Using the 10-3-2-1-0 Formula for Better Sleep


I’m a firm believer that we can unlock some of our greatest potential by simply tweaking our daily routine. After all, if you want sustainable and lasting change, it has to be repeatable, right? Which unfortunately means that eating a kale salad once in a while isn’t going to do much to offset your diet if you routinely eat donuts every day (and trust me, I have tested this theory for years with the same disappointing result).

When I read about the “10-3-2-1-0” formula for getting better rest, I knew I had to try it. Each number represents a small change in your daily behavior that adds up to a much more restful night’s sleep (and therefore, a much easier wake-up call the next morning). I mean, who doesn’t like an easy-to-remember numerical pattern that has the potential to change your life? Sign me up.

So what is the 10-3-2-1-0 formula, anyways? Let’s break it down.

10 hours before bed: no more caffeine

As a self-proclaimed coffee addict, this one was easier said than done. Over the past year, I’ve worked hard to cut down my daily dose of caffeine to one to two cups of coffee a day; until this little challenge, I never realized how many times that second cup fell after 2 pm as an afternoon pick-me-up. This exercise made me skip on the caffeine kick after lunch and opt for herbal tea that I had in my desk drawer. End result: I didn’t miss the afternoon perk-up as much as I thought AND my wallet was happy to save the extra bucks I would have spent on coffee. Win, win.

3 hours before zzz’s: no more food or alcohol

Finishing dinner at least three hours before bed gives you more time to digest and helps you avoid heartburn and other unpleasant symptoms that can interrupt sleep. Alcohol is a sneaky one, because though it has been shown to allow healthy people to fall asleep more quickly, it also reduces our ability to fall and stay in deep (REM) sleep.

I normally eat dinner pretty late, so it’s no surprise that when I ate dinner sooner I was less hungry than I’m used to being at my usual dinner time. Since I wasn’t starving, I avoided overeating and ate a much more appropriate portion size. I also found that brushing my teeth right after dinner was a good trick to stop me from wanting a night cap or snack later on.

2 hours before bed: no more work

Let’s just say this isn’t always possible. But they say it isn’t work if you love what you do, right?

Regardless, there are many benefits to winding down sooner rather than later and maintaining a separate work and personal life. I like to stay a little later in the office so I don’t have a big list (or any list) of to-do’s when I get home. If I do have ‘”homework,” I try my best to prioritize what I have left and figure out what can reasonably wait until tomorrow.

1 hour before bed: no more screens

This is my favorite rule – and it is definitely the hardest. Recently, I gave up looking at my phone in bed for Lent. It was life-changing. I no longer wasted time scrolling through some random fashion blogger’s Instagram feeds and instead spent my time reading a book to end the day. It was glorious. I read so much, you guys.

And then Lent was over, and the bedtime social media checks crept back into my routine (I know, I KNOW! It’s such a waste of time). Testing this “magic formula” gave me a new reason to ditch the phone and pick up a book again. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect at this (as I type away on a screen within an hour of my bedtime), but having some standard to hold myself to definitely makes a difference in my behavior.

Zero: number of times you will hit the snooze button the next morning

Ha! As if. The snooze button and I have too long and serious of a relationship to just end things cold turkey.

Although, I will admit, focusing on these four rules (10-3-2-1-0) makes me feel much more refreshed when I wake up in the morning. It’s tough to say if one variable has had more of an impact than the rest (and I definitely can’t do them all every day), but focusing on incorporating this formula and putting a higher priority on sleep left a lasting impression on me.

Who knows, if I keep this up maybe one day I will not depend on second alarms and snooze buttons – but until then, I will try to stick to the 10-3-2-1-0 as much as I can because something is working.


Have you tried the 10-3-2-1-0 formula? What other tips or tricks do you have to wake up more well-rested?

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About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.