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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