Sleep Like a Baby: Nightly Routines

Sleep Like a Baby - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Therapist

“Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.” -William Blake

Just like young children, adults thrive off of routines. Children learn that bedtime is near because they consistently have a bath, put on warm jammies, have a bottle, read a book, sing lullabies, rock in a dimly-lit room, etc. Adults can do the exact same thing–in principle–as they signal to the brain that bedtime is approaching. How? By consistently doing things that relax the body and mind around the same time each day.

For varied reasons, many of my clients struggle getting quality sleep. I have found the common thread to be that we work, do chores, or are on a screen right up until the very last minute of our day. We get in bed and expect our bodies to know that, like a switch, it is time to turn off! Then we get frustrated when we toss and turn for hours.

The key is to take the necessary time winding down to let our brain and body know it is time to sleep–essentially preparing ourselves to rest. Taking 30-60 minutes to decelerate at the end of a hectic day by doing things which calm our minds is one of the most helpful sleep habits to practice! The benefits to having a nightly routine are many; I would like to name just a few: First, we will calm our overactive minds. Second, as we decompress, we are preparing our brains to avoid rumination (contemplating or stewing over things when we should be sleeping instead). And third, by regularly repeating our nightly patterns, we will condition our bodies and minds to realize that it is bedtime, so it will begin to happen more naturally with time.

Everyone is different. There is no single set nightly ritual that will work perfectly for everyone. But here are some helpful guidelines as we begin creating a routine:

  • Switch off the electronic devices. These stimulate the brain, interfere with our internal body clock, can be addictive, and can induce stress (like by checking emails right before bed). Some sources even recommend leaving your phone in another room or switching it airplane mode in order to avoid EMF (electromagnetic field) emission. I would suggest turning off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Relaxation exercises: meditation, breathing & mindfulness. I have written before about the power of meditation as a form of self-care. Meditating before bed is particularly effective as it calms the mind and helps prepare us to slow down and sleep.
  • Wins/gratitude. Think through the day and write down the wins, the things that went well, or the things to be grateful for. It is powerful!
  • Read. I would dare to say that many of us have a goal or New Years Resolution to read more books–I know I do! Sneaking it into the nightly routine is a great way to reach your goals while simultaneously reducing stress and boosting brain power.
  • Listen to music. (Refer to number one.) Listening to calming, peaceful music can have a soothing effect which will prepare us for bed.
  • Write down worries and reminders for the next day. Prepare a to-do list for the next day. Get organized. Think through things that must be done, prepared for, or accomplished. Write it down. Then put it on the backburner and relax. Another idea: To avoid lying awake worrying about things that may need to be done or people to get in contact with, keep a notepad near the bed. Write those ideas and impressions down so the mind can let them go and sleep.
  • Have a relaxing drink or light snack. While it is important to avoid large meals before bed, having a cup of herbal tea or warm milk can be a soothing, welcome pre-bed ritual.
  • Bring your temperature down. The ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is between 65-72 degrees. The body associates a lowering temperature with a signal for sleeping, so avoid hot showers and cool down in order to wind down.
  • Spend time with family, friends or partner. For many, this time right before bed may be their only alone time with a spouse. Spend a moment talking and connecting with him or her as part of your nightly routine.
  • Don’t lie awake for hours. This is key: It takes most people between 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. We have to remember that if we are still awake after half an hour, it could be that we are not quite ready to sleep yet. Get up, repeat aspects of the nightly ritual, and try again after some time passes.

Here is an example of a nightly routine:
9:30 PM: Review day’s work, review goals (long term and short term), plan tomorrow’s schedule
10:00 PM: Get ready for bed; take vitamins.
10:15 PM: Write in journal
10:30 PM: Read a book
11:00 PM: Lights out.

The most important advice I can give is to be consistent. Whatever we decide to do for the nightly ritual, do it, and do it every night. Be consistent! If we start the wind-down ritual each night at 9:00 p.m., our bodies will quickly learn what is coming next, and the process will begin to happen more organically.

I fully understand that demanding work schedules or taking care of kids can make it difficult to take any time to relax at night. I can assure you that a nightly routine will not only help you fall asleep quicker, but it will help you sleep better. Additionally, if anyone regularly faces sleep problems, taking even just a few minutes on a nightly routine can work wonders! If you have questions or need additional assistance, please feel free to contact me. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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