Have you ever felt under the weather and didn’t go to a doctor because you knew they would just tell you to get some rest and drink lots of fluids? It can be frustrating because you want to feel better but the advice you’re being given doesn’t sound very helpful at first. However, rest and fluids are basic recommendations that set a good foundation for any other treatment. Well, in therapy we have a similar prescription that gets used so much that I have had patients roll their eyes when they hear it yet again: “How are you sleeping and have you been doing any self-care?” Whether you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or stress, your sleep sets the tone for your day and mood. Getting good sleep is a priority that unfortunately many of us ignore. Same for self-care, we get so caught up with the demands of life and others that we forget to prioritize our own self-care. In fact, healthy sleep is a good form of self-care. I will focus on other types of self care on a later day but lets talk about sleep. There are 3 areas that affect sleep: 1) Bedtime routine, 2) Sleep Environment, and 3) Lifestyle Habits. Today we will focus on our bedtime routine:
If you’ve ever been around little kids then you know they need a bedtime routine. It’s usually a warm bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth, read a book, snuggles, and then bedtime. I once tried to skip the bedtime routine with my toddler. We went out and by the time we came home it was way past his bedtime; I thought if I just put him in his pajamas and then in bed he’d be so tired he’d fall right asleep. Well, he was tired, but he didn’t fall asleep. I spent the next 2 hours putting him back in bed each time he got up and I felt like kicking myself because doing the bedtime routine would have taken less time if I had just done that in the first place. He needed his bedtime routine to wind down. The routine is what tells his mind it’s time to settle down for sleep.
As adults we tend to forget this basic habit that helps us to sleep better. We rush through our days, spend our evenings catching up on the shows we missed, stay up later than planned, and then hope to just hit our head on the pillow and fall asleep. Those who don’t have sleep difficulties might be able to get away with that, but for most of us this just does not work. Your brain is a creature of habit. And a consistent bedtime routine will get your brain into the habit of expecting sleep to follow.
Ideas for a Bedtime Routine
The goal is to choose activities that are calming and relaxing, not ones that are energizing or take too much effort.
- Practice slow breathing
- Do progressive muscle relaxation exercises
- Listen to relaxing music
- Light reading
- Take a warm (not hot!) bath or shower
- Write in a journal
- Change into your sleeping clothes or pajamas
- Write out 3 things you’re grateful for that day
- Prayer or meditation
- Slow yoga stretches
- Put on lotion
Your challenge is to examine your bedtime routine and set a goal to add one soothing activity to your routine. Or you can focus on doing your current routine consistently at the same time each night. The goal is to create evening habits that help you wind down and prepare your brain to expect sleep.
Of course bedtime routines is only one part of what we call good sleep hygiene. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion of sleep environment…