Pre-bed rituals: the key to good sleep
Confession.. I have never liked things coming to an end. Case in point: I bemoan leaving parties early, I shed a tear after reading the last page of a good book and I have never been skilled at going to bed at a sensible hour and falling asleep like a normal person. If you relate to this last point, read on, help is at hand.
It's kind of embarrassing to admit that you're not great at something that comes as naturally as breathing to most people, but I am owning the fact that sleeping has never been my strong point.
Even as a kid I would try and defy bedtime and secretly read under the covers with a torch, determined for the day to not quite be over yet.
I've always had a bad habit of trying to fit in one more hour of 'stuff' before I went to bed and then being so mentally wired once I hit the pillow that I couldn't sleep. Maybe I didn't like saying goodbye to the end of the day, not wanting to accept that there was nothing more I could squish into this 24 hour cycle.
It has taken me years (and it's still a work in progress) to learn to listen to my body and accept when I need to go to bed. I never used to be able to get past the fact that there are always more things I want to do: books to read, projects to work on, things to make, conversations to have, friends to catch up with, shows to watch and things to look up online (can you have goats in a suburban backyard? how much is a plane ticket to Portugal? whatever happened to the cast from Scrubs? etc.)
Then the cycle began of going to sleep at 1am, waking up feeling exhausted, drinking all the coffee to try and feel awake, feeling unproductive in the afternoon as the tiredness resurfaced, getting a second wind in the evening and staying up past midnight doing all the things, only to start the whole unhealthy cycle again.
I am happy to report that I am no longer stuck in that cycle and pre-bed rituals are largely to thank for it. I now deeply value sleep, going to bed at a rather sensible hour at least 5 nights a week.
Why? Simply because sleep is good for you. There are stages in life (hello to having young children, menopause and middle of the night cancer diagnosis anxiety) when sleep is scant, and I think during those stages it is in your best interest to not count the hours you're getting, make the most of resting when you can and knowing that it's not forever (and crying on someone's shoulder periodically). Plus I believe a regular late night out with friends is just good for the soul, bedtime be damned. But when we are in a position to sleep 7-9 hours a night, we really should.
There are some interesting books that go into the science of it all, I'd recommend The Sleep Revolution and Night School, but suffice to say good sleep benefits our physical, mental, emotional and cognitive health. And on the flip side, when we're not sleeping properly it can affect everything from our hormones to our metabolism.
Even though I intellectually knew that I needed to sleep more, I had to make ending my day and going to bed earlier something I really looked forward to if I was actually going to do it.
Cue pre-bed rituals. Adding some simple pleasure and enjoyable ceremony to the end of the day makes it a joy rather than a drag for me.
Perhaps pre-bed rituals would work for you too if you find good sleep hard to come by. Maybe think about what you need at the end of the day and what might work for you. Your rituals will probably look different to mine, but here's a glimpse into what currently gets me to bed with minimal whining ;)
My pre-bed rituals
Before I share what works for me, it is worth pointing out that your bedroom should really be your sanctuary. There was definitely a shift for me when I finally set our room up in a way that made me want to hang out there. Think about what you need. It doesn't have to be expensive. Because my house is often loud and chaotic (usually in a fun way, though not always), I needed my room to be a neutral space. It's a very simple room with minimal fuss and lots of white on white and a couple of plants. You might want something more plush, colourful etc. The main thing is that it's a room you feel peaceful in.
- Prepare for the next day - I sleep a lot better knowing that I am totally sorted for the next day. I've checked in my diary what I need to be ready for, clothes are laid out, bags are packed etc.
- Self-massage - read more about this here (I use sweet almond oil with some lavender added to it for my body and rosehip oil for my face)
- A good stretch - and a few restorative yoga poses if I'm feeling a bit wound up.
- Writing in my journal - not a lot, maybe even just one line or reflection.
- Reading a book - it has to be one I love. While I often read a bit of non-fiction when I get a chance during the day, the books I read before bed are usually fiction, preferably a book I can't wait to get into at the end of the day.
- A cup of Dreamy tea - while I write/read.
- Reflection prayer/meditation
- If I really can't sleep, I'll throw on an audiobook or sleep story (there's a great free one about lavender fields in Provence read by Stephen Fry).
I don't do all of these rituals every night, sometimes just 1, 5 & 7, but it's a good guide for me.
Do you have pre-bed rituals? Does sleep come easily to you or is it something you've had to work at? Please share in the comments, would love a glimpse into what works or doesn't work for you.