How To Fix Your Sleep Schedule And Go To Sleep Earlier

How to defeat bad sleeping habits

You want to get to sleep earlier but…

You sit down to watch an episode and soon you’ve watched a season. When they flow one into the next it’s almost too easy. And night after night, you stay up late to watch more.

12:00…1:00…2:00…the hours fly by. No sleep for us, entertainment is everything.

In the moment, the choice is easy. Yet somehow, we always regret it the next day.

Often times we develop this habit over the summer when we can get away with almost anything. Commitments are few, and fun is abundant. Plus, we can afford to wake up at 2 pm.

But the school year is never like that. If we’re going to succeed, we need a sleeping schedule. So when it starts, we must wish our old habit goodbye.

And that’s not easy.

playing video games


How to fix your sleep schedule

A habit is like an addiction. It’s something you depend on every day and it’s hard to get rid of.

You may get into bed every night and start watching videos without even thinking about it. But if you go without, you sit sleepless for hours.

You’ve become dependent on this ritual. Too bad it’s such an unhealthy one.

Getting to sleep late has three negative effects.

  1. It makes you sleep less
  2. It makes your sleep lower quality
  3. It makes focusing in class difficult

The optimal amount of sleep for a high schooler is 8-10 hours [1]. But most get less. A 2014 poll showed that more than 50% of 15-17 year olds routinely get about 7 [2].

And when you finally do put your phone down, you’ll still struggle to get to sleep. Blue light from your screen does a fantastic job of suppressing melatonin, a key sleep hormone [2].


When you don’t go to sleep earlier, you have difficulty focusing, which hurts grades. A study done by researchers at St. Thomas University compared the effects of sleep problems and drug use on grades.

They concluded that missing out on sleep is just as bad for your grades as drug use [3]. It is just one study, so we can’t say for certain its conclusion is fact, but I still think it says something significant.


Breaking the habit

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg shows that every habit has three parts: cue, routine, reward. The cue is what triggers the routine and the reward is what you get from the process.

In this case:

Cue: Bedtime

Routine: Watch videos

Reward: Entertainment, comfort

As outlined in the book, the key to crushing a bad habit is to change the routine. Keep the cue and reward the same. Use Duhigg’s strategy to improve your ability to manipulate habits.

ferris wheel
Habits move in a circle, from cue to routine to reward.


How to get to sleep earlier

You just want to sit in bed and enjoy your show. I get that.

But if you’re going to break this habit, you’ll have to put in a little more effort.

That’s because, TV doesn’t have a clear substitute. There’s no way to replace the routine without sacrificing something.

If you want to go to sleep earlier, you should avoid screens for at least an hour before bed. So which is more important to you, enjoying minutes of entertainment, or getting through the day tomorrow?

I still only win this battle about half the time.

cell phone in bed


You can win every time

Let’s say you commit to eliminating screens 30 minutes before bed. I realize that’s not the recommended hour but it’s a good start.

In that time, you could play a game or talk with your family, you could read a book, or you could meditate.

They may not sound as great as TV, but let me explain…

TV combines two characteristics that are normally mutually exclusive:

  1. Laziness
  2. Entertainment.

Much like watching a screen, relaxing with family combines a low energy task with entertainment. Meditating fulfills the laziness quotient, only requiring you to sit in one place. And much like a great show, a fiction novel tells a story.

meditating outside

Because of their commonalities, these three methods are particularly effective at replacing screens.


Winding down with family

If you’re on good terms with your parents/siblings, pick up a game or just talk for a while. It’s a great way to pass the time and you can learn a thing or two as well.

If board games aren’t your strong suit, there are plenty of strategies online. Winning is the best part…isn’t it?


Winding down with meditation

No matter where I am mentally before bed, 10 minutes of meditation always calms me down. It helps me get to sleep earlier.

By that I don’t mean I sit with my legs crossed and hum for an hour. There are tons of guided meditation sessions online that make meditation easy and even fun. Headspace is my favorite.

Meditation relaxes you and gives you greater control over your mind. It can take time but if you stick with it, you’ll reap the rewards.

winding down with reading


Winding down with reading

Books, unlike TV, are a fantastic way to wind down after a busy day.

Not only can they help you relax, books make you smarter too. The more you read, the better you’ll perform on tests like the ACT and SAT. You’ll write better too.


How to stick with your routine

You’ve got ideas for replacement routines but no way of enforcing them.

Well here it is…

Motivate yourself with a goal.

When you set a goal and stick with it, you’re rewarded. The reward motivates you to continue, and then you start to form a new habit.

checking off a checklist

Just crossing off a box every day can be rewarding, but if you want to splurge, promise to buy yourself something when you achieve your goal.

Be sure to write your goal down in a notebook, or something permanent. The more solidified your goal is, the more likely you are to do it.

For example: make a goal of getting to bed (on school nights) by 11:00 for a month. Or, if you usually go to bed at 2, make the goal 12:00 or 1:00. The point is to make it achievable. Once you can do it for the set time, you can slowly work your way back to 11:00 or earlier.

You could set a goal to not use screens for 30 minutes before bed, or 20, or 10. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start somewhere.

people talking


The easiest way to achieve your goal

The best way to hold yourself to your word is to share it with someone. This way, if you fail, you’ll actually feel bad.

But don’t just share it with anyone, share it with someone who’ll check up on you and who isn’t afraid to call you out.


Promise them something if you fail, and you’ll have an even greater motivation to succeed.

If your friend’s goals align with yours, you could even turn it into a contest.

Whoever lasts longer gets a prize from the loser.



Whether you’ve developed your bad sleeping schedule over the summer or had it all year, right now is the best time to change.

By finding things to replace your habits rather than trying to remove them altogether, you can be much more successful in your efforts.

You’ll be to bed in no time.


Works Cited:

[1] “Teens and Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 July 2016.

[2] Kim, Meeri. “Blue Light from Electronics Disturbs Sleep, Especially for Teenagers.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 1 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 July 2016.

[3] Jacobson, Rebecca. “Sleep Problems Have the Same Effects on Students’ Grades as Drug Abuse, New Study Finds.” PBS. PBS, 2 June 2014. Web. 25 July 2016.

Photos by Jay WenningtonJESHOOTS.COMStefan CosmaDaniel RoeAdriano de GironimoDaniel Mingook KimBence BorosGlenn Carstens-Peters, and Anna Vander Stel on Unsplash