I washed my husband’s favorite LuLulemon sweater, and I saw this phrase inscribed at the bottom: Live in Practice. The term is the essence of my night-time routine; I live in practice. Each night will look different. There are no exact guidelines to follow to find the perfect bedtime routine; it’s trial and error. Hormones, movement, temperature, digestion, and a laundry list of other factors can impact your sleep. I will break down some of the methods that I have played around with to help me relax my body and mind at night, and I hope some of them resonate with you. Just remember, live in practice. With a dedication to your practice, you will find a rhythm, but it will never be a straight path to success. Be patient with yourself.
Before we get started, let’s create a baseline. Please jot down the answers to this sleep assessment in a journal or on a document. You may uncover some answers. Keep your assessment, and revisit the questions after a few months of implementing new tools or tips.
- How much caffeine do you consume in one day? What time (estimate) and what type of beverages do you drink? For extra credit, look up the exact amount of caffeine and sugar in your beverages.
- On an average weekday and weekend night, what is your bedtime?
- Do you currently have a bedtime routine? Please describe it in detail.
- Do you consume alcohol during the day or night? If so, what type, how much, and approximately, what time?
- What do you typically wear to bed, if anything?
- Is your bed comfortable? How old is your mattress? What kind of sheets and bedding do you have? Do you get too cold or hot during the night?
- Do you have a morning routine when you wake up?
- How much screen time (tv, iPad, computer, phone) are you consuming in the evening? How long do you shut down your screens before bed?
- Do you take any prescriptions or supplements before bed to help with sleep?
- How many hours do you typically sleep at night? How many hours do you need to feel rested?
- Do you dream?
- Do you wake up in the middle of the night? Do you know why?
- Do you sleep with noise or in silence?
- What is the lighting like in your room in the evening and the morning?
- Have you ever had a great night of sleep? If so, what did you do that day leading up to it?
- Do you sleep alone or with someone or a pet?
- Do you have a regular calming practice in your life (yoga, meditation, walking, etc.)?
- How is your digestion? What time do you eat dinner? Do you consume a heavy meal close to bedtime?
- Ask yourself – how would I get better sleep and then journal on it and listen. Your intuition will not lie to you.
- How old are you? Have you noticed a change in your sleep patterns in the past five years?
You might be thinking, whoa, that’s a lot of questions, but the truth is that so many factors can impact your sleep practice. Let me tell you a story….early in my 20’s I could have 3-4 glasses of delicious red wine a night out with girlfriends and sleep like a baby. At 40, this changed. If I have two glasses of wine, I will bolt up in a sudden panic around 2-3 am and stay awake for the next hour. I soon learned that my liver was metabolizing the alcohol at that time, and although it helped me fall asleep, it would disrupt my REM sleep, jolting me out of my slumber. Just knowing this has helped me regulate my sleep practice.
Better sleep is not just a simple A+B=C equation. It looks more like A+B-Y/DxE+J….you get me? Instead of telling you what not to do, which I believe internally your psyche rebels against, I will share some of the tools/tips I have successfully implemented into my practice. If you find one, you may want to ‘try on,’ add it to your practice, and then after a week or so, try another one. You are the tortoise in this race, not the hare.
Bedtime – I try and keep a consistent bedtime throughout the week and on Sundays. If I miss it, I try not to beat myself up about it. Additional stress will never help you sleep. Typically I start heading to bed 30 minutes to an hour before it’s my bedtime to wind down without any screen time.
Environment – Although I have a TV in my room, I never use it unless I am sick. Creating a screen boundary between the living room and my bedroom has helped me tremendously. I have made sure that my room is dark and cool before I sleep. I’m so sensitive to light that I even purchased a toilet light to avoid turning on the bathroom light. It’s magical!
Meals- I find that consuming dinner 3 hours before bedtime has helped my digestion and sleep. If I eat something that might cause issues, I may take an antiacid before my head hits the pillow to avoid waking up with stomach issues.
Caffeine/Sugar – I’m susceptible to both. I avoid all caffeine after 1 pm and am practicing not eating sweets before bedtime. It’s an ongoing practice!
Alcohol – I try to limit my consumption before bed and enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail earlier in the evening, followed by lots of water and electrolytes in the morning.
Hormones – After observing my body for the past 40 years, I know that I will have at least one sleepless night the week before my period. Instead of fighting it, I journal, read, or listen to stories to relax.
Relaxation – Just recently, I acknowledged that my meditation practice looks a little different. I enjoy meditation through writing, walking, or being in nature. Before bed, I often treat myself to a bath, facial mask, or take a stroll outside. If you don’t love a regular sitting meditation, ask yourself, what activity can make you zone out? It could be taking a hot shower before bed, stretching, or something else.
Supplements – Although melatonin (especially the ones with added sugar – always check your labels) have never worked for me, I LOVE taking magnesium at night. I wouldn’t say that it puts me to sleep, but it does have a calming effect. I take a pill vs. drinking magnesium so I won’t have to wake up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Bedding – I live in a hot environment and have found that I love breathable sheets made from bamboo or eucalyptus. I also adjust my bedding between seasons to make sure that I can stay cool throughout the night. Weighted blankets didn’t work for me, but I know others who love them.
Activity – When I’m active in the morning and exercise, I sleep better.
I have the most adorable dog, but he does not sleep in my bed. He has his area, and we both wake up in a better mood than if we were fighting over the covers. My husband and I also have a rule that if one person is sick, they move into the extra bedroom, and the other person must wait on them. If you have the luxury of two bedrooms, this philosophy will help both the patient and the nurse get better rest.
Below, I have a list of products varying in price that have helped me on my sleep journey. I wish you the best of luck in your practice and many restful nights.
Toilet Light – Helps illuminate the bowl with a sensor, so you avoid turning on the bathroom lights. It’s magic and affordable.
Blackout curtains – Curtains can vary in price and size, but you can find some affordable paper options on Amazon. Custom curtains are the dream!
ChiliPad Sleep System – If you are sensitive to temperature, this is a game-changer but a sizable investment. Programming your sleep temperatures does take a few stages of trial and error, but then it’s an incredible tool.
Meditation Tools – If you like to meditate, Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer are some of my favorite apps. Insight timer has free options.
Magnesium – I typically take Thrive market’s generic magnesium, but I have heard that MindBodyGreen’s sleep support and Calm also work well. I’ve also heard that Costco has a very affordable option too.
Electrolytes – After a restless night of sleep, especially involving alcohol, I find that consuming electrolytes when I wake up makes me feel 100x better. LMNT is my favorite brand. The watermelon salt is delicious, and I often break one packet into two servings.
Here’s to creating the best Zzz’s possible.