It seems like sleeping should be something we all can easily do. And yet we are some of the most tired and medicated in order to sleep adults our culture has really ever seen. No less than 75 percent of my clients report having trouble sleeping as one of their main concerns when they come in to improve their lives and well-being. And many of them have taken it into their own hands in order to just pass out and get some "sleep" whether or not it is drinking or taking an over-the-counter sleep aid, which both unfortunately can only make matters worse in the long run.
I myself took a prescription sleep aid for 11 years. Once when my mail-in prescription company decided to cancel my scripts unbeknownst to me, I learned just how badly I needed my sleep aid. But then I went through infertility treatments and everything in my body, mind and soul changed. And I chose to get off medication and learn how to sleep again.
What I know now for sure, after years of good sleep and of teaching good sleep hygiene to my clients every day, is that a nighttime routine is a must. Our parents took great care of us as children to wind us down for a good night's rest: bath time, story time and gratitudes or prayers.
Every single night.
As adults this need for winding down both the body and the brain is only greater. Our lives are demanding, we go to bed often times feeling like we didn't get enough done. Some of us may even go to bed feeling like we are never enough. We get stuck on the worry hamster wheel of what tomorrow will bring. We are addicted to technology and stimulation and even think that it helps us to fall asleep. We struggle to rest and therefore we struggle to sleep.
And, so just like when I was 3, I practice a nighttime routine. And, almost every single night I am asleep within a few minutes, stay asleep, have normal dreams and feel rested in the morning. It took me a month or so to find what worked for me. Our self-care must have flexibility, so there are times that I change things up, but there are definitely some cardinal rules for a good night's rest.
- The same 2-4 things in the same order every single night.
- No technology for at least 20 minutes before sleep.
- If you are not asleep in 20 minutes, get up, get a drink, read a bit more and try again. Do not just lay there in the frustration of not falling asleep.
- If you are stuck ruminating on that hamster wheel of worry, write down those thoughts. Get them out of your head and make them less powerful.
The order of the routine helps our brain to know what we are getting ready to do. It is quite literally winding down.
Technology is stimulating in two main ways. One, watching that show or reading social media gets us riled up, angry, scared, frustrated or even happy and joyful at times, for most of us these feelings are not conducive to good sleep. Two, and the biggest piece, is the light. Our brains naturally release melatonin as the sun begins to set. This makes us feel drowsy. If you have that lit-up screen in front of your eyes too close to sleep time, there is no way you will feel the natural benefits of that melatonin.
My other favorite trick was inspired by Arianna Huffington herself. Every night I turn my phone on airplane mode as soon as I am in the bedroom. This way I am not tempted to check anything once I have started my nighttime routine. But the best benefit is that I don't wake up and immediately feel stressed with all those messages. I choose when I turn service back on my phone (after my morning routine).
Finally, you may be wondering what the heck these 2-4 things you do before bed are. First, wash your face, brush your teeth, etc., actually get ready for bed. Then try just a couple of the following ideas at first. Change up the order. Make sure you actually like doing them. Try something different. Eventually you can settle on 2-4 things you do every single night, in the same order, before you sleep. And, I think, you will fall asleep faster, get more restful sleep and feel more refreshed in the morning!
- Read a devotional (religious or not).
- Journaling is a must in my opinion, you can do one, a few or all of these ideas.
- Recount your day.
- What was the worst part and the best part of your day (always end on the best)?
- What does tomorrow look like?
- When did you feel your higher power's presence?
- What are you grateful for?
- 1-3 things you are grateful from that day (try to make them something different every day)
- Write 3-5 sentences about those gratitudes.
- I prefer actual pen and paper for this but there are also decent journaling apps.
- Breathing exercises
- Nighttime yoga
- Coloring or doodling
- Read a real book (if it has to be a tablet, make sure it is on the night setting).
Remember it is a practice.
Try to trust it.
Bottom line, if you are struggling to sleep you may need to seek professional help. But, practicing a true nighttime routine, in my experience, can really help. And, imagine how you could feel and what life could be like with a good night's rest every single night.