 minutes every night to transition to sleep. The process of winding down for the night may include a warm bath or shower, listening to relaxing music, or reading books. Other relaxing activities may include journaling, breathing exercises, meditation, or connecting with your bed partner if you have one. During this period, your routine should not include watching television, playing video games, getting online for endless hours, or using other electronics.
Winding down suggestions:
- Take a warm bath or shower
- Do some easy stretches
- Wind down with a favorite hobby like knitting, drawing, puzzles, and Soduku (not on an electronic device)
- Listen to audio books or soft music
- Read a book or magazine by a soft light (not electronic version)
- Make simple preparations for the next day
- Take out clothes for the next morning
- Plan and prep for breakfast
- Set the coffee maker timer to brew
- Walk through the house and turn off all the lights one by one
- Brush/pet your dog or cat; watch your fish swim
The last and most important part of the bedtime routine—turn out the lights and go to bed! Most people fall asleep within 5-20 minutes of going to bed. Adhering to a consistent bed and wake time is an equally important part of your bedtime routine.
On the weekends it may be tempting to sleep in even if you obtain adequate sleep during the week. However, unless you are paying off a significant sleep debt from the prior week, sleeping in might not be a good idea. This is because sleeping in can disrupt your circadian rhythm, resulting in social jet lag. Social jet lag occurs when you stay up late on Friday and Saturday night and sleep in on Saturday and Sunday. This puts your brain in a jet lag-like state, similar to that which occurs during travel to a new time zone. This can make it more difficult to get up on Monday morning and re-adjust to a regular weekday schedule.
One indicator that you are probably getting adequate sleep is if you are able to wake up without an alarm clock on weekdays. Some people experience challenges getting to sleep or staying asleep. If this is you, review the sleep habits section below for additional suggestions on how to get the best possible sleep.
4. Incorporate good sleep habits into your bedtime routine
Establishing a bedtime routine helps you get quality sleep. Quality sleep supports your ability to be disciplined and to think clearly in order to meet all of your responsibilities as a Soldier, Family member, and friend.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Protect Your Sleep Time||
Protect Your Sleep Environment|
No TV/music, etc. during sleep time||
QUIET—use foam earplugs or room fan to help “mask” environmental noise|
No late-night texting; internet||
DARK—block windows or wear sleep mask|
No phone calls||
If you want quality sleep you can count on night after night, well-planned strategies are essential. Discover and develop your personal tactics for a good night's sleep. Stick with this routine and it will become a habit. Remember, a predictable approach will result in an easy transition to sleep. Also, learn to avoid common sleep thieves and try a variety of healthy sleep-promoting techniques.
- Caffeine stays in the body for 4–6 hours, NO caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime.
- Go to the bathroom prior to retiring to help prevent sleep interruption.
- Physical activity results in a cognitive boost that lasts up to 3 hours afterwards. Finish PT at least 3 hours before lights out.
- Read or listen to relaxing music instead of watching TV, computer or other electronics. Turn off, cover up, or better yet, remove from the bedroom those electronics that will disrupt or interfere with your sleep.
- Use soft foam ear plugs or a fan to block sounds. Use a sleep mask or blackout curtains to block light
- While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it reduces sleep quality. Alcohol is metabolized at a rate of 1 ounce per hour. So your last drink should be 3 hours before bed if you have 3 drinks, 2 hours before bed if you have 2 drinks, etc.
- Avoid heavy meals within 2 hours of bedtime. But don't go to bed hungry - have a light snack (e.g., crackers and milk) before bed if you are hungry.
The Ten Effective Sleep Habits
Source: Army Surgeon General’s Performance Triad Sleep Working Group
1. Create a quiet, dark, comfortable sleeping environment. Cover windows with darkening drapes or shades, or wear a sleep mask to block light. Minimize disturbance from environmental noises with foam earplugs or use a room fan to muffle noise. If you can, adjust the room temperature to suit you. If you cannot, use extra blankets to stay warm or a room fan to keep you cool.
2. Remove distractions from the bedroom. Use the bedroom only for sleep and intimacy. Remove the TV, computer, laptop, and other electronic distractions from your bedroom. Do not eat or drink in bed. Keep discussions or arguments out of the bedroom.
3. Stop caffeine consumption at least 6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine promotes wakefulness and disrupts sleep – even in those individuals who think that caffeine does not affect their ability to sleep.
4. Do not drink alcohol before bed. Alcohol initially makes you feel sleepy but disrupts and lightens your sleep several hours later. In short, alcohol reduces the recuperative value of sleep. Nicotine, and withdrawal from nicotine in the middle of the night, also disrupts sleep. If you need help quitting drinking or using nicotine products, see your healthcare provider for options.
5. Time intense exercise sessions appropriately. Exercising is great; just be sure to finish strenuous exercise (i.e., sessions in which you exercise to near-exhaustion) at least 3 hours before bedtime so that you have plenty of time to wind down. Mild to moderate levels of exercise (strenuous enough to raise metabolic rate but not strenuous enough to cause the release of sleep-stealing stress hormones) can be performed anytime – and will generally help you get deeper, more restorative sleep.
6. Do not go to bed hungry. A light bedtime snack (eg, milk and crackers) can be helpful, but do not eat a large meal close to bedtime. Empty your bladder just before you go to bed so that the urge to urinate does not disrupt your sleep.
7. Maintain a consistent, regular routine that starts with a fixed wake-up time. Start by setting a fixed time to wake up, get out of bed, and get exposure to light each day. Pick a time that you can maintain during the week and on weekends, then, adjust your bedtime to target 7–9 hours of sleep.
8. Get out of bed if you cannot sleep. Only go to bed (and stay in bed) when you feel sleepy. Do not try to force yourself to fall asleep; it will tend to make you more awake, worsening the problem. If you wake in the middle of the night, give yourself about 20 minutes to return to sleep. If you do not return to sleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing. Do not return to bed until you feel sleepy.
9. Nap wisely. Napping can be a good way to make up for poor or reduced nighttime sleep, but too much napping can cause problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night. Using short naps (20-30 minutes) to "to take the edge off" your sleepiness, when needed.
10. Move the clock from your bedside to where you cannot see it. If you tend to check the clock multiple times during the night and worry that you are not getting enough sleep, cover the clock face or turn it around so that you cannot see it.
Example of a bedtime routine using backward planning
Adjust this recommended schedule according to your individual needs. Your schedule will depend on your unit, mission, operational environment, and whether you live on or off post. Example of bedtime routine incorporating sleep habits:
- What time do you need to be at work? 6:00 AM
- When do you leave your home/room? 5:40 AM
- Time to get out of bed and get ready to leave? 5:15 AM
- Alarm goes off 5:00 AM
- No Caffeine after 3:00 PM
- No strenuous exercise after (NLT 3 hours before bed) 6–7 PM
- Have dinner no later than 6–7 PM
- Stop TV/Emails/Facebook 7–8 PM
- Wind down (30–60 min) 8–9:30 PM
- Bed time (NLT for 7–8 hours of sleep) 9–10 PM
Things to consider when planning your sleep routine:
- Commute time
- Personal hygiene, breakfast
- How long does it take to PT or work out?
- Do you need a few minutes to become alert?
- Household chores
- Putting children to bed
- Taking the dog out for last walk
- Time for yourself and/or partner
- Prayers, meditation, relaxation etc.