We hear about it all the time. It’s one of the essential human needs like eating and breathing.
When we’re first born, our parents make a big fuss over how much sleep we need. If we don’t get enough sleep, we become unsettled and disruptive. Yet, it seems we seem to think this simple concept changes as we get older. When we have something “important” to do, it’s often sleep that gets compromised first.
When we have a big event on, we compromise sleep.
When we want to watch a movie, we compromise sleep.
When we need to get up early or stay back late to work, we compromise sleep.
When we aimlessly browse on the internet, we compromise sleep.
When we go out with our friends, we compromise sleep.
At what point did all of these activities become more important than sleep?
I deprived my body from sleep for as long as I can remember. I’ve averaged between 5–6hrs over a 10 year span. I never paused to think about how this affected my life. I thought I was so energetic and strong that I didn’t need to worry about it. I mean “it’s easy to run off 5 hours sleep”, I used to say. How stupid.
The main reason why I was getting such a little amount of sleep was because I was wired all the time. I mean all the time! From the moment I woke up, I would check email, social media, blogs, YouTube, you name it. Throughout the day, in between work, I would read, watch and listen to more content. Then in the evenings, I would do the same, all the way through till bedtime.
In addition to being wired, as I’ve gotten a little older, and a little wiser, I’ve started to value the importance of daily habits. But valuing and executing are two different things.
Part of being mindful is our ability to do things that benefit our health and wellbeing. I know how important it is to move, stretch, and eat well everyday. Yet, for some reason, I couldn’t stick to these habits.
I would start to feel a little shit about myself, and realise that I needed to exercise, so I would simply set my alarm earlier, so I could exercise first thing in the morning. This would last about 3 days, before I would break the habit as well as breaking trust with myself.
I would then read somewhere that it’s good to meditate, or to journal each day. So of course, in an attempt to create more time in my day to do these things, I would shave off 30 mins or so off my sleep, thinking that I was being productive. All while, my energy levels suffered. Ironic.
And so this cycle continued, for the best part of a decade.
Compromise sleep for self-development, break the habit, feel shit about myself, then start it all over again in a month when I get inspired again.
A life changing conversation
It was a Thursday evening and I was entering my inspirational cycle. I’d been researching all of these vegan bodybuilding transformational success stories online, and I was convinced that getting a fitness coach would solve all of my problems. I was willing to invest hundreds of dollars on coaching and even more for a local gym membership. I would do whatever it took to reach my goals, even if it meant sleeping 4 hours a day to get there.
All I had to do now was convince Masha.
As I inched into my soft sales pitch, Masha caught on and quickly cut me off.
“Michael, are you seriously going to do this again? How many times do we have to go through this?”
Then I’d reply.
“Yes but this is different, I realise now that I just need to be held accountable with a coach.”
Masha – “We’re minimalists right? KEEP IT SIMPLE!”
That last statement hit me right between the eyes.
I’d spent the last year, saying no to commitments so I could do more of what was really important in my life, and yet here I was complicating things with coaches, training programs and gym memberships.
But if that wasn’t the solution, what was? It seemed like I had tried everything.
Masha and I had a long chat about why we couldn’t stick to our habits. We knew what would make us feel good, but we were sick of trying to be motivated every Sunday evening to get it right for the following week.
We didn’t trust ourselves anymore.
Then I randomly blurted out, “you know what, it would be great to get a solid 8 hours sleep each night. I would have so much more energy to get things done.”
Masha replies, “well why don’t you?”.
Then I’d go on to give her this spiel about how getting more sleep would compromise “me time” in the evenings and the mornings.
“Yeah but isn’t sleep more important?”
I knew she was right but the thought of sleeping 8 hours a night and not getting any time for myself to seemed like a terrible deal. It just feels like I’d be working and sleeping all the time. Yuck.
Then we both sat there, thinking about how ridiculous this was. How could compromising sleep even be a conversation. Why do we trick ourselves into thinking we don’t need a decent amount of sleep to operate?
There just had to be a way to get a good nights rest AND fit in time to create healthy habits, whether it’s meditating, exercising, stretching or journaling.
Then it hit me.
The problem was not waking up later. The real challenge was going to bed earlier in a relaxed state of mind.
On average I would tuck myself in sometime between 11pm and 12pm. Which is not too dissimilar to the rest of the world. Check out the results from this poll:
- 66 percent of Americans go to sleep at midnight.
- Fully 75 percent of people in Portugal stay up past midnight, the highest percentage of any country.
- Seven of the top 10 nocturnal areas were in Asia, led by Taiwan where 69 percent turn in after midnight.
- The Japanese sleep less than anyone else on the planet with 41 percent snoozing just six hours or less each night.
- Australians go to bed the earliest and sleep the longest. Nearly one-quarter of Australians polled went to bed by 10 p.m., and 31 percent say they average more than nine hours of sleep every night.
Quick side note: If you want to geek out over how much sleep you should be getting, check out this mammoth post by James Clear.
So if my goal was to get 8 hours sleep and wake up at 6am, I would need to fall asleep at 10pm. And for me to fall asleep at 10pm, I probably need to be in bed by 9:45pm at the latest to let my mind rest.
The very thought of tucking myself in a 9:45pm terrified me. If I got home from work at 6:30pm (which I often do), I would have 3 hours to prepare and eat dinner, and do whatever before going to sleep. And that’s if I didn’t have any plans for the evening!
That’s not much home time in the big scheme of things. But that’s the challenge we all face on a daily basis. That’s probably why we go to bed late, because we want to feel like we’ve had enough time to hang out with our loved ones, work on a side project, watch television or browse the internet. All before we sleep, get up go to work and do this thing all over again.
At this stage, both Masha and I felt deflated, like this was an impossible task. Then I remembered reading Joshua Becker’s article 10 Minutes to a Clutter-Free Morning. Wha? An evening routine? And here I was obsessing over morning routines.
After reading the article, we decided that we would create our own evening routine to ensure that we got to bed at a decent hour, without feeling like we’re missing out on life.
What we found after the first night is that our evening routine drives our morning routine. They work hand in hand.
After executing both, we felt amazing. We would leave the house for work in the morning already feeling like we had accomplished something. We were happier throughout the day, we had more energy and we were sharp and focused.
Then after a few days, we started looking forward to our evening routine and getting quality sleep because we knew what it would do for the following day.
As we kept doing it, we refined our routines to make it better and better, until we had a solid system.
This system became so profound that we decided to name it reset. We often talk about it. “Hey, are you ready for reset?”.
In this little guide, I want to share our reset system with you, so you too can also finally get quality sleep and stick to your morning routine consistently.
The system is simple, efficient and effective. Oh, it’s also fun!
It helps if you get your family or roommates on board as well, so you can do a house reset together. Do a reset challenge for 3 days and I’m sure they’ll all be hooked 🙂
Anyway, let’s get into the steps so you can feel the power!
Choose your sleeping period
This is probably the most important decision you need to make for your reset. How many hours of sleep do you want and from what time to what time? We settled on 10pm to 6am. We wanted to be in asleep for 8 hours and we wanted to rise early enough so we could perform a morning routine before leaving for work. Yours could be 11pm to 6am, 10pm to 5am, 11pm to 7am, whatever works for your schedule. But aim to be in asleep between 7–8 hours. Not in bed for that time but asleep. There is a massive difference.
Keep in mind that this is not 100% strict as there will be times when you need to sleep later or wake up earlier. But this should be a target that you strive for and should hit 90% of the time.
Choose a no-internet period
The next step is to choose a 12 hour block of time where your internet is turned off. This is to ensure that you’re not wired just before you go to sleep and when you wake up first thing in the morning. No more rolling out of bed and checking your smartphone.
We set our no internet period between 9pm and 9am. This is another crucial element to our system. Not having access to the internet forces us to unwind and gracefully start the day without any distractions.
Establish your evening routine
Here’s where things get interesting. You now have to determine the best way you can get your mind to relax so you get set yourself up for awesome sleep. We suggest that you start this process 1 hour before the start of your target sleeping period.
You can do a little or as much as you want in this time, it’s completely up to you and your family. For us it was important to ensure that the house was tidy, we brushed out teeth and we did some stretching before we got into bed.
More specifically here’s our exact evening routine:
- Turn off the internet at the power
- Turn off computer and put phones/tablets in flight mode
- Clean kitchen and put the dishes away
- Clear all bench tops in the house
- Fold and put away loose clothes
- Brush and floss teeth
- Wash face
This whole process normally takes us 45 minutes. During this time, the TV is off and the house is quiet and peaceful. We let our minds wonder as we do what we need to do.
In relation to the unwind step, this could mean various things. Most of the time it’s reading for us. But it can be playing cards, pillow talk, or drawing. It’s a beautiful time to let your mind fully relax until you’re ready and your eyes are nice and heavy.
Create a morning routine
Ah, the elusive morning routine which we all try to stick with but only a few of us prevail. Well now that you know the secret (evening routine), sticking to your morning routine will be a peace of cake. Having said that, it’s still important to think about what activities will give you the best results for the day.
For us, it means exercising, eating well and setting your intention for the day. Here’s what our morning routine looks like:
- Brush teeth
- Drink water
- Exercise (I alternate between yoga and HITT training and Masha between yoga and tai chi)
- Set intention for the day
As minimalists, we value low-involvement activities such as yoga and HITT training over going to the gym or going for a long bike ride. We do this because we want to remove any potential excuses or barriers to keep important habits. It’s easy to say no to driving to the gym 6am in the morning. It’s easy to say no to riding your bike when it’s raining outside or -2. It’s not as easy to say no to doing a 15 minute yoga session using your pocket yoga app. It’s not as easy to say no to a quick 10 minute circuit of body weight exercises.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t do more involved activities. I think it’s a great idea to be adventurous and do different things such as hiking, rock climbing or team sports. But this should be done on top of your little routine in the morning. So even if you can’t get to your big activity throughout the week, you know you have moved your body at least 15-20 minutes each morning. It’s also handy to have this habit when you’re travelling.
In relation to breakfast, aim to pack a ton of nutrients into a smoothie or juice after your workout. This is the basic requirement in our household. After that you can eat avocado on toast, rolled oats or tofu scramble if time persists.
Setting intention for the day is extremely powerful. How we do this is to write down the one important task we need to do for the day. It has to be something that is achievable that day and that will give you the best results. It could be writing 500 words for your report or it could be having a tough conversation with your boss at work.
When you’re first creating your household reset, it helps to crystallise your habit by writing it down. Even better, create a graphic and make it your desktop and mobile wallpaper.
Take a sheet of paper and on one side, list your evening routine. On the other side list your morning routine. Across the bottom, write down your no internet period.
We’ve attached an example of our reset wallpaper. Feel free to download it or use it as a template for your system.
What about you?
Have you found a way to get a solid 7–8 hours sleep AND still have time for self-development in between work and life? If you have, please share your process in the comments below.