Let's be honest, the world is crazy right now. Everything feels so unpredictable and tense. The pandemic is going on far longer than many of us anticipated. A huge portion of the country is unemployed. We've lost so many people to this virus. Anxiety feels like it's at an all-time high.
Given that, it's no wonder sleep and evening routines have been a big topic of conversation. It's so hard to rest when we feel anxious and out of control. For many people, sleep was always a challenge, even before the pandemic. Most Americans do not get the recommended hours of sleep (The CDC recommends 7 or more hours of sleep per night for adults). Some people struggle with getting restful sleep, meaning that they are able to fall and stay asleep.
One of the best ways to gain a great night of sleep is to focus on having a strong nighttime routine. A nighttime routine encompasses the consistent activities before bed that encourage rest. This should be the same routine you do every night before bed, weekdays and weekends. Why every night? Our brain loves consistency, especially with sleep. You want your brain to become accustomed to this routine, so that it knows that bedtime is soon approaching. This way, your brain will begin to wind down and prepare for sleep on autopilot.
Here are a few tips I recommend for a nighttime routine that will get your brain and body ready for some Zzzz's:
Lower the Lights and Transition to Soft Lighting
Light exposure is really important for a good night's sleep. That's why it's crucial to get enough sunlight during the day. We are daytime creatures (sorry all my night owls out there) so ideally we are supposed to be up when the sun rises and go to bed when the sun sets. Realistically, very few people do this (especially in the winter when the sun sets at 5pm, ugh). But we do want to decrease our light exposure as the evening goes on. This gives our brain the cue that bedtime is approaching. About an hour before bed, use only soft lighting like lamps (no bright fluorescents at this time). Salt lamps are awesome for giving low, relaxing lighting. Now, when we talk about lighting, there is another important recommendation -
Avoid All Electronics, Including Phones and TV, 30-60 minutes Before Bed
Ok, I know how frustrating this suggestion is. For many people, their phone is a crucial part of their nighttime routine. Lots of people watch a little TV before bed. But there's good reason why we should avoid electronics before bed. Our electronics give off a low lighting when they are turned on, known as blue light. As previously mentioned, light exposure is fundamental for sleep. Our brains see this blue light and think "I see light, I guess it's daytime!" This can make falling asleep tricky. Even if you are able to fall asleep, using electronics before bed impacts the quality of sleep, meaning we are not staying asleep and getting a full REM cycle. In response to this recommendation, a lot of people will say "but I have night mode on my phone" or "I wear glasses that block blue light." Yes, those are better alternatives. But we want our nighttime routine to include activities that promote rest and our minds will begin to associate with sleep. We are all on our phones during the day, pretty constantly. Engaging in an activity we do during the day before bed will further confuse our body and mind. Also, if you scroll through social media before bed, remember this: those apps were designed to keep us scrolling. They want us to stay as long as possible. This means our brains are up and engaged, the opposite of what we want before sleep. The bottom line: you don't want to stay looking at a screen. Music, podcasts, audiobooks, and meditations can all be played and then set to the side. Just avoid looking at that screen for too long.
Engage In a Relaxing Activity
One mistake people make before bed is that their evening ritual is too short; just hopping into bed after brushing their teeth. Think of an activity you can do that is calming. Yoga, meditation, reading, coloring, anything that relaxes you. If you choose a book, pick something that is interesting but not a page turner. A book that is super exciting will keep you wanting to read, not sleep. Same for a scary story. If you have a lot of anxiety and have a hard time falling asleep, I highly recommend journaling before bed. This gives you a place to put all of your thoughts so they don't stop you from sleeping (and if you have a great deal of worry thoughts, check out my previous post on proactive planning vs. anxiety as a journal prompt to try). I also like gratitude journals and writing down three things you are grateful for.
Set the Mood
For a good night sleep, the room should be slightly cool and dark. If you can't sleep in the pitch black, have a small night light with gentle lighting. Make sure there are no clocks visible (if you wake up and see the clock, your brain will start stressing about the time). The level of quiet will vary for each person. I cannot sleep in absolute quiet, so I use a sound machine. Before bed, think about playing relaxing music or calming sounds (there are lots of apps that can play these ongoing for hours).
If you try these things and still cannot fall asleep, try an over-the-counter herbal sleep aid, like Valerian Root. I also recommend any sleepy time teas; a comforting, warm cup of tea can be a cozy addition to your nighttime routine.
If you would like more information on sleep and getting the best rest you can, check out the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.
Sweet dreams everybody!