Sleep is my number one self care priority at the moment. Over the years, I have realised that if I can get a decent amount of decent quality sleep, I can handle most things life throws at me. A good sleep has benefits across the board, from the obvious physical energy levels in a well-rested body, to the less obvious but still really important mood, motivation, and attitude improvements.
I am not here to talk about sleep disorders or underlying health issues that might impact your sleep. That’s a discussion you need to have with your healthcare people. I want to share some simple self care priorities that really improved my chances of falling asleep quickly and staying asleep for a decent length of time.
As always, we’re not shooting for perfection here. Pick one or two of these things to try, and see if they work for you. Give them a few weeks to become habits.
When I’d finished the first draft of this post, it was So Long, because I had So Many Realisations about what contributes to a good sleep. So this is part one of a two- or maybe three-part series on self care for sleep.
Part one is about what we put into our bodies and our minds before we go to bed, and how that helps - or hinders - our ability to sleep.
I know I’m mostly preaching to the converted here, but didn't you notice that you slept better when you stopped filling your body up with alcohol before you crashed into bed? I’m no expert, but it seems obvious to me that what you put into your body needs to be processed - detoxed, digested, filtered, and disposed of - by your body's systems and organs. When we drink daily, we force our bodies to work all night getting that toxic booze out of our bloodstream and wherever else is lurking. The point here is: don’t make your body work all night on cleaning up after your party.
It’s the same story as not drinking. Are you making your body do overnight digestion shifts? I try to finish eating for the day at least 2 hours before I go to bed. 3 hours is better. I have a fast metabolism, so food moves fairly fast through my system. You might need more time.
Evening snacks? Yes, occasionally I indulge in some chocolate raisins, dried apricots, or chocolate something else. But I keep it small. No bowls of cereal, chunks of cheese, piles of toast or slices of pizza! They are just making your body do unnecessary work during the night, when it would rather be resting.
What? Didn’t we just say Don't Drink? It’s not the drinking, it's what we drink.
Nature is abundant with sleep aids. By that I mean sedative herbs, often marketed as sleepy time tea. I have a few different brands of sleepy tea in the house. It’s worth experimenting to find out what works for you. I have discovered that the blends with passionflower in them give me crazy dreams, so I only drink them when I feel like cranking up my dream action! Otherwise I stick with the chamomiles, lavenders, and sleepy time blends without passionflower. Obviously, avoid black and green tea in the evenings, because of their caffeine content.
What about warm milk? Some of us can digest milk easily, and find a warm milk drink really enhances our sleep. Others not so much. I love a small cup of hot milk with cacao, cinnamon, honey and a tiny pinch of salt and cayenne before bed. Just a small one. It makes me feel all warm and cosy.
Whatever you decide to put in your mouth before bedtime, do it with care and intention. It sends a message to your body, we’re winding down now, it’s time to relax and rest.
That’s it for 'Watch what you're putting in your mouth before bed'. Let’s talk about what you’re putting in your mind.
Calm down the content
What you watch, listen to, read, discuss... all qualify as feeding your mind. What you feed your mind is also something you need to digest and process. So if you're loading up on action movies, social media outrage, sensational news, arguments and debates, fast moving video games or TV shows, right before bed, you’re putting yourself into an agitated state, creating disturbance in your brain and mind that needs to be processed.
I suggest that at least two hours before bed, switch to what I call ‘calm content'. By all means, wind down in the evening with TV, YouTube, music, podcasts or whatever you like. But limit the content to a calm vibe, so you’re not worked up before bed.
Here’s a peek into my calm content, mostly vlogs and podcasts:
* Nordic living, off-grid cabin life
* Terrarium and aquarium builds
* Sewing tutorials
* Minimalism, cleaning and decluttering
* Spiritual teachers
* Astrology readings (although these have the potential to be a bit exciting!)
Think wholesome, non-controversial content that lifts you up rather than winds you up.
Dim those lights
Another great pre-sleep habit is to turn down the light. Light qualifies as something we put in our bodies. Our bodies would naturally start getting ready for sleep as the sun sets and the sky darkens. So it makes sense to simulate nature in our home environment, and lower the light on purpose, to give our bodies the signal that it’s time to start winding down.
If you have dimmers in your house, use them. If not, turn some of your lights off, especially lights right overhead from where you’re sitting. Maybe light a couple of candles for some calming mood lighting. Become aware of glare, and get it out of your eyes.
Use night-time setting on your phone, e-reader, or tablet. Most devices have settings to switch from a blue (daytime) glow to an orange or red (night-time) glow.
I have never tried those red glasses that block out blue light, but I would definitely like to give them a go.
I know this is going to be confronting for some, but consider doing this if at all possible. Turn off your phone. An hour or two before bed, it’s great to clock out and not respond to every ding and dong from the outside world.
If you are not able to completely switch off (of course some people need to be available for specific people or situations), explore some of the digital wellness settings available on most phones now. Do Not Disturb and Focus Mode are a couple to start with. These settings let you disable certain apps and sounds at specific times. You can also set them to disable notifications and calls from all but the people you must be available for. Everything else can wait till morning.
Before you reach for your phone... well ok, turn the alarm bell off! But can you get in the habit of lying still for just a moment, and saying ‘I’m grateful for... waking up sober, or waking up with no regrets about what I did last night. Or I’m grateful for a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’re just grateful for waking up. That’s good enough!
Please share your pre-bedtime self-care tips in the comments. Do you have a favourite calming bedtime drink? What calm content do you enjoy in the evenings? What tricks do you use to limit your digital distractions?
I’ve been doing some short yoga videos with Adrienne before bed, preparing for the next day by washing my face, brushing my teeth, using some nice moisturizer, then choosing my outfit, and having my work gear organized (more or less). I also read and sometimes listens to a meditation audio.
Sounds like a really lovely bedtime routine. Some gentle movement is a really good idea.
When I was drinking, I often (usually) fell into bed with my makeup on and sometimes even unbrushed teeth. Now I have a whole ritual of taking off my makeup, doing a Korean “seven skins” thing with a lovely toner (only takes about 2 minutes), and following with lush serums and moisturizers and facial oils (usually not all three!). Then using my WaterPik and getting my teeth very clean. The self care and aromatherapy put me in a good frame of mind to have a glass of water or cup of herbal tea and then snooze. I still struggle with insomnia at times, to be honest, but it’s not a chaotic, anxiety-filled kind of thing. I look forward to your next installment.
That sounds like an absolutely dreamy routine. What a contrast to the bad old days. Thank you for sharing this.
I did this too Rosemaree, just before Christmas. I leave my phone to charge in our spare room and the clock by my bed is silent. Only there if I want to know the time at 4 am. A really good decision for me.
I’m going to give this a try too. There is something significant psychologically about leaving that device in another room.
I try to do a short gentle yoga routine before getting in bed which makes me feel limber and relaxed before climbing into bed.
I recently began reading before bed and this has really changed my sleep.
For the better.
Getting into a relaxed state before you even hit the sheets is a really good idea. Thanks for sharing that.
@suek Thank you for this. There’s some really good tips in here.
I love my bed; fresh sheets, some lavender spray and a warm cup of almond milk with a dash of nutmeg are my go-to’s before slumber.
Oh yes… I too love my bed SO MUCH! The next self-care post will cover the bed and the bedroom. Such an important environment to create calm. Sweet dreams.
Thanks for your article @suek. Over my life I have had no TV off and on and currently have had one since September and I love it! Hubby and I have dedicated book reading time before sleep and I like to go to bed when the natural light starts to fade.
Book reading is a great pre-sleep option. It was a pre-sleep routine when I was a kid.
Husband and I stopped the tV after dinner and bought a bunch of books a few months ago. We read in bed for about an hour. All good stuff here! When i did this round of sobriety decided to clean up sleep act as its also a great sobriety tool, close the night down. Now I look forward to that time. Thank you so much! Also use the mediation apps if needed.
You are right @reena, good sleep is an amazing sobriety tool. I never want to go back to that disgusting “fall into bed rotten” life. Good call on the TV, I reckon!
I use sleep stories once I am in bed to give my mind something to focus on, and avoid going down the rabbit hole of whatever. Many of them describe nature or a city, so I don’t get engaged to the point of staying awake to listen.
Do you use an app for the stories or listening to actual books? Love that.
I have never tried sleep stories, but sounds like a great idea.
The App Insight Timer is a free app with some good sleep stories and meditations (there are always some with slightly annoying voices) but generally, my experience has been good.
I sit up in bed and do just one or two written puzzles (sudoku, word search etc. from books not on a device). Only takes 15-20 minutes before my eyes are struggling to stay open and my brain has been suitable distracted from “wakeful/hamster wheel” thoughts. I also find breathing exercises very helpful to calm my thoughts if the puzzles aren’t quite enough.
Thanks @RosieD. It’s so interesting what puts people to sleep. Puzzles get me hooked in so I won’t stop!! But great that they help you doze off!
I stopped using my phone as an alarm and brought an alarm clock. Really has helped me so much!
That is a fantastic idea. Thanks for sharing that one. I didn’t think of it, and it makes total sense.