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Your New Year’s Resolution: Better Sleep Starts Today

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Make sleep a key part of your daily routine to maximize the benefits of your zzz’s.

As we begin the new year, many of us desire to make a fresh, healthy start to the year. So, we all make New Year’s Resolutions to change our lives for the better. Unfortunately, by mid-January, many of these resolutions remain unfulfilled or broken.

How can we effectively harness the optimism and motivation we feel with the change of the calendar year? Research on how we create and break habits suggests that we need to target areas of our lives that have become automatic.

Harness the Power of Habit

As Charles Duhigg said in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, human beings constantly strive to be more efficient thinkers and to save mental effort. Habitual behaviors are a key aspect of this mental efficiency. We don’t have to consciously think about how to brush our teeth, make coffee in the morning, or start our cars.

We need habitual behaviors in order to avoid become overwhelmed by the hundreds and thousands of activities we engage in every day.

However, this automaticity can have a downside.

According to Duhigg, our brains stop fully participating in the decision making involved in habitual behaviors.

Consciously Pursue Healthy Behaviors

In the coming year, we can use our ability to form and change habits to our advantage to change our sleep for the better. Do you engage in any habitual behaviors before bed that might interfere with your sleep? Habits emerge in response to a cue in your environment. When presented with the cue, you automatically engage in the behavior because on some level it’s rewarding.

For example, when you get into bed (the cue) do you check your smartphone (the behavior) because it prevents you from feeling bored or helps you to relax (the reward)?

Over time, this behavior can become automatic and, in fact, you may feel odd if you don’t look at the phone when you get into bed.

This is the perfect opportunity to use the power of habits for good!

Practice Makes Perfect

Replace the unwanted behavior with a positive alternative. Reading your smartphone before bed can be physically stimulating because of the light it emits and mentally stimulating depending on the content. Both of these factors work in opposition to good sleep.

Instead, think of an alternative behavior to do in response to the cue of getting into bed.

This year, continue to make those resolutions. But, this time, make them stick by helping them to become a healthy automatic part of your day.

 

 

Natalie Dautovich

Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., is the National Sleep Foundation's Environmental Scholar. She is also appointed at Virginia Commonwealth University as an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Department of Psychology. She received her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Florida and completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of South Florida. Dr. Dautovich’s research focuses on behavioral sleep medicine and geropsychology. Specifically, she studies sleep and behavioral rhythms such as daily routines across the adult lifespan. She has published articles, book chapters, and a handbook on sleep and health and presented her research at national conferences.

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