This post couples with my previous post about creating a morning routine.
For some people, half the problem with getting out of bed in the morning is having trouble falling asleep at night. Getting enough sleep and, importantly, good quality sleep is super important for physical and mental health, which is especially important now as we try to keep up with the day-to-day of living in lockdown (or a pandemic generally).
Having a night-time routine before bed can help people feel less anxious, fall asleep quicker, and feel more rested when they wake up. With anything, though, it might take a couple of weeks for the effects to actually be felt, and persistence is key. Below are five ways I tend to wind down before bed.
1. Make a list of things you need to do the next day
Sometimes we feel like we have so much to do, and so much to remember to do, that we simply can’t shut our brains off. If you make a list of things – big and small – that you need to get done before you go to bed, you can let your mind relax. You no longer have to try and think about when or how you’re going to do them; they are waiting for you on a piece of paper which you can attend to tomorrow with a fresh and rested brain.
I tend to keep my list outside of my bedroom as an outward reminder that my bedroom is a sacred space; a place for rest and healing. The loungeroom or study are places for study, work, correspondence, and socialising.
This said, I do have a notebook near my bed for those nights that I wake up and suddenly have a million things on my mind I need to jot down.
2. Do the dishes and tidy the house
Like I said in my previous post, a clean and tidy outside environment usually fosters a calm and productive internal environment (your mind), which improves mental health and wellbeing.
It also gives a bit of finality to the day. The pens, papers, dishes, etc. that I used for the daytime tasks are now put away until tomorrow (or at least tidied into neat piles). It is time to settle down for rest.
About an hour before bedtime, I try to do my dishes, give my bench a wipe down, and just give my living room a bit of a tidy-up. Not only will this help us to find a bit more peace inwardly, but it will be a pleasant calmness to wake up to in the morning. Think of it as doing something loving for your future self.
3. Turn off the lights
I have this process of, again about an hour (or even more) before bed-time, turning off the main lights – enough so that I can see clearly, but it’s very much night-time in my apartment. The lights that I keep on are also ‘warm’ lights (my study and bedside lamps). Warm light bulbs are those that cast a yellowish glow, as opposed to ‘cool’ light which casts the white-blue glow. Warm lights help us to relax while cool lights help us to wake up and stay alert.
Darken your living space at least half an hour before you go to get into bed.
4. Turn off your internet/wifi
Yes we’ve all heard it said, but it’s time to actually start putting it into practise. Right now we’ve all been forced online to do most of our regular daily tasks. We’re spending even more time on social media and browsing web pages… and we were already doing this an unhealthy amount.
I started turning off my internet right before I went to bed. At first it was especially difficult because I thought, ‘What if one of my friends needs me at night? What if something happens and someone needs to contact me?’
We can start to come up with all kinds of crazy scenarios that will, in all likelihood, not happen. And even if they do, sometimes we need to put into effect the rule of first aid: you have to take care of yourself if you want to be able to take proper care of anyone else.
Nowadays I happily turn my internet off well before I hop into bed. Usually my (cup of) tea time is my time alone, to think and breathe and relax in solitude. This is a really important habit to form. The internet is robbing us of our time, productivity, sleep and wellbeing. Be kind to yourself by giving your brain a break from constant stimulation, and letting it rest.
In all seriousness, if this is something you cannot bring yourself to do, you may want to consider seeing a counsellor about addiction. That’s nothing to be ashamed of – most health professionals have now recognised the addictive issues caused by social media – and it will ultimately be much better for your health and wellbeing. Take care of yourself; learn to turn the internet off.
5. Drink some (non-caffeinated!!) tea
And by ‘tea’ I mean herbal tea, or maybe even a warm glass of milk or a mug of hot water, if that’s more your thing. Ideally, do this after you’ve tidied everything up and have turned the internet off.
Peppermint, lavender, liquorice, marshmallow-root, fennel, lemon balm, and of course, chamomile, are all ingredients you want to look for in a night-time tea. These all promote relaxation in the body, both through their aroma and ingestion.
My go-to is ‘Sweet Dreams’ tea by Higher Living, which is sold at both Coles and Woolworths, and I highly recommend it.
I know personally how tempting it can be, as a student, to want to study right up until the point you brush your teeth and fall sleep. As counter-productive as it might seem to put aside extra time just for a night-time routine, it will really benefit you. Right now, we need to all be especially vigilant in looking after our mental and emotional wellbeing as we grapple with change, loss, and isolation. Give yourself the time you need to take care of yourself.
Be well everyone.
(p.s. below are two bonus tips for people who especially find it hard to fall asleep at night)
1. St. John’s Wort
Countless people have found that St. John’s Wort helps to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Other people, of course, have not found it to make much difference, but it’s worth giving it a try.
You can buy the natural herb in teas or in capsules. A chemist once gave me brilliant advice about its effectiveness in helping treat sleeplessness: (1) Take it roughly an hour before bed, (2) Take it at the same time each night, and (3) You will need to follow steps 1 and 2 for roughly a week or two before you start to see the benefits.
This assumes, obviously, that you have the same bed-time each night (which is also a really good practise, by the way. If you can get to bed at the same time each night, do it). However she said that if I’m going to stay up later one night, take it at the usual time anyway. It’s not a powerful sedative, so won’t affect whatever you’re doing, but will help your body to establish a wind-down routine, and thus help to regulate your circadian rhythm .
2. Practise controlled belly-breathing
This has been super effective for me on nights when I struggle to fall asleep.
While lying in bed, place one hand on your diaphragm (a bit lower than the bottom of your sternum) and one hand below your belly button.
The goal is to try and breathe very deeply into your lungs, using your lower abdominal muscles. When you breathe in, you want to feel the muscles underneath your lower hand expand first, before you feel your chest rise under the hand over your diaphragm.
This might feel a bit weird and laboured at first. That’s because we don’t usually practise belly-breathing in Western society, and also because we don’t often know how to engage and use our core muscles. Keep at it, even though it’s awkard at first. Concentrate really hard on using those lower abdominal muscles to bring the air into your body. Breathe in through your nose, not too fast, but not too slowly either, and then exhale through your mouth.
Don’t focus too much on slowing your exhale for this one. It should still be controlled, but more in the sense of pushing the air out of your lungs in a controlled effort.
When you breathe out, you want to feel the areas under your hands move in reverse order. You want to feel your chest under your first hand lower before you feel the muscles under your second hand relax.
This is a really excellent technique that I learned from a friend in Sports Therapy. It helps to release tension from your body, and is basically a form of meditation (because you have to focus so hard on what you’re feeling and how you’re breathing!). With every breath, try to feel all your muscles relax just a little bit more. 20 breaths should do the trick.