In college and in my twenties I was hands down the worst about getting enough sleep. I am one of those people who have a ton of energy (I’ve been accused of that on more than one occasion) and I would rise before 5am and rest after midnight. Years of trying to meet deadlines, quotas and being hard on myself required me to work diligently into the wee hours of the night. It was exhausting but every day I would push through. Well, fast forward to my 30’s. All of that stress added up and took a toll on my body. Lack of quality sleep became a big factor in developing paralyzing anxiety.
Anxiety is one of those disorders many people suffer from. You can have varying degrees of it but I got to a point where it was taking over my life. I started fearing EVERYTHING to include passing out in the car (which I’ve never done) to forgetting if I locked my door and obsessing all day about it. When I finally sat down with a psychiatrist last September we discussed what was going on and he talked to me about the importance of sleep. Sleep directly impacts anxiety.
I explained during the visit that I have trouble sleeping. When I lie down at night I suddenly have thousands of thoughts fly through my brain. It’s exhausting mentally, but my brain is so stimulated I can’t find a way to relax and rest. Humans can’t be on the throttle full time every moment. My psychiatrist and I worked on a plan to create a better lifestyle and improve my mental health. It’s now been four months later and although I still have nights where I’m just awake, I have a strategy for getting better consistent rest. Here are a few ways to create a sleep routine if you also struggle in this area:
Create a Nightly Routine
Even though I have bursts of energy and creativity that make spontaneity a huge part of my life having a routine morning and night helps keep me grounded. I have both a morning routine and nightly routine to make sure no matter where I am I feel some sort of stability. French people do routines really well. They love to focus on the balance of life and ensure their bodies are getting the nutrition, exercise and rest needed to fuel them. I did some research and found that routines create a rhythm for all of us. Here’s what a typical night looks like whether I’m on the road or at home:
Take a bath - I start almost every evening by soaking my muscles in warm water. A nightly bath does two things for me. The first is to ease the pain of soreness and relax my muscles. After working out or having a long day, it’s the first step in my nightly routine. It’s almost like hanging your hat when you get home from work. The second is that it is alone time (away from kids, phone calls, etc) and helps my brain move into a relaxing mode. I also start with a bath so it gives my body a few hours to cool down before trying to sleep. Afterwards, I always slip into cozy pajamas and this nightgown and robe is perfect for winding down for the rest of night.
Review tomorrow’s plan - Before I start to get too tired I give my calendar a quick glance to make sure I am aware of anything due tomorrow. Sometimes it’s work related while other times it’s just to see if my child has an event the next day. Knowing where I’m headed tomorrow gives me the chance to jot down a few tasks to do and clear my mind. I also set reminders on my phone (alarms actually) for anything I need to be prepared for or complete.
Journal - Even if you are not a big writer, taking a few minutes to reflect on my emotions or the prior day. I’m REALLY hard on myself and somewhat analytical. If I receive criticism or had an emotional day I oftentimes will keep obsessing over it trying to solve the issue at hand. Being able to release those thoughts on paper also helps give my mind ease and I know if I need to refer back to something in the future I have it written down. Journaling also allows you too spot patterns if you are going through something tough in life.
Play a mind game - This may be different for you, but sometimes giving my brain something to do tires it. Some evenings I play a few rounds of Wordscapes. Lately I’ve been working through logic questions to sharpen my mind using the LSAT Prep app. I really prefer that since I have to work things out on paper and spend less time looking at a screen. You can also buy a word scramble workbook or even just read instead of TV. The idea is to tire your brain a little so it can go to sleep.
Meditate - The last thing I do is turn on Headspace and meditate. I love the new sleep podcasts they’ve created for people with busy minds. Meditation is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I started it back it 2015 when I was going through one of the lowest points of my life. Meditation helps you train your mind to focus on breathing. The deeper your breaths are the more oxygen is sent throughout your body and you can relax. If you don’t want to pay for an app, set a timer on your phone or use your breathe app (one of my favorite features of the apple watch) to focus on deep breathing.
Create a restful environment - One of the ways I’ve achieved this is to have a somewhat tidy bedroom and no TV. Yep, I do not watch TV in bed. In fact, I don’t even get in bed if I’m not trying to go to sleep. I complete my journaling, mind games and daily planning from my couch or desk instead of taking those tasks into my sleep space. If you live in a studio or smaller space then try not to use your bed for anything but sleep. Once I do crawl in bed I turn on headspace and my body knows it’s time to let go for the day. Having nice sheets, comfy pj’s (you can check out my Cozy Winter Pajamas post from December here), the fan on and low lighting also helps!
Now the above routine didn’t happen all at once. I started with creating a good environment and a bath then slowly added what worked best for me. Sometimes, I’ll have a cup of herbal tea or put lavender oil in my diffuser. Whatever routine you decide to start, begin as early as you can and be as consistent as possible. See what works best for your body and make notes. Last but not least, if I am wide awake I will get out of bed go do a few tasks or read and attempt an hour or two later.