There was a period of my life where I was regularly getting a few hours sleep every night. Maximum. And I was so cranky, and tired, and irritated, and exhausted all the time. There are only a few things that feel as great as waking up really refreshed from a great night’s sleep. But it can be difficult to know how to trigger that kind of sleep that really makes you feel like you can accomplish anything. Since that time where I was exhausted and irritable, I’ve perfected some methods that help me sleep well and wake up fully rested every morning. You can try each step, or pick and choose the ones that work for you, but this routine is normally what helps me the most.
1) Shut off the Netflix. I know it’s hard.
I’m the first to admit that I’m a chronic Netflix-overuser. I always have an episode of something playing, even if it’s just as white noise in the background. But this can be difficult on your sleep schedule for a bunch of reasons. The main one is that looking at a bright screen signals to your brain that it’s time to be awake. Your melatonin levels get suppressed, circadian rhythms get delayed, and you actually end up feeling sleepier the next day. Another reason to pause your binge watch before bed is that Netflix has a tendency to keep you sucked in and engaged. With autoplay and cliffhangers at the ends of episodes, I’m incredibly likely to keep saying “just one more episode” late into the night, severely messing with my sleep schedule. The best thing to do is just close the laptop or walk away from the TV.
2) Light some relaxing scented candles.
I hoard candles. It’s a problem. I go through them incredibly fast. Something about the soft natural light and the soothing scents just helps me feel at ease. I really like to strategically place a lot of candles all around my room and light all of them, then shut off all my lights. If you don’t want to splurge for a room full of pricey Yankee Candle votives, you can get one nicely perfumed, cheap candle from Target or Walmart, and then buy a big box of inexpensive tea lights. You get the same visual effect of a room full of candles, and you’re not missing out on the scent. I really like the Signature Soy candles from Target, because they’re really cheap and last a decent time. When I do my yoga (see step 8), having a room of natural light is soothing, and I normally leave one or two of the Lavender scented candles in my room so that when I get into bed, the whole room smells soothing and calm already.
3) Put on aromatherapy lotion.
It doesn’t even have to be aromatherapy lotion. Even unscented lotion works. But taking some time to tend to your body, to nourish your skin that’s been working so hard all day really helps to calm you down and prepare your body for sleep. I really like the Earth Theraputics Liquid Pajamas Lotion, because it has lavender and valerian root, which are both really soothing scents that encourage healthy sleep. Regardless, just pay attention to your body, put love into it, and it will love you back.
4) Wash your face and brush your teeth.
Maybe this is just me, but I find that my face washing routine can be a bit on the intensive side. After about 15 minutes of washing, scrubbing, rinsing and brushing, my heart rate is normally pretty elevated. I like to get this step out of the way relatively early in my routine so that I still have time to relax and wind down after.
5) Hydrate your skin, take care of any problem spots.
Like I said in step 3, take care of your skin! Love your skin and it will show you love right back. Your face has been working hard all day. Take some time to nourish it with a serum or an overnight mask. I love the Lush Full of Grace Serum Bar (which I wrote about in my Top Face Masks post), and lately I’ve really been liking the Caudalie Cell Renewal Night Cream, but it’s definitely on the pricey side. Any type of moisturizer works, as long as it doesn’t have SPF in it. Putting sunscreen on your face overnight not only makes no sense, but it can also clog your pores unnecessarily. This is also a great time to take care of any blemishes problem spots you might have. Once my skin is washed and hydrated, I like to take a Q-Tip and dab a little bit of straight Tea Tree Oil on acne that’s starting to pop up. If I have a spot that I know will be really noticeable in the morning, I’ll put on a little layer of Clearasil Rapid Action Vanishing Treatment Cream, and it helps reduce redness overnight.
6) Put on your comfiest pajamas.
It’s hard to sleep when your bottoms are too tight or your shirt is too itchy. Take yourself to Cozytown with your softest, comfiest sleep clothes. I’m a particular fan of my fleece sweater-printed pajama bottoms and an oversized crewneck hoodie.
7) Throw a rice bag in the microwave then put it in your bed.
Rice bags are an absolute life saver, and I swear by them. They’re a much less complicated version of a heating pad (if you have a heating pad, feel free to use that instead). All you have to do to make one is to take a tube sock (preferably a new one, or at least a clean one), pour in a couple cups of dry rice, tie off the end of the sock, and throw it in the microwave. Times will vary, but I set mine for a minute and a half, and then throw it in my bed and pull up the covers. It warms up the sheets while I’m doing yoga, and is the perfect temperature to put on my neck once I’m ready to get back in bed. The heat from the bag will help relax tense muscles in your neck, shoulders, low back, or wherever you’re feeling the stress of the day.
8) Do bedtime yoga.
I swear by bedtime yoga. It’s my favorite way to practice mindfulness and also relax and slow my heart rate to get ready for bed. If I’m feeling particularly tired, and I want to get into bed ASAP, I’ll do the 15 minute Bedtime Yoga video from Sarah Beth Yoga on YouTube. If I have a little more time, I’ll do the 30 minute video from Yoga with Adrienne, which I love love love. She has a way of speaking with terms that really help me quiet my mind, relax my body, and feel more mindful and grateful at the end of a really long day. Now I know what you’re saying: “Lily! You just told us not to look at any screens before bed! How are we supposed to watch a yoga video without the screen time?” And you’re right. It’s not great to watch screens before bed. I normally play the video on my phone, and set it aside, with the volume at a level where I can hear the speaker’s instructions without needing to see the screen. Both of these videos end in a Shivasana, or Corpse Pose, which is the most relaxing yoga pose ever. I like to make sure I have a blanket on hand with me to cover up during this final pose, just so I can relax even more.
9) Get in bed and use an eye mask over night.
Along the same lines as Step 1, if there are any lights in your room or shining through your window, that light can mess with your circadian rhythms and melatonin levels. I scored a cheap mask at TJ Maxx for a couple dollars, you can get them in the bath/spa section at Target. They’re super helpful if, like me, you have a really bright street light that shines through your blinds at night right onto your bed. If you want to get extra fancy, you can sprinkle a couple drops of lavender essential oils on the outside of your eye mask to help soothe even more.
10) Rain sounds.
When I started babysitting my baby cousins, part of their bedtime routine was to turn on a loop of 6 hours of rain sounds that would play all night. It put them out like a light. I like having the ambient noise to help put me to sleep as well. It also helps me quiet my mind at the end of a stressful day because I can focus on the sounds instead of mulling over the same toxic thoughts in my head in complete silence over and over again until I find myself in the midst of an existential crisis. A while ago I bought the app Calm Down Now for $1.99 on iTunes, and I’ve really enjoyed it a lot. There are a handful of guided meditations that I like, but my favorite is the sound mixer. You can choose from two pages of sounds, set your volume, and set a timer to turn the sounds off after a certain point. I usually set mine to turn off after 30 minutes, and I’ve never been awake at the end of those 30 minutes to realize it turned off.
11) Use a sleep tracking app like Sleep Time.
Working where I do, I’ve learned that everything you do should be based off a certain amount of data. And the best way to gather data on your sleep is in a sleep tracking app like Sleep Time. You just turn the app on, tell it what time you’re going to wake up, and then place your phone face down on your bed. When you wake up, it gives you data based off your movement over night and tells you how well you slept that night, how much time you actually spent sleeping, and the difference between deep sleep and light sleep. From there, you can tweak your sleep recipe based on that data. Did you get super great sleep every time you did bedtime yoga before going to sleep? But did you sleep poorly when you used your eye mask? Try committing to doing yoga every night, but ditch the mask. It’s easy to tweak your recipe to get your best nights sleep when you know what factors help you and which ones hurt you.
12) Resist the urge to text/blog/pin on your phone in bed.
I know. I know it’s hard. It was second nature for me for a very long time to get all wound down and ready for bed, and then turn over and scroll through Tumblr for another hour or two. You already know what I’m going to say about it: Melatonin levels and circadian rhythms. Not only this, but I like to check my phone first thing in the morning and scroll through the news for a bit. So what I’m essentially doing is training my brain to act the same way in the early morning as it does late at night. That either means that you’re trying to wake your brain up at night, or you’re getting sleepier in the early morning. Either way, it’s not great for getting a good night’s sleep and feeling refreshed in the morning. Just put the phone away.