Bedtime Ritual

In the past I’ve written about the importance of having a morning routine to set you up for the day ahead. Think of yourself as an athlete going to a big match, instead that your match is the big business meeting that’ll happen at 10.30am. Yes, you’ll have to plan and “train” for it but you also need to be mentally ready. Getting in the right head space before getting to work (or other place important) can help you with that.

Today however we’ll focus on building a similar routine before hitting the slumbertown at night. That’s where you set yourself up for a solid night of sleep. Solid sleep = solid next day, that’s biology 101 for you. There’s plenty of articles around the Interwebz on the benefits of getting enough sleep and at least the same amount of information regarding the negative effects of being sleep deprived. Here’s a quick rundown on the consequences of missing out on sleep according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School:

– Poor sleep negatively affects our concentration, focus and the ability to access higher-level cognitive functions. (if you’ve always been functioning in a sleep deprived state, there’s a good chance you are not using your brain and mind in it’s optimal capacity. But you don’t realize it as being sleep deprived is your “normal”!)

– Obesity; sleep is now seen as a risk factor along with lack of exercise and overeating
– Diabetes
– Heart disease and hypertension
– Mood disorders
– Poor immune function
– Sleeping five hours or less per night reduces the life expectancy by 15%

Shiiiiit. So how do we take the first step toward the optimal 7-8 hours of sleep (this is an average, some might need a lot more and some might do ok with just 7) each night. The biggest struggle I see is not having an established bedtime ritual to get in to the habit of preparing for sleep. During the weekdays it’s mostly because of work, late night television or using smart phones and tablets in bed. I won’t go in to the details “why” these affect your sleeping patterns but rather give you a “how’ on establishing a routine.

Step One
Count 8 hours back from the time when your alarm will go off in the morning. Then from the time you got count back another 30-60 minutes, depending on how much time you need to get ready for sleep. Here’s how it looks: your alarm goes off at 6am, counting back 8 hours will make it 10pm. If you usually need 45 minutes to get ready for sleep which will make it 9.15pm. Set a reminder on your phone for 9.15pm.

Step Two
9.15pm. Your reminder goes off. Turn off the television and stop using any of your electronic devices. Do some light stretching or foam rolling on the floor for 10 minutes and focus on deep and slow breathing. Stretch or roll whatever feels tight but don’t do anything strenuous or aggressive. This should be more of a relaxing, pre-sleep activity rather than trying to set the world record for toe touch. Don’t like stretching? Cool, just sit down and breath instead. Don’t like breathing? Well…

Step Three
9.25pm. Go brush your teeth and whatever else you need to do before going to bed. If you need to have a shower you might need to give yourself a bit more time than 45 minutes. Try 60 minutes.

Step Four
9.35pm. Get into bed and read a fiction or anything that is fairly easy to put down. Nothing that will get you fired up and definitely nothing that is even remotely work related. If you are an avid reader like myself, start your routine earlier to have more time for reading.

Step Five
10pm. Put down the book. Kiss your wife goodnight. Focus on deep and slow breathing. Don’t force yourself to NOT think about something but try not to obsess about other things either. There’s probably not a whole lot you can do about them right now.

Does this always work? No. Sometimes you’ll get home late, someone set your garbage bin on fire and the 60 year olds next door are having a disco. That’s when you have to improvise and make the most out the situation. But if you have a set routine that you’ve been following for a while it’s much easier to adjust on the fly. The worse case scenario is that you’ll have less than the ideal amount of sleep one night but fix it with the following 6 nights. It’s the consistency over long period of time that counts.
On days that I get home late I have absolutely no time for anything else expect food, shower, teeth, wife and maybe a book. But I always make an effort to clear my head and calm myself down before trying to sleep.

Now I can hear you say that you don’t have time for any of this. Have a look at your evening and see if you are compromising your sleep for other activities.

If a late night television show is what keeps you awake, start recording it and watch it at an earlier time during later on. Or sign up for Netflix or another provider and stream your shows at a more convenient time.

The bonus is that you (hopefully) spend less time watching the shows as you don’t have to put up with the ads, one of the biggest reasons why I’ve stopped watching movies/tv shows on television. However this option might backfire as you will have more content to watch.
Or you can have a look at your life and see what priority a certain tv show actually has in your life and could you live without it. I am not saying that I am a cyborg who never watches tv shows or movies but I definitely never sacrifice sleep for them.

If it’s using your tablet or smartphone in bed that keeps you awake, make your bed (or even better, bedroom) a “no fly zone” for electronics. Instead try reading a real book without the glare from the tablet. When reading on a tablet it’s easy to get side tracked and keep checking email or Facebook. Even worse if you have instant notifications popping on your screen left right and center. Leave your tablet in another room and turn off all the instant messages and social media alerts.

Smartphone is the harder one to deal with as most of us use it as an alarm clock as well, me included. If you have the discipline to not keep checking your phone while it’s next to your bed that’s fine but most people don’t. Start by turning off all the same notifications as you did for the tablet (do you really need to know what’s happening ALL THE TIME?) so you are less tempted to keep checking the screen.
If that doesn’t work buy a simple old fashioned alarm clock and leave your phone in another room. Or turn it off completely. Unless you are expecting someone to go into labor.

Did I just make everything too complicated? Or did this blog post just change your life? Am I missing something in bedtime ritual?