Partners and Pets
Our living bedmates can lead to sleep habits that are hard to break. This is why you might have trouble sleeping when your partner goes on a business trip or is away visiting friends for the weekend. When your bedtime happiness is based on curling in the arms of someone else, holding someone else, or just feeling their comforting warm presence nearby, you come to count on that feeling of safety and happiness.
The same is true for people who invite pets into the bed. Even just a polite pet who likes to sleep by your feet is a comforting presence we come to rely on. And when they're gone, so too is that comfort that helped you get to sleep. You miss it. You lie awake without it, even though nothing is officially wrong.
Scents are another big part of bedtime, though we seldom take note. The smell of your bedroom or the shampoo you use for your evening shower can trigger your mind to be ready for sleep. The smell of your sleepy partner or your freshly washed bedding can also help you fall asleep. These are all things we keenly miss when they are gone and we might not even know why.
This is doubly true for people who use aromatherapy. If you have trained your brain to become sleepy in response to a certain fragrance, you start to count on that fragrance as a trigger. Sure, you get tired, but your mind might not be ready to sleep until it smells that familiar sleep smell.
Your Pre-Bed Bath
Do you take a shower or bath every single night before bed as part of your routine? This is a great tactic because it manipulates your body's response to temperature (and being nicely clean) to prepare for deep sleep. The heat relaxes your muscles and joints, while the sudden cold from leaving the bath makes you intensely sleepy.
But if you're in a rush or in a new environment and skip your nightly bath, it can be hard to really get to sleep after that. Like going to sleep in your clothes, you feel like your bedtime ritual isn't complete and may have thoughts about needing to jump out of bed at any moment. Even if you really did change into your pajamas.
Staying Up Late
Finally, and here's an odd one to end with, staying up late can become a sleep habit you can't break easily. If you're used to puttering around the house doing a few final chores, watching a little extra TV before bed, or reading all night, then your bedtime is really later than it is officially in your mind. The first time you're "good" and don't "stay up late" is actually the first time you're setting a whole new bedtime for yourself.
You may find yourself lying awake going through your to do list in your mind even if you're not physically up doing anything. This is partly because you've trained your brain to stay up later and partly because that feeling of staying up late was the comfort you needed to go to sleep. This is a particularly common issue with teens and night owls.
That first night changing your sleep habits can completely open your eyes to the kind of things we become habituated to. Whether you can't sleep without the scent of lavender or can't sleep until you've stayed up an extra hour each night, you'll learn about what your brain really cares about for sleep. Fortunately, you can also retrain your brain to get any kind of sleep you want. It may take a few days of focus and meditation to get to sleep in a new place or in a new way, but you will adapt. And then, probably, get sleep-hooked on your new routine.