I’m 480 Months Old and I Tried Sleep Training Myself

woman swaddled as she adult sleep trains
Dasha Burobina/Sleepy Jones/Canopy/OSEA/Apple

It’s something I’ve often thought about as a parent of a now five-year-old: Oh, the effort I put into making sure he gets a good night’s sleep.

He’s got a noise machine and blackout curtains; a nightlight with an adjustable glow; a cool-mist humidifier that keeps the night air just right. He’s also got an iron-clad routine: a light snack followed by pajama selection (the drawer in his dresser is full of pairs that have been pre-matched by me), a selection of three to four books that get read to him aloud, then finally, brush teeth and off to bed.

It’s consistent and, per my pediatrician since my son was six months old, designed to be Pavlovian—meaning the rinse-repeat rhythm and pacing actually cues his eyes to flutter. (Barring sleep delay tactics, he’s often out by 7:30 p.m.)

Am I envious of his routine? Yes. But as a full-blown adult, there’s a question that lingers in my mind night after night: What’s stopping me from implementing the same routine for myself?

For one thing, I’m a bedtime procrastinator. Becoming a mom catapulted me into this world where I will sacrifice almost anything—in this case, sleep—to get time for myself. Add to that the fact that as a working mom, there are never (never!) enough hours in the day. Yes, I’m often folding laundry while streaming Abbott Elementary into the wee hours of the night. I’m not proud of it; it’s just reality.

So, I gave myself a homework assignment: Sleep training my 480-month-old self as a bit of a science experiment. Here, the results.

1. My Hypothesis

In this experiment (conducted over the course of two weeks), I believe that a more consistent and regimented sleep routine will result in more blissful (read: quality) shuteye. In other words, if I invest the time in a proper wind-down routine and go to bed at the same hour every night—just like my son—the quality of my rest will improve.

A few independent variables: Things like daylight savings time and evening plans. Also, a kid who’s awake for unexplained reasons or sick or bellowing “water!” from a sleep-induced state at 2 a.m. with the expectation that you will run in and meet his needs. (These are all things that have the potential to affect my own ability to wind down and/or the quality of my sleep.)

sleep training essentials for adults: health app, pajamas, oil
Dasha Burobina/Sleepy Jones/Canopy/OSEA/Apple

2. Materials

There are a few things I relied on to track my efforts and improve my routine:

  • A better set of PJs. No, I didn’t buy anything new—instead, I simply spent the time to replicate my son’s PJ drawer so that I had reliable options (like this set from Sleepy Jones) to choose from when I was getting ready to turn in.
  • A Humidifier. Middle-of-the-night dryness always disrupts my slumber, especially in the winter time, so I set up this mold-inhibiting humidifier from Canopy by my bedside.
  • OSEA’s Vagus Nerve Oil, which is designed to activate your body’s relaxation response and help regulate stress. (That seemed like a smart pre-bedtime addition when it came to chilling out.)
  • The Health app on my iPhone, which offers sleep tracking when paired with an Apple Watch. This gave me the option to selectively silence notifications (barring emergency phone calls from my husband, parents and sister) but also to schedule my bedtime using a program called Sleep Focus. (It actually cues an adjustable wind-down routine that hides your apps and stops late-night pings before bed.)

3. Method & Procedure

My new bedtime routine was firm: 10:30 p.m. This was a big shift—again, I’m a night owl and bedtime procrastinator. This change shaved almost 90 minutes off my day. I also prescribed my own routine, which I planned to kick off 45 minutes before bed. For one thing, no phone. Sleep Focus helped with that, especially my Instagram addiction. At 9:45 p.m., the apps on my phone went dark. Often, I was already in PJs, but I made a point at that time to turn off all screens, TV included. Instead, I headed to the bathroom, where I washed and moisturized my face and brushed my teeth and applied my Vagus Nerve Oil (a single pump, then a deep inhalation into cupped hands before massaging into my neck—ahhh.) Finally, I climbed into bed with a book versus a device. At 10:30 p.m., it was lights out.

4. Results

Again, I ran this “study” of sorts for two weeks. My intentions were good, but the truth is, as an adult trying to stick to a sleep routine, there were obstacles aplenty. For one thing—and this ties back to being a bedtime procrastinator—life sort of begins for grownups after hours. What I mean is that after my kid went to sleep, I accidentally had social plans galore. There were mom drinks and a work event, and my husband and I had long-standing tickets to a play that, oops, was three hours long. I found myself in a pickle more than a couple of times when it came to being home in time for my new 10:30 bedtime, let alone the wind-down routine.

But the contrast between the nights when I followed the routine vs. the nights where I collapsed beneath my comforter really illuminated the stark differences between the quality of my shuteye. Without the wind down, my brain was still buzzing—I overrode Sleep Focus and hopped between Instagram and doom scrolling. When I checked the Health App the next morning, it showed on those nights that I was much more wakeful—and had significantly less REM sleep. (On one occasion, I had just about 25 minutes, whereas research says you should ideally have two hours of it a night.)

My son’s own wakefulness influenced my sleep quality. Ever since he was born, I’ve been acutely tuned into his everything, so I can hear in an instant when he calls for me. There were a few nights where, even if I nailed my bedtime routine, the quality of my sleep was affected by his.

Still, when I nailed my full routine on back-to-back days (I think my longest streak was four in a row), I noticed how much my concentration and productivity improved the next day. Also, my patience with my child, my spouse, the world. There was also one consistent factor that seemed to calm my brain before bed, whether I spent 5 or 45 minutes doing it: reading. It gave me the separation I needed between slumber and my to-do list. Enter Pavlov: My eyes would flutter and, bam. It was the deepest sleep I’d felt.

5. Conclusion

Childhood is bliss, as they say, and the truth of the matter is that, at this age, my son simply has less pressure when it comes to his daily routine. As long as I’m picking up the slack—managing motherhood, work, a marriage, myself—a consistent bedtime routine is more challenging to maintain. That doesn’t mean I can’t strive for it. The best lesson from this experiment was that it’s worth it to take the time to actually set one up. Then, best-case scenario, you can fall back on it as often as life allows you to. Worst case, you can cherry pick a part of the routine that relaxes you, then try again the next day.

I Spent Two Weeks Trying to Perfect My Sleep Routine, and I Highly Recommend You Do the Same

Rachel Bowie Headshot

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...