14-Day Better Sleep Challenge 

Follow this step-by-step guide for a soothing slumber!

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

You guys… as I write this to you, I’m about to embark on a 14-day sleep challenge, and let me tell you: ya girl needs it. For a myriad of reasons, my usually *perfect* sleep has taken a turn for the worse — according to my energy levels, health, and OURA ring, actually! Bedtime is all over the place, I can’t fall asleep until WAY past my (normally grandma) bedtime, and I’m exhausted. In other words, this is the ideal time for me to start a sleep challenge. 

Step One: Set Sleep Goals 

As a health coach, I know all the right tools, tips, and tricks for getting better sleep. I understand sleep hygiene. But implementing them? A whole other story. I plan to give it a shot, though, and reset my foundation this week. Some core things I wanted to start with, based on my knowledge and training experience…

Earlier, consistent bedtime. Have a bedtime and stick to it. 

Pre-bed routine. It doesn’t matter what your routine looks like, so long as it works for you and you can keep up with it. 

No caffeine after 12 pm. This is usually a hard and fast rule for me, but I’ve been slipping. 

Early morning sunshine (sitting outside or near a window, going for a walk) and exercise during the day.

Consistent wake-up time. To go hand-in-hand with my consistent bedtime, naturally!

A disclaimer: Consistency and routines are really tough for me (and if you’re one of those people, too, this is your time to feel a little less alone). I’m still figuring this out myself, but having easy-to-implement tools ready and available is a great place to start.

What Really Worked

Here’s what really helped my sleep these past weeks… Some of these surprised me!

#1 Warm Shower.

This is one of my best, most useful, go-to tips for three main reasons… 

Temperature. Warm temperatures like this can cue the body (and circadian rhythm) that it’s time for sleep.

Timing. I did this roughly 90 mins before bed and spent a good 15 minutes in there.

Aromatherapy. I usually use more energizing scents in the shower, but I opted for a calming lavender body wash (and made sure to wash the soles of my feet — lavender in this area is thought to help with sleep and relaxation).

#2 Magnesium Sleep Supplement

Magnesium is an excellent mineral for relaxation on the mental and physical levels. It can help with muscular tension, mood, digestion, and — of course — sleep. Because magnesium helps your body relax, you’re able to more easily drift off into a peaceful slumber. It’s sometimes used in combination with melatonin for an even more powerful effect.

#3 Brain Dump

 The tip to end all tips, my friends. “Brain dumping” is a tool I picked up from a sleep coach at Proper (and my former therapist): if you have an anxious, active mind… take everything that’s going on in there and put it on paper. Journaling is lovely and relaxing before bed, but this takes it to the next level and empties everything… anxious thoughts, to-dos, feelings, hopes, dreams, random musings that pop up, things you want to google at 1 am…

#4 Low-Impact Movement During the Day

Exercise helps you sleep better — some of you already know this well! While the timing is up to you (whatever works best for your body!), it’s clinically proven that regular exercise helps you sleep better. Yoga and Tai Chi are some of the most powerful when it comes to snoozing (according to studies), and while any type of exercise can likely help, there are some studies pointing to low-impact being particularly helpful. I opted for some FitOn Pilates and Yoga!

Avoid Caffeine After 12 pm. We’ll get into this more in the challenge, but on one occasion this month, I had caffeine WAY too close to bedtime… We all have setbacks, even health coaches, alright?

Sleep Bonuses

These helped… but were more like the cherry on top versus the heavy hitters, you know? 

Freshly laundered PJs & sheets. There’s something about clean sheets and clean PJs. I tried to consistently focus on breathable cotton, soft PJs — fresh out of the drier — while I cozied up.

Soothing sounds. Speaking of cozying up, I wanted to be lulled into a slumber like a baby, so I put a Spotify playlist on before bed (lullaby piano music) to set the tone.

Calming scents. I realize essential oils are a little bit 2015 in terms of wellness trends, but creating a sleep atmosphere was really important for me as I built my routine. I used a Santal oil I found on Amazon. 

Silk pillowcase. This is an everyday thing for me, but I genuinely can get behind this; a silk pillowcase provides an extra layer of comfort, and it’s great for your skin. I now cannot sleep on anything else (cotton sheets feel scratchy on my face), and I fully have become the princess and the pea and have to travel with a silk pillowcase.

The 14-Day Sleep Better Challenge

Let’s synthesize these tips (and then some!) in a two-week, nice-and-easy, slow progression into a better slumber. You can add more at a time if you’re feeling enthusiastic, but no need to rush. We’ll start by creating the optimal space, time, and environment for sleep, then build a sleep-supportive routine in week two.

Week One: Nights 1-7

Phase one: Setting yourself up for success. We’re laying the groundwork for a successful bedtime routine so you can doze off quickly and peacefully.

Night 1: Set a Bedtime

Most important is your consistency with bedtime. You’re going to stick to this bedtime for two weeks, so choose wisely! Keep in mind that almost none of us slip into a slumber the second our head hits the pillow… it can take thirty or so minutes (especially if you’ve been struggling with sleep lately). So keep that in mind when you’re calculating your projected hours of sleep.

Re: those hours of sleep… Everyone has a different sleep goal. While it’s debated, the majority of sleep experts and physicians still recommend at least eight hours of sleep. Some bodies need more (like mine!), and some bodies need less. Set your bedtime according to how many hours you need… I’d suggest erring on the side of more sleep if you’ve been inconsistent or sleep-deprived. It takes a LONG time to make up for sleep deprivation!

Night 2: Wash Your Sheets & Pajamas

Take this time to do a load of laundry for your sheets, blankets, and PJs… bonus if they come out of the dryer just before bedtime so you can get warm and cozy.

This is also a great time to assess your bed linens and pajamas… if it’s within your budget to give yourself a refresh, choosing soft, breathable fabrics and upgrading your slumber setup might be a nice way to kick off your sleep hygiene routine!

Night 3: Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Onto the rest of your environment… Sleep experts love to suggest blackout curtains and climate control to keep the air cool and the room dark. You don’t need to spend a ton on new curtains or an AC unit, but maybe you can try a sleep mask or a fan… whatever you have available to you to achieve that cool-and-dark environment.

To amp up the sleepytime vibes, consider adding in peaceful sounds and scents. I personally love diffusing some lavender or using a lavender-scented body cream at night (there are also pillow and linen mists with relaxing scents). Something calming that can become an olfactory cue can be really helpful. I also loved using a peaceful piano lullaby music — truly treating myself like a baby here — to add yet another “it’s time for sleep” cue for my brain.

Night 4: Begin a “Tech Moratorium”

Perhaps one of the most challenging pieces of advice in this digital age, but one of the most effective — it’s essential to unplug before bedtime. Move your phone charger away from your bed, and set a time (an hour or two before bedtime, if you’re able) in which your phone goes onto that charger and out of sight. No email, no apps, no doom scrolling… just wind-down time for your brain. You can swap in whichever activities you’d like (we’ll get to more of that in week two), but the goal is to get your eyes off the screen and your brain ready for bed. Lots of people swear by getting a separate alarm clock, so you don’t have to be near your phone; I opted for an Alexa routine on my Echo device (she wakes me up with music in the morning).

ICYDK, there’s also a setting on iPhones where you can set it to bedtime mode… it even reminds you to wind down for sleep!

Night 5: Cut Caffeine After 12 pm

Are you chugging iced coffees at 3 pm — and struggling to doze off? I encountered this more than once (I got a Mexican Coke as a treat with my dinner and could *not* fall asleep for hours despite being exhausted… miserable!). If you’re a 3 pm coffee drinker and sleeping like a baby, power to you. But many of us are a bit more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, and it can dramatically impact our sleep cycle. This does not mean cutting out coffee — just keeping it to the AM hours. You may find that getting your sleep on track and getting better quality Zzzs will reduce your need for caffeine in the later hours of the day.

Night 6: Get Some Sun When You First Wake Up 

(Technically, this is “morning six” after night five!)

One of the best tips I got from a psychiatrist-slash-sleep expert: get some light to your retinas (indirect, of course… don’t stare at the sun, please!) for 30 minutes within an hour of waking up. This is a studied practice called light therapy, and it’s used to help treat circadian rhythm disorders. You could sit by a really bright window, take your coffee on the patio, go for a walk with your dog, etc. I loved doing a self-care activity with coffee in my front yard (an adult coloring book and a pour-over with my pup by my side was a really nice start to the day!). This not only helps recalibrate your circadian rhythm, but it adds a really peaceful activity to your daily routine that can reduce your stress levels. It all builds up to a healthier life! 

Night 7:  Go for a Walk (During the Day) 

Another daytime activity that’ll help your nighttime wind down: a nice stroll outside. Studies have shown that walking is wonderful for your health for a number of reasons… one of which is that it can improve your sleep! Get out today for a stretch of time — whatever you can! — be that five minutes or as long as an hour. See how this impacts your sleep quality tonight.

Week Two: Nights 8-14

Now, let’s build that routine out a bit more. 

Night 8: Do a “Brain Dump” in Your Journal

This practice is going to transform week two of your challenge. If anxiety (or stressful thoughts, or even just a racing mind) keeps you from dozing off until late, this is going to be an absolute game changer.

Night 9: Add in a Warm Night Time Shower

One of my absolute favorites, as aforementioned, is a warm shower before bed. An analysis of 17 studies found that this surprisingly easy bedtime ritual is associated with improved sleep. And, if baths are more your style, you can totally opt for that too. The key — among the study — was to make sure it was nice and hot, around 104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Night 10: Practice Some Pre-Bed Yoga or Gentle Stretching

Ready to add another layer to your wind-down routine? Fun fact: FitOn has an entire tab dedicated to these activities. Enter: Bedtime Wind Downs. Release stiffness and tension from the day, center your body and mind, shake it off, and get ready for some super solid Zzzs.  

Night 11: Low Impact Workout (During the Day) 

Dealer’s choice, readers! Pick from Pilates, yoga, strength, toning, barre, or choose from the overarching “Low Impact” category. As mentioned above, any of these will help you get some good shut-eye. 

Night 12: Meditate

Sleep-inducing meditations are some of my favorites. A body scan, a visualization, or a ‘clear-the-mind’ style are all helpful options, and so many are geared towards helping you count some sheep. Try a 20-minute Yoga Nidra sleep meditation or a soothing 10-minute sleep well meditation.

Night 13: Try Magnesium or Tea

So we talked about magnesium a bit earlier, and it’s something I personally found to be super effective during my own 14-day challenge. If you don’t have access to magnesium or it simply doesn’t work for you, try swapping this for a sleepytime tea… maybe something with lavender or valerian root for a calming effect. 

Night 14:  Put it All Together

Now for the gauntlet! The ultimate sleep hygiene lifestyle. Can you put these pieces of the puzzle together? By now, you should have a nice morning and daytime routine in place (get that early morning light when you wake up, go for a walk and do some low-impact exercise) and a calming space for sleep with fresh sheets and pajamas, soothing scents and sounds, and a cool and dark ambiance. You’re drinking coffee in the morning, turning your phone off in the evening, and you’ve got a set bedtime with pre-bed routine options. Two hours before you hit the hay, you can take a warm shower, do those stretches, write in your brain-dump journal, meditate, and sip a mug of herbal tea to help you unwind. 

No More Struggling to Hit Snooze

If you’re skimping on sleep, this sleep challenge is for you! In just two weeks, you’ll gain some valuable sleep tips and tricks and learn how to reset your snooze button. Customize this challenge with additional sleep hacks, or follow our step-by-step guide. Repeat as many times as needed until you’re a sleep pro!