You know you need a bedtime routine. You hear it from sleep experts, life coaches, parenting experts, and psychologists. Evaluating your bedtime routine is the first step in evaluating how to get more sleep. And it’s free – so there’s a plus in that already.
Routines allow our minds to work on “auto pilot”, giving us more freedom rather than less. The structure of routines allows us to be more productive and creative, connect with those we love, and nurture body, mind, relationships, and spirit. Habits and routines can even help with depression.
This post is only one of many offering guidelines to construct a daily routine that works for you and your unique circumstances.
But routine sounds rather – well, routine. Boring, unremarkable, ordinary. This article implies routines – “a series of habits” as Meg Selig writes in Psychology Today – might kill our creativity.
Routine as a “creativity killer” only looms on the horizon if we aren’t flexible with our attitudes and readjust with the passing seasons – and by seasons, I mean not every three months, I mean the seasons of our lives. It’s important to make routines meaningful. That begins with intention.
Plussing routines make for pleasant routines
Instead, I propose we add the word “pleasant” to routine. An easy way to make routine pleasant is to the concept of “plussing” those daily habits. The addition of simple, small “plusses” to habits gives us a little boost, expands our sense of habit and routine giving us something to look forward to.
Plussing takes what you’re already doing and adds a little bit of a treat to it.
“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” Iris Murdoch
Here’s how to plus some key bedtime routines.
Routine #1: Wake up at the same time each morning.
Routine #1 Plus: After several cycles of REM, deep sleep and theta waves, don’t wake up abruptly with a clangy alarm or a hard-hitting bass line from the radio. You can choose from a wide range of alarm clocks that wake you up gradually – with light or gentle sound. Just do a quick search for “alarms that wake you up gently”, choosing one that’s in your budget. Make sure you place the alarm clock away from your bed so you can’t see the time. That can add to sleep anxiety as well as prevent you from truly listening to your body.
Another plus for morning routines is to add an essential oil diffuser to your wake-up and bedtime routines. Smelling wintergreen or lemon first thing in the morning after lavender at night can be as invigorating as smelling bacon or coffee.
Healthy daytime routines result in healthy nighttime routines and sleep. The free Bedtime Blueprint has everything you need to know about planning for sleep in one place. You can get it here.
Routine #2: Turn off screens – laptops, phones, televisions, - at least one hour before sleep. This can feel like a deprivation but it doesn’t have to with a little intentional planning.
Routine #2 Plus: Don’t let that screen-free hour or two catch you by surprise. Do a little planning and soul-searching to make it special, enriching, and fun. What do you truly enjoy doing?
Creating that charging station will get through just a couple of nights. What about the rest of the other 361 nights in the year? Unless you are in love with decluttering, then you’ve got your screen-free time all set.
In this TED talk, Josh Kaufmann shows us how we can learn something new in 20 hours. He triumphantly concludes with a medley of songs he taught himself on ukulele.
There’s such empowerment in that! You won’t necessarily be a virtuoso in the new instrument, language, craft, or study you engage in, but by taking that hour of screen-free time to learn something, you’ll plus up you’re entire life with 18 new skills a year.
Other suggestions for that screen-free time:
- Choose to read the same book with your partner or spouse – just an hour a night – and talk about the book the way you would talk about your favorite TV shows.
- Puzzles, games, foam rolling and stretching.
- Create gifts while catching up on podcasts.
- Explore your neighborhood with a slow, quiet walk.
Routine #3: Taking a warm bath before bed. If you’re lucky enough to have a bathtub warm baths increase body temperature and allow you to sleep more deeply.
Routine #3 Plus: Add essential oils like lavender to the bath. Epsom salts are a good plus to a bath. Epsom salts relax muscles and contain magnesium – a mineral that supports sleep.
Routine #4: Put on your pajamas.
Routine #4 Plus: First, get a “sleeping costume”. It doesn’t have to be pajamas per se, but you cannot sleep well wearing your workout clothes from the afternoon or your dog walking clothes for the next morning because you think you’re saving time. In the morning, have a routine or ritual for storing your pajamas that you calmly engage in at night too. Make sure they’re “real” fabrics – not treated with off-gassing chemicals.
Routine #5 Plus: Don’t take breathing entirely for granted. Check in on your breathing while you’re preparing for sleep and even afterward, observing the wondrous biomechanics of it all. Explore breath counting – inhale on one, exhale on 2, and so on – or “square breaths” such as inhaling for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of for, and refraining from inhaling for another count of 4.
By the way, exploring your own anatomy is a great use of that screen-free time. It combines movement, stretching, education, as well as setting you up for a great night’s sleep. You might as well know how your body works – it will be your companion for your entire life.
Routine #6: Reading in bed.
Routine #6 Plus: Don’t leave the book you’re reading for bed to chance. Set aside a book specifically for bedtime. Something short, not all too interesting so you can easily put it down at lights out, and make sure the content leaves you with good thoughts for the night.
Personally, I enjoy essays, poetry, and short stories, scheduling in reading time for more gripping fiction earlier in my day.
The final plus in everyone’s day is gratitude. Keep a journal next to your bed and make sure you bedtime routine includes adding a few lines about what you’re grateful for. It will help clear the path for sleep and make for a better tomorrow.