Sleep is arguably one of the most important parts of our life. When we sleep well, we feel much happier and more effective in our day-to-day life. Work comes easier, conversations flow smoother, and things are just a bit brighter.

It comes as no surprise then that improved sleep is a goal for many people. However, goals for better sleep are often quite vague, such as “I want to sleep better and feel better”.

This is a great goal but it is not specific nor necessarily actionable. Many of us have a sense of what better sleep might look like; however, this may not always be realistic or actually lead to better sleep.

SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time Bound) offer us a way to capture what sleeping better and feeling better actually looks like during the day and night. That is, what behaviours lead to more restful and consolidated sleep.

However, before we discuss SMART goals for sleep, we need to understand typical sleep norms and tackle sleep myths to develop a healthy attitude towards sleep.

Norms and myths for sleep patterns

Falling asleep Good sleepers typically fall asleep between 10 to 30 minutes on average throughout the week. Contrary to popular opinion, falling asleep immediately is not necessarily a good thing; in fact, this can be a sign of excessive sleepiness which could be related to sleep deprivation or an underlying medical condition (e.g., sleep apnea).

Staying asleep – People can wake up multiple times throughout the night. These awakenings usually last for a few brief moments (e.g., going to the bathroom and getting back asleep) or you may not even remember them. All that to say, these awakenings are definitely normal and not a concern unless you are up for a significant period (e.g., more than 20 to 30 minutes).

Number of hours – The 8-hour myth is just that – a myth. Most adults need between 7 to 8 hours of sleep, but the actual optimal number of sleep a person needs is unique to the individual. This is also true of the person’s preference of going to bed and waking up – some people are early birds and others are more night owls.

Stress and sleep – When we are stressed because of an exam, work, relationships – or something else – sleep naturally takes a dip. This does not mean that our sleep systems are broken or there is something wrong; people naturally have a day here and there where sleep is not ideal – and that’s okay. It is only when sleep problems are maintained over longer periods of time that we should be concerned.

Energy – Many people believe that sleeping better means immediately feeling better when we wake up and throughout the day. However, even after a great night’s sleep, we can still feel a little groggy in the morning because of sleep inertia. Another reason for fatigue during the day is that better sleep is only one part of how we feel. Other factors, such as activity, light exposure, and stress, can also play a role.

SMART Goals for Sleep

Below are a few examples of SMART goals for sleep based on these norms:

1. Falling asleep on average between 10 to 30 minutes

2. Staying asleep with a couple awakenings lasting no more than 20 to 30 minutes on average

3. Keeping to a consistent number of hours and sleep schedule that follows the body’s unique rhythm

4. Get out of bed within 5 minutes of waking up for the final time (and engaging in behaviours to break out of sleep inertia)

Using values to support our goals

Although these goals sound great in theory, they may not be perfectly aligned with your life and values. For example, there may be nights you need to stay up late to finish up some work or spend some extra time with friends/loved ones. There may also be times where you want to take an extra 30 minutes or an hour to just snuggle in bed because it’s a cozy Sunday.

And that’s completely okay! Sleep is important, but it doesn’t always have to be the number one priority in our lives. Never let perfect get in the way of good, and never let sleep get in the way of living.

Based on the norms and goal examples provided above, you can tailor these goals to match well with your life and schedule.

To support these goals, here is a post on how we can leverage our sleep system to support deep and refreshing sleep.

Best wishes,