Every quarter I start out with the best intention of getting more sleep, and after a couple weeks in I am a complete mess. This year I decided one of my goals for January was to get myself on an actual sleep schedule where (for the most part, see below) I would go to bed and get up at the same time every day of the week, including weekends.
I work in San Francisco two days a week, which means I am up at 6 a.m. to make my train and make it to my desk before 9. The rest of the week I really don't have to be up at a particular time. In the fall I would get up at 8:30 a.m. on school days, but it made the days I went into the city complete hell. I could never get in bed on time, which was fine when I could set my alarm a little later the next day, but completely disastrous when I had to drag myself out of bed on my early mornings.
For all of January I kept myself honest and stayed on track for my goal (I know January is not yet over, but I only have a few days left and I'm confident). Every night I try to be in bed before 11 p.m., and some nights I even make it before 10:30 p.m., a huge improvement from rushing to make it before 12:30 a.m. I set my alarm for 7 or 7:30 a.m. on the days I don't have to get up for work. I am slowly working myself closer and closer to 7 a.m. to make it closer to my early mornings. On work days I am up at 6 a.m.
But here is the monkey wrench in my otherwise perfect plan: the newspaper. I work at the school newspaper where we go to print Wednesday nights/ Thursday mornings. This means I can be up until upwards of 2 a.m. on a weekly basis (or later if things really aren't going well). This means I only have Thursday to recover before I have to be up again at 6 a.m. on Friday for work. To make it easiest on myself, I aim for six and a half to seven hours of sleep on Wednesday nights to make sure I am can make my bedtime (and fall asleep) on Thursday without falling asleep in class.
After a month of progress, I now wake up a few minutes before my alarm at least once a week. I don't feel like someone drugged me or walk around like a zombie on a regular basis. Here is what I did:
1. Start slowly! Wake up 10-15 minutes earlier for a few days, and then cut back again. Don't try to wake up hours earlier all at once.
2. Go to bed. No excuses. Set a bedtime and stick to it. My goal is 10:30 p.m., but my hard deadline is 11 p.m. If I don't make it by then, I know the next day will be rough.
3. Set a routine. I start getting ready for bed at 9:30 p.m. now. It gives me time to do a short yoga routine, foam roll, and get organized for the next day. It also gives me space from whatever I was doing before I go to bed so I don't get in bed still thinking about it or all of the things on my to do list.
4. Be firm, but not punishing. If you didn't make your bedtime, don't just turn off your alarm for the next day or set it even earlier so you are even more tired tomorrow. You have to find the right balance for when your plan just isn't going to work and you have to just roll with it.
5. Weekends count. Don't turn off your alarm for the weekends. It will completely mess up all of the progress you have made, and you will have to start over every Monday. Enjoy the start of your week and a full weekend by sticking to your schedule.
6. Good night phone. Good night computer. Good night TV. Put it all away at least 30 minutes before bed. I use my phone for my alarm, so before I finish getting ready for bed I make sure it is set and on my light stand. Leave your electronics behind for a better night's sleep.