I Tested 6 Bedtime Hacks Successful People Swear By
10.23.17
Collage by Edith Young; photos by Astrid Stawiarz, Buyenlarge, and Bettman via Getty Images. 

Logically, I understand that “everyone is different” and “no two paths to success are the same.” I also understand that Oprah and Bill Gates are exceptionally rich (financially, not in love or whatever), so they must be doing some things right that I am doing very wrong. Determined to get to the bottom of this and become an official Successful Person, I looked at my days in their entirety in hopes of finding a lucrative missing puzzle piece.

I’ve already restructured my a.m. routine to combine the perfect blend of Barack Obama and Jennifer Aniston. My productivity and television ratings have since increased. Given that Successfuls have deemed mornings so important, I figured a better pre-bed routine might help me wake up on the right side of it. Below, the steps I suggest based on all the evening routines I tried thanks to my rich and famous friends.

Step 1: Set an Earlier, Non-Negotiable Bedtime, Like Oprah Winfrey

It has always been a real crapshoot as to the mood I wake up in. Carpe diem or go fuck yourself are my two speeds, and as we sink deeper into fall (cold air, dark mornings) the latter is fast becoming my most familiar. Somehow, “going to bed earlier” has always escaped me despite a lifetime of collected data. What’s more remarkable is that each morning I ask myself, “Why am I so tired and violent?”

Sheryl Sandberg, eager sleeper, once told Mark Zuckerberg she was going to bed at 9:30 p.m. and he assumed she was sick. Like Zuckerberg, I’ve always associated a pre-midnight bedtime with the flu or too much burrito. I get so weirded out about an early bedtime — mostly because I’m worried that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night — that I “keep myself up,” which often turns into 1 a.m. or later. No more of that after reading how Sandberg, Oprah, Arianna Huffington and Mariah Carey all prioritize sleep.

“I’ve got to sleep 15 hours to sing the way I want to,” Mariah told Interview in 2007.

Because I am not a hibernating bear, I selected 11 p.m. as my new and improved bedtime. But I was right: the first week I tried to implement this, I woke up throughout the night, which is why the steps that lead up to your sleep deadline are so important.

Step 2: Do Arianna Huffington’s Entire Pre-Sleep Ritual

I read a lot of evening routines for this story, and Arianna Huffington’s felt most complete.

She:
– Cuts out electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime
– Takes a hot bath with Epsom salts and “a candle flickering nearby” before bed to help calm her mind and body
– Changes into pajamas (“Something switches in our brains when we put pajamas on. Slipping them on is a signal to our bodies: Time to shut down. If you wore it to the gym, don’t wear it to bed.”)
– Keeps her bedroom dark, quiet and cool
– Avoids caffeine after 2 p.m.
– Believes a bed is for sleep and sex only

So I:
– One-upped her on the electronic devices thing: No phones after 9 p.m. None. I started setting my alarm for the next day, plugged it in and putting the screen face-down for the rest of the night. You know how nothing good happens at a bar after 2 a.m.? Nothing good happens on your phone after 9:05 p.m. Because I still need my laptop past 9 and maybe a television set if I’m being crazy, all other screens have been going off 30 minutes before I plan to close my eyes for the evening. I’ve been largely great about following this for two weeks now and it makes a difference.
– Started taking a shower with a candle flickering nearby before bedtime, even if it was a no-hair-wash rinse. I’m a morning shower-er because of the gym, but this kind, without any real agenda beyond relaxation (why do my showers have to-do lists?) felt like a new sort of meditation.
– Began sleeping in proper pajamas, just like Arianna said. I used to do this sometimes, but without intention. What I sleep in has always been more about what I grab than anything else, so I liked her idea of excluding day wear, no matter how laundered or comfortable.
– Kept my bedroom dark, quiet and cool (easy)
– Avoided caffeine after 2 p.m. (almost always do)
– Made my bed a “sacred space,” which my mom has been telling me to do ever since she discovered Pinterest. Note that this was and is the hardest for me. I have a bad habit of working from my bed, which I hate, but breaking this habit felt like one small step toward millennial nirvana, also known as “work life balance.” Which leads us into step three.

Step 3: Make Like Sheryl Sandberg and Leave the Office

BLAME THE INTERNET that makes it impossible to “unplug,” or your boss — I don’t know your life: I think we can all agree that “leaving work at work” is easier said than done.

Still, according to Business Insider, “no matter how busy,” Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office at 5:30 p.m. She takes work home with her, sure, but this way she’s not stuck in her fancy cubicle until forever.

You may not be HR-approved to leave at 5:30 p.m. at your company, or you might work remotely. What I know is that I have a tendency to let my office chair swallow me until strange hours of the night even though I could, in theory, go home whenever and work from my couch. The thinking is, “If I just stay here and keep plugging away, I won’t waste productive time by commuting,” except productivity slows down after 6 p.m. for me anyway, which is why I started applying jewelry designer Roxanne Assoulin’s strategy: She puts “time to leave the office” in her calendar at reasonable hours according to her own work-related deadlines each day. She also gives herself two days a week to allow for a later night at the office so that she can plan ahead (and it’s not a miserable shock). But no matter what, she abides to these literal “out of offices” like appointments.

It’s a work in progress, but I like this concept. It sets expectations and boundaries.

Step 4: Stand Up to “Homework,” Literally

When former Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Kate White has to work late from her home, she stands up so that she doesn’t fall asleep.

Now, I don’t have a desk set up in my new apartment yet, but I just bought a couch: a big, fancy, leather, non-Ikea, very adult investment couch. It cost me enough that I called my bank to say, “FYI, this couch purchase was me and not a credit card burglar with excellent taste in home decor,” so I am trying to sit in it ALWAYS. To justify this buy with a cost-per-sit rationalization, I will have to go ass-to-couch cushion for at least fifteen years, so to stand up for an hour or more each night to keep working feels insane.

And yet, I liked it. It kept me awake, sharp and from screwing around since I wasn’t in a lounge position. It also meant I was less tempted to climb into bed, because again, trying to make that mattress my sanctuary.

Step 5: This is Super Boring, But Plan Out Your Next Day (19th Century Writer Henry James Did This)

I read about productivity a lot, not just when I assign myself stories to get better at it, and one of the most common tips is to write out three things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Some experts say to do so before you leave work, others before you go to bed. I now do both: I make a tomorrow to-do list for work before I leave the office, and right before bed, a tomorrow to-do list for personal stuff/anything work-y that crept into my mind last minute so I wouldn’t forget.

Doing this allowed me to get organized ahead of time. I began each morning knowing exactly what I had to cross off my list from the get-go (the big things I’d normally procrastinate), and because I went in with a plan, my inbox didn’t dictate and distract the course of my day as much.

I was also able to fall asleep easier, I think because writing down my mental weight on paper allowed me to “put it away” for later.

Step 6: Carve in Personal/Family/Down Time (If Hillary Clinton Can Find Time, So Can You)

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both cite family rituals as important part of their evening routines. Vera Wang sets aside creativity time to design. Bill Gates washes the dishes and reads. Clemmie Dixon Spangler, a billionaire with the best name ever, fixes old grandfather clocks. It is insane, then, to think that I am so busy — busier than the former president or former secretary of state — that I cannot at least dedicate an hour to doing something I consider important, fulfilling and relaxing before bed. It goes back to that whole “I can do what I want I just have to do it” thing.

So there you have it: a work in progress that, when implemented, makes actual impact on my days. So far, the thing I have mastered best is the falling asleep bit. Then the alarm goes off and a new day starts all over again.

What about you? You’re Successful People. What’s your routine like?

Gifs via GIPHY.

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  • Lucinda Bayly

    Came for the article, stayed for the Hillary Clinton .GIF

    • Amelia Diamond

      all edith’s find. it’s not an article without it, really

  • Adrianna

    I just went from living with a roommate I never, ever interacted with (I essentially lived alone, as they were only there 50% of the week) to living with a significant other. I believe in Step 6. My anxiety manifests into re-hashing my day and conversations while I’m lying in bed at night. Having someone to talk and joke around with before bed seemed to eliminate that.

    • Amanda Faerber

      Step 1. Zero shame. Weekdays, I’m in bed no later than 10:00:00, a schedule I have maintained for years. It works for me, my old person bedtime. This helps me combat the bedtime work-related anxiety …

      I would also add avoiding a heavy meal for dinner or eating right before bed as something that helps me sleep and have a more successful morning. There’s something about waking up hungry for breakfast that makes me feel like I’ve already done something right …
      I also experience the morning go fuck yourself/violent tendencies as the weather turns colder, darker, and generally slushier. Coffee is the best reason to wake up in the morning, TBH.

  • Madeline C

    It took me almost two years at my current job to adjust to an earlier bed time (I am at work at 7 am and I am naturally a night owl). I am now in my bed by 10:30 almost every night. TBH it is mostly fantastic. It helps so much with sleep-related anxiety and work. The only bummer is I can’t switch out of it successfully on weekends. By Midnight on a Friday, my body is about to collapse from sheer exhaustion at this unknown hour. It’s super lame when I’m out with friends, but when I fall asleep easy on a Sunday night, it is all worth it.

    • Amelia Diamond

      how did you actually GO to bed earlier? like how did you stop doing shit in time to wind down to fall aslepe early?

      • Madeline C

        It is one of those chicken and egg things where it is so hard to wind down if that isn’t your schedule. But if you don’t change your schedule, your body doesn’t know to wind down. I would recommend forcing it, hahaha, which sounds wrong, but at a certain point, you just have to be strict with yourself. No, it doesn’t feel natural, do it anyway. As you sit there, “knowing” you should be winding down but aren’t, try and focus on the way you will feel in the morning: tired, exhausted, and not your best self. Think about your co-workers, think about your anxiety (if you have it) and think that this is the moment where you have some control over that future. For a little while, it will feel weird, and you’ll lay in bed not sleeping some nights. After you force it for a little while though, it does become more natural, and in fact, what your body wants.

        I’m hardly an expert. As I said, it took me two years to finally get to a point where I feel like I have a reasonably stable routine. For me, here are a few things that help:
        I think easing off on screens (unfortunately this includes computers) is super helpful. Highly recommend calming tea and dim lighting (embrace the candles, ditch overhead lights) this includes the bathroom. You can have soft lighting all throughout your house but the min you go to do your nighttime routine in the bathroom, you are under a super bright light. Either do it earlier or set the mood while washing your face with a gentle dim lamp/candle.

        • Amelia Diamond

          I’m gonna try all of this

        • Allison Richman Craycraft

          Word re: the calming tea, candle, etc. I’m naturally a night owl, but I’ve had a few jobs that required me to get into a rhythm of getting up and going to bed earlier to get to the office on time. There were a few things that I found helpful, like tea, candles, and reading something soothing before bed (for me, its gotta be fiction or poetry, and I have to avoid the news or anything too suspenseful otherwise I’ll get to engaged and stay up reading, lol) but honestly the best thing for me was to exercise. In order to go to bed early, I gotta do cardio in the late afternoon or evening, then do a yoga video a couple hours before bed. Its the only way that I’m calm enough for bed before midnight and tired enough to sleep through the night.

          • Madeline C

            YES! I find heated exercise classes are especially beneficial. It mimics being out in the sun all day for me. You can’t help but fall asleep. Just if it’s yoga I have to avoid doing backbends. Too energizing.

      • Chloe

        Not OP, but I literally set an alarm at 10pm that tells me to go to bed. If I need to, I will set a series of alarms throughout the evening so that I move through my evening and don’t get caught in the cycle of laying on the couch for 3 hours after dinner watching TV.

  • elpug

    try flux if you’re still using your laptop! it starts adjusting the screen colors so they are less blue and bright and starts getting dimmer as well without you even noticing.

    • Amelia Diamond

      OK!

    • Emily

      and night shift on the iPhone (part of a somewhat recent update)! it has the same effect, and you can schedule it to turn off/on at specific times.

    • Sagal Kahin

      I love Flux! It absolutely shames me into turning my laptop off because when you’re on the computer way later than you ought to be, the screen is completely orange. So orange that you can’t type or watch Nashville on Netflix without feeling like you’re a mess and that you need to go to bed.

  • tmm16

    “Nothing good happens on your phone after 9:05 p.m.” – tbh this is very true. Texting after this time falls into 2 categories: 1) not ones I want to receive or 2) ones I shouldn’t be sending. V GOOD ADVICE.

  • Reese Ferguson

    I’m going to implement that “candle burning nearby thing.” While I work from home in bed until 1 am. Baby steps.

    • Amelia Diamond

      not to be a mom but be sure to blow them out !!!!!!

      • Reese Ferguson

        You can mom me anytime! #nobutseriouslycanyouandleandrapleaseadoptme

        • Amelia Diamond

          come into my arms, child. i cannot cook but i can love u.

  • Emily

    My job is quite intense so I find it really hard to switch off… even to the point where I can’t listen to the radio / anything in my car on the way home – I just need pure SILENCE, as dramatic as that sounds!

    I find that taking my bra off (HEAVEN), taking my make up off and getting in my PJs the second I get home helps, although some nights I just can’t switch my brain off at all, so I really struggle. Candles help, and reading a book, and I really want to get into baths but I just get too hot and HAVE TO GET OUT around 2 minutes in…!! I tend to just try to watch TV as some escapism helps. Also, I can’t eat too late as I find that it just sits in my stomach and makes me feel like jabba the hut.

    So to summarise – bra off, make up off, pjs, sofa, candle, tv.

    p.s., i’m a moany bitch

  • Emily M

    Brushing my teeth right after dinner helps me both begin the process of winding down and keeps me from mindless grazing or convincing myself that I *need* dessert. I’m a dental hygiene fanatic, so once my teeth are clean, I’m done for the day!

    • Amelia Diamond

      your dentist must love you

    • Bo

      Omg going to start doing. Also then when it’s bedtime and I’m actually tired I don’t need to brush my teeth because been there, done that!

  • jen

    must. wear. pajamas.

  • Emily

    I’m pretty sure my natural bedtime is 12:30 hahaha – like my boyfriend will be tired and go to sleep at 10, and i’m like, what? these are my prime time internet/tv/reading hours!

    • Amelia Diamond

      omg if someone is asleep and i’m not i can’t stand it. do you have more than one rooms? (can you tell i live in ny for asking that question)

      • Emily

        we’re currently long distance so when i see him, we share our (one) bedrooms – usually i do end up trying to go to sleep when he does, but sometimes i’ll read articles (like from MR..) on my phone over the edge of the bed.

  • Beth

    Ha, I didn’t know many other people were as serious about bedtime as me! I’m almost always in bed by 10 p.m., and at least an hour before that, electronics are off and I do my bedtime routine by candlelight. It’s super relaxing!
    Really, sleep is so important. I’m a completely different person when I don’t get enough sleep.

  • Bernadette Aylward

    totally here for making your own rules that help you live your best life-it is a fun part of college/young adulthood/being in your own space to break whatever schedule your parents made you stick to. it is another special kind of joy to make new routines built just around you and your needs!
    stopping the screen time is a tough one that I know will help me sleep more/better! must find more books that are fun but not thrillers, as I get frequent nightmares.

    • Amelia Diamond

      i get nightmares too! I like to read learn-y books before bed for this reason.

  • claire

    i typically don’t have a hard time falling asleep (i’m a total morning person) and have had success falling asleep without watching my ipad in bed lately – huge step for me. maybe its the change in weather.

    i love the candle idea! if you like to watch tv at night like myself, my go-to is turning off the living room lights and lighting a candle while i watch a show or film. i wind down so fast and hit the bed shortly after (personal hygiene is done pre-candle/tv so i can hit the sheets without interference).

  • Barbara Neves

    Loving the Kate Bush GIF <3<3<3 What an Icon

  • I used to be SUCH a night owl, and now I can’t keep myself awake past 11. And that’s when I really try!! Most nights I’m feeling a magnetic pull towards my pillow at 10, which is so much earlier than my boyfriend that most nights he literally tucks me in & then goes about the rest of his evening.

  • Jam Jam

    Now that I’m thinking about it, the firends|aquaintances with truly important jobs (where lives are on the line, important research at stake) are the least likely to engage in workaholic behavior. When they’re away from work, their leisure time is theirs alone. They don’t bring the work home, or respond to emails when we’re out at dinner. I think it’s worth looking at why certain types of work involve this culture of constant engagement. If people who save lives can say ‘it’s just work, I can’t do it all the time,’ why do less important jobs demand around the clock engagement?

    • Amelia Diamond

      that is… a fantastic observation. i am going to think a lot about this.

      • Jam Jam

        Oh, good! I wrote this comment exhausted, in bed (haha, whoops) and then wondered if it was out of left field. I’d just finished interviewing a journalist who writes about artists and labor, so I’ve got work expectations, and how we value certain work, on the brain!

  • Suanny Garcia Barales

    I love your writing! Hilarious. LOLed so hard at “Successfuls.” xo

  • Bo

    Wait, there are people out there who stay up past 9.30pm?

    • Amelia Diamond

      how early do you get up if you go to bed at 9:30!

      • Bo

        6.30/7 (7.30/8 on weekends)

  • Emma

    This might be a weird question but, does no one in the states work out in the evening? Its the solution to everything! Its a hard deadline to stop working (because the yoga class waits for no one) and when you leave, you go home, shower, read a little bit in bed and just ride your relaxed post-yoga vibe to sleep. 🙂

    • streats

      I love working out at night too but I haven’t ever had a solid routine of doing it regularly. Want to start doing this again. It’s so true, eat dinner, rest for a bit, go tire yourself out, shower, sleep.

      • Emma

        Right?

    • Chloe

      I love working out at night. I try to either hit up the latest kickboxing class or go to candlelight yoga, both of which end at 9pm and allow me to go home, shower, and go directly to bed. Sometimes I’ll do yoga at home, and I love doing an online video of bedtime yoga. Extra props if it’s a routine I can literally do in my bed.

    • Amelia Diamond

      ugh i will neverrr go to a workout at night. morning is the only time i can get anything done like writing or working out that is otherwise too easy to interrupt as the day grows. I get up at 6:30 (6:50 with a snooze then i fucking RUN to the gym because i’m always “late”) and I’m about to make it 6:00 AM (working on it) so that I’m not eternally on rush mode.

  • Freya Parr

    Immediately want the sky to darken so I can go home and put these to the test.
    I’m a big fan of an extended skincare routine as I fill my daily entry in this wacky little Taschen diary I have that asks you strange conceptual questions about your day. Then I hop in bed, pop on a candle, and read a chapter of my book. Phone needs to be surgically removed from me otherwise I will mindlessly flick through gifs of adncing beavers until dawn.

    • Annie Carr

      Is the diary you mention Keel’s Simple Diary? I hope so because immediately after reading this comment I immediately hunted it down and bought it because it sounds SO up my street.

      • Freya Parr

        Jeez, you’re good. Yeah it’s that one! I couldn’t remember the name of it. It’s such a great way to reflect after a weird day

        • Amelia Diamond

          i want to check this out too!!

  • gracesface

    Big fan of f.lux on my computer – keeps me from staying up as late with the dimmed screen.

  • Isabella

    I want SO BADLY to go to bed early but my boyfriend gets home almost at 9 P.M so we always end up eating dinner late and catching up on our tv shows, playing games/watching movies. One day!! I’ll go to bed early

    • Diana McNeill

      Same! I don’t have quality time with him if I go to bed early, so I am often awake until 1 am or later just to get in dinner and quality chats/snuggles/etc.

  • Jay

    Well… I ruin my night routine every night all over again.

    Working late, then hitting the gym (I hate working out in the morning, cause I really hate mornings…), getting home only by 9pm or later… dinner and then some kind of weird metime – which normally ends with catching up on the news, then the magazines (including MR, yeah, you guys ruin my nights :-)), then reading a book…

    Hm…

    And possibly, going to bed by 2am is the reason I hate mornings??!

    But, I will try.

    Gonna go to bed before midnight for a week, starting Monday November 30th (with exception for Halloween, and the 2nd, when I am going to see a show…). Anyone interested in making this a challenge? Let me know!

    • Amelia Diamond

      yes!!! i am with yyou! i want to be asleep by 11:30 MAX every night next week starting Monday 10/30…

      • Jay

        So then let‘s make that a challenge…

  • klang

    This was simply a wonderful article.

  • Joe McBride

    I use a lovely lavender-camomille balm on my pulse points. (It was actually one of those “mother&me” ones I got on sale while strolling through the baby bath section in Tescos looking for sensitive skin-care… But hey… It works!!)
    I have a Himalayan salt lamp beside my bed… Besides giving off a lovely relaxing glow, it also sorts out the bad type of ions, neutralizes EMF’s and purifies the air.
    And not to sound like a geriatric lady (despite having already started collecting stray cats) I sometimes like a milky mug of Horlicks before bed! 🙂

  • Flic

    Full on howled at Step 1. I’m with you sister.

  • Basil

    I feel that I became much more productive at work when I had a definite “leave” time (in my case to pick up my son from nursery). If you know you can only stay until a certain time, you’re much less likely to faff around and then stay later to finish stuff off. When I was just starting out, my cousin’s husband (a successful person) said that if someone is working really long hours, it shows there’s a problem – either they’re wasting time or there’s too much work. I thought that was very wise

  • Sophie

    I get into this sort of panic, though. Like FOMO, I think, if I don’t play on my phone and do something fun I won’t be this relaxed for a whole 24 hours. So I scroll through endless makeup tutorials and youtube, and it goes so quickly, and I stay awake and keep doing it because, then I’ll sleep and gym, and work flat out all day and cook dinner and not have a moment to stop until I’m back in bed with my phone. But I actually love my job, I love my social life, it’s bizarre that I drag out this ‘me time’ when I don’t think it actually provides anything relaxing and sleep would make me feel SO much better. I often don’t read a book because I am so exhausted and that feels like it would take more concentration than being on my phone. Probably a good sign that though I think i’m relaxing i’m really just torturing myself. And I can’t stop because I am trying to seek satisfaction and nothing about endless videos of cats and tutorials is actually that satisfying.

  • Sophie

    Omg also just realised my showers have to do lists. What is with that?? But I just discussed this with a colleague and she said that she immediately showers the second she gets home, even if she’s home by 6pm. It “ends” the day, lets you wash away any stresses from work and you’re starting the bedtime wind down much earlier so it naturally just happens earlier. I’m trying it tonight.

  • wilma

    I find this kind of work culture terrifying! I’m from the Nordic countries and work from 8 to 4 in advertising. I could not work after 4, I start to fall asleep around 2 and don’t get anything creative done. And this is despite I go to bed on work nights around 10.

  • Kimberly Karp

    Is Hillary bombed again?

  • Totally need to start implementing some of these tips into my nightly routine. I’ve always felt better after getting a good night’s rest!

    Diana | http://thechicdiary.com/blog/10/26/2017-calamigos-ranch-malibu-wedding-what-i-wore

  • Natalie Redman
  • lelou

    These are all great ideas, but MAN, guys, what is wrong with us that we can’t stop working before like 10 p.m.? I’m working a lot about getting into a mindset of deep focus and productivity during my work times so that my home time isn’t consumed with more work. I have a child, so I simply cannot stay at the office until the later hours of the evening pretty much any day. We shouldn’t feel like it’s reasonable to be tuned into work for 12+ hours a day!

  • Mollie

    Can you please write for every publication that utilizes a humorous writer? This was perfect.