If you want to build a solid foundation of health and grow your wellbeing, then getting enough good quality sleep is vitally important. Not only does sleep play an important role in maintaining critical body functions, but it also leads to a cascade of other healthy or unhealthy habits.
For example, most people who DO get enough sleep usually:
- Crave less junk food and high-sugar or high-calorie foods.
- Don’t need to constantly eat in order to keep their energy levels up.
- Have more energy and are more inclined to choose active ways to have fun.
- Feel more motivated, more resilient, and more confident taking on new challenges.
The opposite can be said for those who are constantly sleep-deprived.
There are many different obstacles that might get in the way of you getting a good night’s sleep, but the biggest one within your control is whether or not you have a good sleep ritual or bedtime routine.
It’s difficult to go from being in a deep sleep to being fully functioning and energised first thing in the morning. Similarly, it takes time to unwind and relax before going to sleep too.
To get better sleep, you often need to build better sleep habits that help with this transition and improve your chances of getting a great night’s sleep.
What is a sleep ritual?A sleep ritual is a set of behaviours that help to facilitate good sleep. It tells your brain that it’s time to calm down, focus less on your to-do list, and focus more on falling asleep.
Another benefit of a sleep ritual is that it will put you in control of your evenings and help protect you from sleep disruptors that may decrease your chance of sleeping restfully.
The day-time stages of a sleep ritual:Ideally, getting a good night’s sleep starts in the morning and continues throughout the day.
1) Wake up at the right time:
- Help your body get better at waking up in the morning by getting up at around the same time every morning and avoiding the snooze button.
2) Get some sunlight:
- Sunlight, especially in the morning, helps you feel more alert. Light also helps your body set its daily sleep-wake cycle which will increase how awake you feel during the day as well as how sleepy you feel at night.
3) Do some exercise:
- Doing regular exercise during the day helps to optimise your hormone levels, making you feel more energetic during the day and then calmer and more relaxed at night.
4) Limit caffeine and alcohol intake:
- Caffeine is a stimulant that can stay in your body for up to 8-10 hours. Consuming caffeine after around 2pm can interfere with your efforts to fall asleep at night, even if you can no longer feel the stimulatory effect.
- Similarly, alcohol can decrease the quality of your sleep at night. Even though drinking alcohol may help you feel more relaxed and, in some cases, fall asleep quicker, it interferes with your body’s ability to go into a deep and restorative sleep.
These day-time activities all help set you up for a successful night’s sleep. But as the day comes to an end, your evening sleep ritual becomes even more important. It has a bigger direct impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep that night.
An evening sleep ritual might look like:1) Decide on a reasonable bedtime:
- Based on the time that you usually wake up at, work backwards to figure out what time you need to be asleep at in order to ideally get 7-8 hours of sleep.
2) Set a gentle “start shutting down” alarm to go off 1 hour before you need to be asleep:
- When this alarm goes off, start getting ready to go to sleep. Stop all stimulating and energising activities and start doing more relaxing or calming activities.
3) Put away the electronic devices once that shutdown alarm goes off:
- Artificial light from these devices can interfere with the production of hormones you need to feel sleepier at night and fall into a deep sleep.
- These devices, such as TV, computer, tablet, cellphone, etc, are also usually highly stimulating and will prevent your body from fully relaxing before going to sleep.
- A brief bit of exposure, such as to check the time or set your watch for sleep mode won’t be an issue but try to minimise your time on electronic devices before bed.
4) Dim the lights:
- As you start getting ready for bed, turn off all non-essential lights and show your body that it is actually nighttime outside.
5) Do a “brain dump”:
- It’s hard to relax when your mind is racing and full of thoughts, so get whatever is on your mind onto a piece of paper as you start to prepare for bed.
- Not only will this help you to organise your thoughts and identify what’s on your mind, but it will also help you to relax knowing you can revisit these thoughts in the morning.
- For some people, this might look like a to-do list to take care of the next day, while for others it might be a review of theirs, and for others still, it may just be random memories, worries, or stray thoughts that are floating around.
6) Do something that truly calms you down:
- After a busy day, it’s tempting to do things that help you “unwind”, such as watching TV, playing a computer game, browsing social media, or going out and having fun with your friends.
- Those activities may have their time and place, but your sleep ritual should focus on calming and relaxing activities that will make you feel sleepier and less stimulated. This might be taking a bath, reading a book, listening to relaxing music, journaling, doing gentle stretches, meditation, or deep breathing exercise.
7) Go to bed on time.
- When done repeatedly over time, sticking to a reasonable and consistent bedtime teaches your body when to release the right hormones to help you fall asleep.
The most important thing with a sleep ritual is making it work for you.
You may not be able to do every single one of these recommendations, and that’s OK. Start where you are and do what you can. Small incremental changes will make a difference to your wellbeing.
In the beginning, maybe you’re adding in only 1 thing, like listening to some calming music before bed. Or maybe making a small tweak during the day like swapping your coffees after 2pm to decaf.
Experiment and notice what works for you. The main thing is that you’re approaching your bedtime with the deliberate intention of unwinding and relaxing so that you can get a good night’s sleep and grow your wellbeing.