I’m all about morning routines these days. Check out last week’s post for some ideas. But if you’re not a morning person, the biggest challenge is likely not the morning, but your bedtime routine.

In today’s post we’ll walk through some steps to anchor your bedtime routine and help you get to lights-out at a reasonable hour.

The content on this post is directly related to the content in the free PDF download you’ll see pop up when you scroll down the page. I highly recommend grabbing that download, which is a worksheet you can use as a companion to this post.

If you miss it, here’s a link to grab it.

Prefer to watch a video? Here you go:

What is Bedtime Revenge Procrastination?

I’m never sure if it’s “Bedtime Revenge” or “Revenge Bedtime” so we’ll go with the first version. I wrote a couple of posts on this recently, which you can find by popping “revenge” into the blog search (and I’ll link them at the bottom of this post).

Basically, Bedtime Revenge Procrastination is this: when you while away your evening/night time doing things for yourself, when you really know you should be sleeping instead.

The idea is that when we’re too busy during the day and don’t get enough time to do the things that really matter to us, or to have “me” time or quiet time, we take that time when we can. For many of us, and especially those of us who like to stay up light, that usually happens at night.

Why Bother with a Bedtime Routine

I’ve had my own struggles with insomnia for a long time, and thankfully no longer have this problem. This post does not promise any sort of solution for insomnia, but maybe there are some ideas here that might help.

Since I know I’m generally not a great sleeper, I often stay up late until I’m so tired I know I will fall asleep quickly. I used to do this a lot when I have a lot of things on my mind and no other way to process them. There’s hardly any point in turning off the light if you know you’ll just be up thinking about all the stressful things going on.

To help combat this I started a bedtime routine many years ago, and I can’t even remember how I got to this place. But now if I don’t do my little routine I might as well just not bother going to bed.

We are creatures of habit. I love observing this with our dog Buddy who is a routines master. He knows when it’s time for walks, and food, and evening family time because the triggers are all the same.

The same works for getting ready for lights-out. If you do the same things every night as you’re heading to bed, you’re more likely to be able to avoid the distractions that can derail your best efforts.

Let’s jump into the worksheet and get to work.

Step 1: Your Non-Negotiable Wake-Up Time

Most of us have a sort of last-minute panic time when we have to be up. Maybe you need to get the kids ready for school, or you need to get to work. It might change depending on the season, and that’s ok.

For example, during the academic year when classes are in session my non-negotiable wake-up time is likely to be earlier than it is when I don’t have to be in front of a class of students at 9am.

Maybe you’re in a season where you don’t actually have to be anywhere. If you’re a night owl you might find that sleeping past a certain time in the morning makes you feel behind in your day.

For the purpose of this exercise just choose a time. You can always tweak it later.

Step 2: How Much Sleep Do You Need?

The question is not, “How much sleep can you survive on,” but “How much sleep do you need.” We’re talking long-term sustainable solutions here.

We night owls are used to not getting enough sleep. 4-6 hours was my normal for many years, and I was exhausted, miserable, irritable and unfocused most of the time. Yeah, those are great spouse qualities right there. Not to mention it affected my health too.

For me, I need 7 hours of sleep. 7.5 is great, but any more than that and I don’t fall asleep easily the next night. That’s how I know my window. This was confirmed for me this morning when I had my alarm set for an 8-hour night but I woke up after 7.5 hours without my alarm. Holy heck, I can’t remember the last time that happened!

So, back to the question. How much sleep is right for you? 9 hours? 7? Be realistic because this, right here, is probably going to be your biggest hurdle to making a long-term change.

Step 3: Determine Your Lights-Out Time

This is easy. If your non-negotiable wake-up time from Step 1 is 7am, and you need 7 hours of sleep, you need to have your lights off at midnight.

My night owls: are you getting fidgety here? For so many years my New Year’s Resolution was to get to bed, lights out, by midnight. And for years it seemed completely impossible. Friends, it is possible.

Step 4: What Do You Do Before Bed?

We all have certain things we do to get ready for bed every night, and for the purpose of this exercise we’ll call that your current Bedtime Routine.

Here’s mine, to give you a starting point. My target lights-out time is 11:15 (which should tell you when I get up in the morning, right?)

  • Shut off the computer no later than 10:30pm
  • Let the dogs out
  • Take a bath (yup, every single night), or shower if it’s hair-wash night
  • Run the bedtime diffuser in the bathroom while bathing
  • Do the post-bath things, including brushing teeth, pyjamas, etc
  • If it’s not yet 11:15 at that point, I get to play some Candy Crush
  • Lights out 11:15

Caution: Candy Crush and I have a complicated relationship. I have to be really careful with that one, especially when I luck out on unlimited lives! As of right now we’re good, but this is something I have to revisit often.

Your turn. Write down your current Bedtime Routine list, which is all the things you do as you are intending to get to bed.

Step 5: How Long Is Your Current Routine?

Be honest with yourself here, and you’ll need to revisit this step as you become more aware of your actions.

My bedtime routine takes 45-ish minutes. I’m not fanatical about sticking to an exact time, this is more a reasonable average I’ve determined after much observation.

Step 6: Are You Meeting Your Lights-Out Target Time?

If not, determine how much time you need to cut.

For example, if you’re telling yourself that you’re starting your bedtime routine at 10:30 with the computer shut down, but you’re actually scrolling facebook for 20 more minutes, that little bit of procrastination time could be sabotaging your best efforts.

Be objective here. Is your routine taking too long? Is there anywhere you might cut back on some time? How much time do you need to cut in order to meet your light-s out time from Step 3?

Step 7: What Do You Need to Cut?

Maybe you’ve noticed that you get to bed with the intention of watching one episode of Schitt’s Creek and end up bingeing all of season 6. Can’t say I blame you, but you’re going to be a horrible, cranky mess in the morning.

Or perhaps the dogs take longer to pee in every corner of the yard than you thought they did.

It’s possible that little bit of Candy Crush time regularly turns into smashing away a solid hour before you realized what happened.

Try to get your list down to the minimum required actions you need to get yourself to bed. For example, I cannot cut the evening bath. If I don’t get my bath in, I don’t sleep. Easy as that.

Where will you prune?

Step 8: Find Your Procrastination Triggers

We all have them. Your job here is to recognize them when they happen.

It’s probably no surprise but Candy Crush is a huge trigger for me. You’ll also see that we have come to a (currently) amicable understanding. Maybe your vice is streaming, or cat videos, or late-night TV.

Maybe you check your work email one last time before shutting down (OMG I used to do that. Do not recommend!)

What are your triggers?

Step 9: Trigger Replacements

You can’t just not do something and expect that change to stick. If you need to get out of a habit that’s getting in the way of your progress, you need to replace that habit with something else.

Back to Candy Crush. I tried removing it from my iPad but I just ended up scrolling social media instead. I tried removing the iPad but I really like the alarm on that device so I didn’t like that solution either.

I realized that my trigger was playing Candy Crush in bed. So, if I play standing up, I’m less likely to spend two hours whiling away the time.

I’m serious. I just play standing up. I place my device far away from where I sleep and I play standing up. Further, I have my non-negotiable lights-out time so I know when I have to shut down.

Maybe you could replace evening streaming with a gratitude journaling practice, or a calming yoga sequence. Find something to replace the trigger.

Step 10: Your New Bedtime Routine, With Timings

Don’t you hate these time audit exercises? Yeah, me too, but they work.

How does your new bedtime routine look? Write down all the steps, with timings.

Step 11: Try It

Ok, we’re almost done. Now that you have your shiny new bedtime routine that looks perfect on paper, give it a try.

How did it go? Did it work? Did you get stuck somewhere? Where did it not go as planned?

Step 12: Strategize

If things went awry in Step 11 determine a new strategy to help the next time. Maybe your trigger replacement didn’t work.

Perhaps, as in my case, the trigger is not what you expected. I thought my trigger was Candy Crush, but by replacing the location of my Crushing I was able to manage the activity and stick to the timeline.

Rinse and Repeat

This will not change overnight! (Sorry, bad pun.) You will need to revisit this often, and likely, nightly for a while.

Your schedule will change, you’ll find trigger replacements that work and some that don’t. You’ll realize you thought you needed 7 hours of sleep but you really need 10. Maybe reading that book before bed was a bad idea after all (I totally can’t read before bed, I get too invested).

Let Me Know How It Goes!

I want to know how this works for you! Please comment below or send me a message to let me know how this is going.

Above all, please be patient with yourself. This is a big process that takes time and constant revision. But seriously, if I can go from a regular 2am bedtime to 11:15pm (most nights), then you can too.

But it won’t happen overnight.

Relevant Links

Here is a list of links in this post for easy reference:

Free PDF download: “The Creative Night Owl’s Guide to Tackling Bedtime Procrastination”

Hate Mornings? How to Start Creating a Morning Routine

How to Manage Bedtime Revenge Procrastination

How I Beat Revenge Bedtime Procrastination (See? I’m not even consistent in my own titles.)