I have all five alarms set for something.
- 9:55 p.m. – time to start my bedtime routine
- 6:55 a.m. – time to get the kids up for school/weekend wake-up time
- 7:40 a.m. – time to leave for work
- 10:45 a.m. – time for mid morning snack/MCT oil
- 5:15 a.m. – M-F wake-up time (this can vary based on the next thing)
But the thing I’m using the most is the countdown timer. When I boil eggs, I bring the water to a boil and as soon as the water boils, I cover the pot and boil the eggs for 9-minutes. When I put something in the washer, I set the timer for 28-minutes, because it will remind me the load is done. I set it for 20-minutes when I have clothes in the dryer.
What does any of this have to do with a good night’s sleep?
Here goes my latest, craziest “hack”. I used to set an alarm for the time I wanted to wake up but now instead, I set my countdown-timer for the amount of hours and minutes I want to sleep. The goal is always 7 hours. So if I go to bed at 11:00 p.m., I could set my alarm for 6 o’clock, right? Sure. If I didn’t have a countdown-timer. Duh. For the past three nights, at the moment I stop reading or decide it’s lights out and time for some R.E.M., I calculate how many hours I need and start the timer.
Last night, I went to bed at 11:15 and was light’s out at 11:30 and determined that 6.75 hours of sleep would mean I wake at 6:15 a.m., giving me enough time for a short walk with the dog (it was zero-degrees out) which gets me back home in time for a 6:40 a.m. shower (I had subtracted out shaving time …I didn’t shave today).
So, right before bed I drank my orange juice with Green Vibrance and Macha powder (yuck), took 100 MG of Magnesium, and a half a banana, went to bed and because I was confident in the countdown-timer, the next thing I knew, my watch was signalling I’d successfully slept 6.75 hours.
Maybe it’s a mental thing, but there’s a different mindset when I lay my head down knowing I’ll sleep 6.75 hours rather than setting an alarm for an arbitrary time and hoping I get all the sleep I want.
Why does this work?
Your brain anticipates time and events in a linear way and think about when you know you have an appointment or date that starts at a specific time. As your “2 o’clock” approaches, it’s natural to keep checking the time. “Oh, it’s 12 o’clock. I have to leave at 1:45.” Later. Oh, it’s 1:05, I have 35-minutes until I have to leave.” Then, later, “oh, look at that, I have 5-minutes until I have to leave for my 2 o’clock.”
Your brain doesn’t stop thinking about the appointment. Now, I set alarms on my watch for 12:50 p.m., then 1:30 p.m., then 1:40 p.m. so I don’t have to keep checking and I’ll leave right on time at 1:45 p.m. Better still is countdown timers. If it’s 12 o’clock and I know I have to leave at 1:45, I can set my countdown-timer for 90-minutes so it alerts me at 1:30 p.m. Then I can quick set a 10-minute timer and when that alerts me, I’m out the door. And if I happen to check my watch, at any point, I can see exactly how long I have, versus doing some quick reverse math.
Does it make me sound crazy? When you’re anticipating a vacation, how do you track it? You tell yourself, “four more days,” and then, “two more days.” You don’t look at the date on the calendar and say, hey, it’s the 20th of December and I leave on the 23rd of December . . . no. You just know there are three days until you leave. Or 1 week until your birthday. Or 3 weeks until Star War Rogue One is out in theaters.
This “countdown” instead of “setting an alarm” at bedtime can trick your psyche and you can approach the amount of hours and minutes you want to sleep like you’re looking forward to something.
It works. It changes your mindset before you sleep and when you wake up in the middle of the night.
Try it, won’t you?