If you are anything like me, you have too many things you want to do/learn and not enough hours in the day. I have struggled with sleep issues for a long time, but it wasn’t always this way.
At the extreme, I could fall asleep anywhere, any time. This was also when I was a soldier and sleep came at a premium so we learned to doze off every chance we got. I can still remember bouncing across rough dirt roads in the back of a truck after going days with minimal sleep and plenty of physical work. Within minutes of the truck departing the training field, we would be sleeping and we would wake when the truck stopped to drop us at the next location.
I wish I had that skill now, but unfortunately I have to be very calculated in my evening routine in order to get a good night sleep. If you have difficulty getting to sleep, perhaps the following routine will help but first I want to share some interesting information regarding sleep and how it relates to our help. (The following stats are from the National Sleep Foundation Website)
- 35% of Americans rate their sleep quality as poor or only fair
- 67% of those with ‘less than good’ sleep also report poor or only fair health
- women are more likely to report insomnia symptoms
- 24% of women report waking up feeling rested 0 of the last 7 days
- Close to 50% of men and women report trouble falling to sleep and staying asleep more than 1x per week
I can relate, and if you are reading this you probably can too. There’s so many factors that relate to quality and quantity of sleep but the result is generally the same. We are tired, we are sick more often, we are less motivated and our health suffers as a result of our sleep habits.
On the flip side, when we regularly experience high quality sleep and meet our individual needs for the quantity of quality sleep, our energy is high, we perform better, we are sick less often and we are generally well in all categories.
Before we get to my personal bedtime routine, let’s look at why a sleep routine can be beneficial for you:
- Consistency – In order for the routine to be successful, we must be consistent. The practice of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help to keep your circadian rhythm consistent. This will play a key roll in the quality of sleep you experience because when we ‘sleep’ we move into and out of specific sleep cycles overnight. For more on this, check out Chris Kresser’s podcast episode with Dan Pardi.
- Calming – If you are wired with a busy mind you likely won’t experience the quality sleep that you are looking for and it’s often difficult for people to get to sleep in this state.
- Clearing – One aspect of the sleep routine is that it helps to clear out the chatter prior to moving into the relaxing phase.
Now that we know a bit about WHY a sleep routine can help, let’s quickly talk about how long the routine should be.
We are all different, so your sleep routine will be different than mine because it may take me longer to unwind than you or you may have a different schedule that allows for more or less time to spend on the routine.
With that said, let’s move on to my routine. I will also give you some different options that may help you tweak your routine for a great night’s sleep!
1. Manage Liquids – For those of you who wake up in the middle of the night to pee, you will understand why this is #1 on my list. To avoid waking up for 1-2 bathroom breaks each night, I decided to move the majority of my liquid intake to the first half of the day. Lots in the morning and up to about 2pm and then I have my last full glass of water at dinner time.
2. Exercise Early in the Day – This may not be possible for you, but it’s been a big factor into my sleep or lack of it for a long time. Exercise can be stimulating, especially if it is intense or a sport later in the evening. Lower level exercise such as a walk, tai chi or yoga can be good before bed, but it’s difficult to sleep after an exciting game of pick up hockey that ends at 10 or 11pm.
3. Ditch the Electronics – Do this at least 1 hour before you want to officially go to bed. This includes, computers, smart phones, video games, televisions and anything else that is going to eliminate blue light. Now, if you must, you can buy blue blocking glasses to sneak in more screen time, however keep in mind that if you are watching the news, playing a video game, watching violent movies or doing work that requires you to think and plan… you are working against yourself and you will likely miss out on the quality of sleep that allows you to wake up feeling well rested. The last thing I do on my iphone each day is check into my schedule for the upcoming day and at 8:30pm my phone is turned off.
4. Lower the Lights – The amount of artificial light we have in our homes can have a negative affect on our ability to relax. Turning off some lights and even using a few candles will help you relax which is a key factor in your ability to sleep or not.
5. Warm Bath – Spending about 15-20 minutes in a warm bath is relaxing for just about anyone. We are all different, and our schedules may or may not permit a soothing bath, but this one works for me. To increase the relax factor, add some calming music, candles, close your eyes and try to relax but don’t fall asleep!
6. Lower the Temperature – The thermostat in my house adjusts to 65 degrees F (18 C) around 9pm. This also made a big difference in both getting to sleep and staying asleep.
7. Bedtime Snack – I eat before bed every night but once again we all have differing metabolisms and varying levels of activity during the day. I have found that a small ‘meal’ around 8:30pm helps me avoid waking up hungry at 2am.
8. Sleep Cocktail – I live with epilepsy and so I have sleeping pills for the very rare nights that I feel worried about a seizure coming on or that I must get sleep otherwise I may have a problem the next day. Once again, this is very rare but I feel it’s necessary to share.
I do take a herbal sleep remedy each night and that seems to help me stay sleeping more than it helps me get to sleep. For more on the Sleep Cocktail check out this video.
9. Read – I’ve learned to avoid reading anything related to my work before bed. Now, I enjoy a good fiction or something that is an unrelated topic to what usually causes my mind to spin. This has been a major factor in improving my ability to fall asleep.
10. Clear the Mind – Journalling helps clear out some of the stuff that rattles around the mind. I don’t journal on paper, but I do a conscious clearing out of anything that may be holding my attention. Sometimes this involves writing things on paper but I usually close my eyes and visualize packing the thoughts into a bag and tossing it into a fire.
11. Bonus Tips – Last thing I do is a 15-20 minute breathing practice. I do it in child’s pose, on my back with my legs resting on the couch and/or in a seated position. Regardless of the position, the focus on long inhales, a pause, a longer exhale and another pause. This leads into a deep relaxation and when I feel ready to move to my bed, I slowly get up and hit the sack.
As I settle into bed I apply an essential oil blend on the bottoms of my feet and on my wrists. This is supposed to trigger a relaxation response in the brain, which allows me to relax and I typically fall asleep within a 10 minutes of laying on the bed.
Depending on where I am, such as in a hotel, I may use ear plugs and/or a sleep mask to block out sound and any light that can affect my sleep.
Do you have a sleep routine that you practice? Is it a regular routine or an occasional practice?
Was there anything in this post that you are excited to try?
What tips are you willing to share that work well for you?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.