What is more frustrating than knowing you have a bad habit and not changing? Telling yourself, Stop this...don't do this...you're better than this...it's not that hard...you've done it before and continuing to make the wrong choice day in and day out.
That's how I feel about what my bedtime habit was from basically the fall of 2010 (2010!!!!) until the end of 2017. When I was living in Florida, I started watching Netflix on my laptop to fall asleep. I lived in constant fear that somehow my laptop would manage to catch my bedding on fire, but I eventually got a laptop tray for the sole purpose of keeping it on my bed. I would turn on an episode of How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, The Office, Parks & Rec, Scrubs, Friends and watch for the umpteenth time until I fell asleep. Actually, The Office didn't last long on that rotation because of this:
This terrible routine started so long ago that I can't even remember why I started doing it. Eventually I was convinced that I couldn't fall asleep without my "white noise sitcoms". Even when I was utterly exhausted, I would still turn on a show and be asleep within minutes as seven more episodes played. (Don't worry, I almost always turned the brightness on my laptop down so low the screen as actually dark and I was just listening to the noise.) I didn't think I could make the switch to music. I didn't think I could go cold turkey. I used to tell myself stories in my head to fall asleep--stories about the perfect made up day or something that was coming up going perfectly--but I lost my ability to do so and I could no longer settle my mind. Of course there were times in the last seven years when I've been unable to indulge in my terrible habit, like if I were sharing a room with someone or didn't have my laptop. I managed to get to sleep somehow, but I just couldn't do it if I were in my own room with the temptation right there.
I hoped moving in with Luke would help me kick the habit for good. I didn't want to disturb him, especially when he had to get up in the morning for work and I didn't have to. (That made the situation worse because our sleep schedules were off by about two or three hours.) Eventually I figured out that I could watch Netflix on my phone turned waaaaay down low and Luke wouldn't protest. I was convinced he was undisturbed, so the next night, I did it again. Eventually, I was up to my old tricks every night.
In January, we totally revamped our bedtime routine. We decided to go upstairs around 9:00 and 9:30. We wouldn't start a show if we couldn't finish it by 9:00(ish) and we were more attentive to the time in the evening. TV stayed downstairs. Laptops stayed downstairs. We gave ourselves time to have a good bedtime routine and time to read in bed before falling asleep. I signed up for 6 months of the Headspace app for £20 during a New Year special after having enjoyed a free month last autumn. It felt productive. It felt calming. It felt like it was working. We used the 10 minute sleep meditation almost every night and honestly it works 9 times out of 10. After I purchased the 6 month subscription, we started using it every night and got on a good streak. That's when I seriously starting noticing a difference in how much better my night time routine was.
Today, I want to share four things you can do in the evening to help settle your mind and body and prepare to sleep. I read a lot about good bedtime practices and asked a lot of people what they do at the end of the day while I was trying to kick my old habit, so I've boiled it down to the best of the best that aren't just suggesting you pick up a book or not let your phone near your bed, even though both of those are fantastic suggestions.
SET A BEDTIME
Okay, maybe you feel like you're five, but it helps. Not only does it help teach your body a sleep cycle, but it helps you plan your evenings. Choose a time that fits your life. If you wake up early for work and you're always tired, pick an earlier time. If you don't have to be up so early and you're more of a night owl, push it back a bit. Of course you'll have nights when you're in bed earlier or later, depending on your health and your schedule, but it makes a world of difference when you actually have a time in mind. You know not to watch "just one more episode" because it won't finish in time. You'll feel more comfortable saying no to social obligations that will conflict with your schedule and understand it's completely okay to accept some.
CREATE A CALMING RITUAL
This might look different for everyone, but I've created my own ritual based on the things I want to do at the end of the day. It includes making a cup of chamomile tea, washing my face and moisturising, brushing out my hair, taking vitamins, and brushing my teeth. There are nights when I beeline straight for bed and I actually miss my ritual enough to get up and do it in its entirety. On Sundays, it includes a face mask.
DO A FEW MINUTES OF YOGA
I'm more of a morning yoga person. In fact, I've never really liked to work out in any capacity later than 7:00, but one of my good friends said she does yoga in the evening and it's helped her a lot. Sometimes, when we're dragging a bit out of bed, we'll do a short bedtime yoga sequence from Yoga with Adriene actually right in our bed. It's mellow and specifically designed to prepare for sleep. Yoga can be quite energising and hard work, but if a good, gentle practice might be exactly what you need in the evening to settle your mind and body.
REFLECT WITH GRATITUDE
Luke and I have been doing this one for months, but if you don't have someone to say what you're grateful for, you can either write it down or say it aloud to yourself. Before we turn off the lights, we tell each other what we're grateful for that day. Some days we'll have a long list, some days it's quite short. Not only does it let us reflect back on what's been good or beneficial during the day, but it leaves us with more positive emotions to end the day. Personally, it's helped me not lie in bed and dwell on mistakes or things that didn't go how I wanted them to. And let's not forget that it's really a really good practice for our relationship as well. On the days when the list is short, it might just be that we say we're grateful for the other person. It's nice to hear that my husband is grateful for me and our life together and it's a good practice to acknowledge my gratitude for him everyday.
If you're like me and need some type of background noise, meditation is a great alternative to TV, or even music or audio books. Again, we do the Bedtime practice from Headspace that's specifically designed to put you to sleep, and even ends with a fail safe in case you're still awake. Most nights we do it, it works and I'll fall asleep somewhere in the middle. Other nights, I'm still wide awake and have to do the fail safe method he teaches by counting down backwards from 1000. (I've gotten in the 800's before.)
Different things work for different people though and sometimes you just need to try some things to see what will work best for you. It's all about customising it to fit your needs and committing to it. You'll be surprise at how much it changes your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get good rest each night.
Updated March 2019.