Here are five quick and extremely practical tips for how you can get yourself to go to bed earlier.
Note: These tips are aimed at helping you not waste time at night rather than implying everyone needs to go to bed at a specific time. I'm a night owl (and self-employed), so an early night for me is midnight rather than 2 a.m.
1. Do pleasurable, wind-down activities earlier in the evening.
I like to listen to podcasts and watch YouTube videos. If I only allow myself to do these things late at night, I'm going to stay up later than I should. What works for me currently is that I sometimes listen to a podcast using a Bluetooth speaker while giving a bath to my one-year-old. She gets 45 minutes of playtime in the bath, and I get to listen to a full episode.
For YouTube, I have a Google Home voice assistant and Chromecast linked to my TV. Instead of watching YouTube on my laptop, I can order up the videos I want using my voice and play them on the TV. The channels I like have episodes that run around 10 to 13 minutes, which I'm able to watch during the earlier parts of the evening. I've also found that I'm less likely to binge-watch when I play episodes this way, versus if I watch on my laptop. This is partly because, on the TV, I'm not seeing other recommended videos on the side of the screen.
2. Use the "now or tomorrow" principle.
When you tell yourself you can't do something, you run the risk of rebellious over-indulgence. If you find yourself surfing the internet or watching TV past your bedtime, try saying to yourself "If I still want to stay up late watching these programs (or reading these websites) tomorrow night, I can do that."
This is the same principle that people use to curb overeating. For example, you might say to yourself, "I could eat a second donut now, or I could eat it later if I still really feel like it."
This strategy won't completely solve your problem, but it has the potential to reduce your problem. Don't devalue easy partial solutions like this one. Strategies that work some of the time are still valuable
3. Try the f.lux app (not a typo), or dim your lights on a schedule.
A good way to cue your body that bedtime is coming up is to dim your lights. If you have dimmable smart lights, you can dim them on a schedule. If you use a Mac, you can use the free f.lux app to automatically remove blue light from your screen at sunset or a specific time, and cue yourself that it's time to wind down.
You can also just turn your lights off. I turn all the house lights off around 15 minutes before heading to bed.
4. Try StayFocusd (not a typo) to understand your time use.
Stayfocusd is an app for the Chrome web browser that will track how much time you spend on different types of websites. By getting a baseline for your time use, you can set goals and track your behavior. For example, if you like Facebook, but don't want to spend an hour a day on there, the app will allow you to easily see how much time you're using social media via a weekly report sent to your email.
I have this app installed and usually take a glance at the weekly report.
5. Understand what changes the probability of you going to bed on time.
Basic principles that work for regulating kids' behavior usually work for adults' behavior too. A great example of this is having an evening/bedtime routine. An advantage of a routine is that you can aim to hit certain marks. For example, you might know that if you feed your children dinner by a certain time, it increases the likelihood that you'll go to bed on time yourself.
Factors much earlier in the day might impact how your evening goes. For example, you might notice that on days you take a proper lunch break, you're less likely to stay up too late. By taking "me time" (or quiet time) throughout the day, you're less likely to feel so deprived of it in the evenings. A missed lunch break is also a sign of a very busy day, on which you might need to do extra self-care in order to wind down.
Which of these tips was most interesting and potentially useful to you? Which was least interesting? What strategies have you already found that work for you?
A key takeaway from this article is that when there's a personal habit you want to shift, you should brainstorm some strategies, pick something, and try it. A very common type of self-sabotage is to have a desire to change a behavior, but not employ any practical strategies to do that.
Another tip is to expect to need to change up your strategies from time to time. Strategies can stop working, become impractical, or require too much effort. When something about your lifestyle changes (e.g., your workload or your children getting older), you'll probably need to adjust your strategies.
Don't attempt to do everything I've suggested here (especially not all at once). Pick one suggestion to start with and try it out. If the article made you think of an idea yourself that's different from what I've suggested, that's good too.