The battle over bedtime, continued (or: Imperfect progress is still progress)

How’s the Early Bedtime Project going? Spotty. But positive even so. The inconsistency is not a surprise—I acknowledged that late-night work sessions are a longstanding habit, maybe even part of my identity. As expected (I even built it into the plan), I reverted to working into the night under deadline pressure. Now that I’m not under deadline, I’m finding it really hard to return to the plan. I still think it’s possible.

Even though I’m not going to bed so early these days, a few things are different, in a good way.

• I have gone to bed early a few times in the past few weeks, and slept nicely.

• I haven’t beaten myself up for working late when I needed to.

• I think of myself as someone who will resume going to bed earlier. Maybe my identity is shifting a little.

Some other things I’ve noticed:

• Although shutting the computer off by 9:00 doesn’t guarantee I’ll meet the early bedtime goal, not shutting the computer off by 9:00 does guarantee that I won’t fall asleep until much later than I want to. To put it more simply, it’s really, really, important to turn the computer off early! Even if I don’t feel finished that day!

• And I have to be careful about TV. Okay to watch some, earlyish. Watching a lot, late-ish, gets me worked up and makes it harder to fall asleep. I need to find other ways to reward myself for turning off the computer, aside from TV.

• I had planned not to be distressed when I take a long time to fall asleep on a given night, or wake up in the middle of the night. Nice theory, but when the tossing and turning and mind-racing go on for hours, mm, not so easy to let it go. I need techniques to call on when that happens. Indeed, you yourself may have been wondering, “But Janet, what are you supposed to do when you go to bed early and then lie awake? Because I [meaning of course you] do not find that kind of thing at all motivating!”

So here’s what I’ve been trying, on nights when sleep is difficult:

Mindful breathing. Middle-of-the-night Mindfulness 101: Notice what’s going through your mind, without getting involved in it . . . notice what’s happening in your body, without feeling compelled to fix it. Then bring attention to your breath, observing when your mind wanders away from the breath and gently bringing it back. I admit that switching from thinking (with mind racing) to observing (without attachment) does not come so very naturally! I’m practicing . . . Anyway, here are some ideas for doing this at bedtime. (The breathing exercises are all good. Pick the simplest one, or the first one, or close your eyes and point. Don’t get all agitated over which one to use.)

Acupressure. One night this worked! Not every night. There are lots of acupressure points that are supposed to help with insomnia. This video explains two of them very clearly. (Sorry about the brief ad. But note the video is from the lovely people at the late lamented Elephant Pharmacy!) An internet search will turn up lots more.

It’s 9:30pm (oops!) as I draft this. Turning off the computer now—will edit and post during daylight hours. See? Stopping before I’m finished. I can do it.


  1. Char says:

    i like following your progress with this and seeing how you use mindfulness as a way to work with sleep patterns.
    i particularly enjoyed this line:

    although shutting the computer off by 9:00 doesn’t guarantee I’ll meet the early bedtime goal, not shutting the computer off by 9:00 does guarantee that I won’t fall asleep until much later than I want to.

    that definitely is true for me too – i just hadn’t realized that was the case until right now at 11:30PM as I sign off for the night.

    see i can do it too.

  2. Clay Ward says:

    I find that the battle to go to bed early is insolvable as long as I treat it as a battle. Why? Because the way to promote a restful mind-state is to promote feeling restful. So stressing about sleeplessness is the worst way to fall asleep.

    Instead I simply wait to become tired. Or read a book till I feel tired. Sometimes I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like. I applaud you for turning your laptop and television off early if that helps you begin to feel restful. We all are unique.

  3. Janet Bailey says:

    @Char – Yay for recognizing it, and for signing off for the night!

    @Clay – For me, there’s a difference between focusing on going to bed early and falling asleep quickly. Earlier bedtime does require focus because it means changing an ingrained (default) habit. But yes, stressing about sleeplessness is indeed self-defeating. NYTimes blog has a good post on the problems inherent in making the goal about falling asleep faster:

  4. […] Here is one post I don’t have to write thanks to the Mindful Time Management blog. (Don’t forget to read part 2.) […]

  5. So many of us struggle with this. The computer needs to be turned off. I feel so wired afterwards that sleeping is tough! Goal is 11 pm every night and I often fail!

  6. Janet Bailey says:

    @Yumminess – The combination of light from the monitor and the mental stimulation is definitely not conducive to sleep. I have to turn the computer OFF or I am drawn inexorably toward it…Good luck with your own imperfect progress–

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