Nighttime routine tips for a better sleep
I can't count the number of times I have heard (and said) the phrase: "Sleep well!" It is quite a simple phrase isn't it? Then why is it often one of the hardest things to do? It should be easy. It's the end of the day, you turn out the lights, get into bed and off you go to dreamland. Yea... I don't remember the last time it was like that for me. I am sure some of you out there have no problem with sleep, and I was like that once upon a time (sigh). However, with the increasing demands of school as well as our impending sense of what the real world will be like beyond graduation - my nights of good quality sleep have become few and far between.
Sleep is vital to our being. I am sure you have heard that one before. Although there are many tips I could share with you on how to get a good sleep, I have found that sleep is something that is unique to each person. In Naturopathic Medicine, we can learn quite a bit about our patients from their sleep patterns, which ultimately plays a huge role what treatment we will choose to explore with them. I have tried many different avenues to improve my own anxiety-ridden sleep, yet nothing has helped me more than to find my own routine to help me relax and settle in for the night. Remember, sleep is a vulnerable state. It is a time when your consciousness is no longer in charge. For your body and mind to truly surrender, you must be in a calmer, more open state.
Here is what I have found works for me as a nighttime routine. I am sure I will continue to adjust this as I go, and I am by no means an expert on sleep. Try these out, mix and match them and pick out what works for you. By far, the best tool is consistency.
1) Wind Down
Like any good thing, your body needs time. It needs time to understand that it can go into a relaxed, parasympathetic state at night. Yes, your body works on a rhythm, so innately it knows that the time for rest is near. However, if there is constant stimulation being thrown at you, your body doesn't think it can sleep because it is on guard for any sudden changes in your environment. Winding down means just that. Slow down your movements, dim your lights in your living room or bedroom, dim the light on your laptop and other devices if you can't stop using them completely. Any harsh sounds should be avoided. If you are an avid music listener like me, try to change your tunes to softer, more gentle numbers.
This is a great time for slow, deep stretches and deep breathing. This can easily be done from your bed. For an example sequence, check out this sequence below by my favourite yogi: Yoga By Candace.
Another tip: Don't leave big projects (like making lunch for the next day or cleaning up your room) for bed time. This can provoke unnecessary anxiety and pull your body out of its relaxed state. Try to plan them for earlier in the evening. Don't worry - this one takes time to make a habit. I am still working on it too.
Ah, self-care. This one always pops up, doesn't it? I think the biggest concern people have is: how do I practice self care without it being selfish? In my mind, being selfish means that you are doing something for yourself at the expense of someone else's well-being. Self-care means you are honouring and nurturing yourself - a necessity in today's world where we often race through our day like its a marathon. Self-care can mean spending a whole day or evening pampering yourself, but I say why not find a small way to incorporate it into your nightly routine? I get it. Sometimes, there just isn't enough time. If you don't have time, no need to beat yourself up for it. Promise yourself that the next night - you will make time. Something I have started to do before bed is a honey mask. It's quick, it can be done in 5 minutes while you are winding down for bed and it is uber relaxing. See my previous post on skincare, and scroll down to the heal and seal section for instructions.
3) Pillows pillows pillows.
Falling onto a perfectly fluffy pillow is absolutely heavenly. A pillow that causes you to wake up with a kink in your neck on the other hand, is far from heavenly. Make sure that your pillow is right for you. Be in tune with what you like. Do you need a higher pillow? A stronger one? A softer one? Most of us know what we like, yet we rarely actually own what we like. It is worth the extra money to purchase a pillow you love. The ones I currently like are:
- Novaform Sensicool Pillow: This is a gel-infused memory foam pillow, so it offers a pretty strong support. You can get this from Costco and isn't too expensive. If you like firm support, I suggest you try this one!
- Platinum Organic Pillow: Made from 100% cotton - this one is great for people with allergies. It is a medium-soft support, and is also from Costco (you can get it in a 2-pack).
Here is a tip: Try using pillows to support other parts of your body - not just your head. If you sleep on your back, have a pillow under your knees to take the pressure off your low back. If you are a side-sleeper, use the pillow between your knees. If you find that when you sleep on your side, your shoulders cave in and you wake up with chest muscle tightness, then hug a pillow (between your shoulders) to keep your chest open. If you are a tummy-sleeper, put the pillow under your calves. These tips made a world of a difference for me. Sometimes you don't realize that even minor back pain can be preventing you from a deeper sleep.
Mmmm. Doesn't that word already make you more comfy? Scents will do that to us. So why not use them to help us relax at night? Right now, I use Saje's Sleep Well Roll On. And boy, does it work wonders. All you do is roll some onto your wrists, under your jaw line (on both sides) and on the soles of your feet, and then settle in and let the oils work their magic. You can apply this rule to any essential oil really. The reason for this is because you are rolling them on pulse points (wrist and under jaw), which makes them circulate better and on the feet because the oils will absorb incredibly fast there. If you have a diffuser/nebulizer, you can even drop a bit of the "sleep well" potion in there (or any other scent you like) and let it fill the air while you sleep. Some other options for relaxing scents if you want to purchase single scents are:
- Ylang ylang
There are many apps created to help people with sleep and meditation. I couldn't be more appreciative of this. I have tried a few apps, and found that these are my favourites:
- Breathe: This app incorporates meditation and mindfulness. So not only can you use it at night, but it is great to use during the day if you need a quick breather. The meditations are short, specific and there are more available options in the free version than other apps.
- Insight Timer: I love this one because of the amount of meditations that are available on here. You can just pick randomly, or within sections. I click on the sleep section and find one that appeals to me most (often it is one that has reviews saying that people didn't hear the end because they fell asleep right away. Score.). Anyone can create the meditations on there, so if you are really sensitive to a certain kind of voice, this app may take you some time to find what you really resonate with. Overall, this one has helped me the most. And bonus: you don't have to pay for the meditations!
- Sleep Pillow Sounds: I used this one all through undergrad when I needed some background noise to fall asleep that wasn't too stimulating. You can choose different sounds, and can even mix a couple to make your own sleepy time tunes. You can also set a timer, so it shuts off on its own after a certain amount of time.
- Calm: A meditation app that can be used for sleeping as well. You can tailor the meditations to the goal you want to achieve. The ambience of this app is amazing however, you do have to pay to access most of the meditations.
When you are using these apps, keep your phone a safe distance away from you, not under your pillow. In fact, it is best to just keep your phone on your nightstand, and make sure the display is off so it is not emitting any light during the night.
6) Keep it consistent
As I said at the beginning of this post, this is by far the most important nighttime routine tip I have for you. Try to get to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. I know this is a hard one, especially on the weekends when all you want to do is sleep in. I have by no means mastered this one. I am notorious for wanting to sleep in on the weekend. But I have truly noticed the effect that this has had on my body.
Your body loves rhythm and routine. Especially when it lines up with its own internal biological rhythm. If you can't make any of the other changes I have suggested, then try to do just this one. You will definitely notice the difference in your sleep and your energy levels throughout the day. Timing wise: 6-8 hours of sleep is most ideal, and getting to sleep before 11 pm is the best for your internal circadian rhythm. But play around with what works best for you and keep that consistent once you find it.
I hope you are able to find something here that works for you. Take your time, try different things, and then start to make them a habit. It won't be perfect the first time you try it. There are many more tips out there that I could share with you, but these were by far the most beneficial for me. Let me know how they work, or if you have any tips you would like to share - please comment below. Hope you sleep well ;)