Sleep is vital for you being the best and wonderfully vibrant version of you. It is important for hormonal health (which can influence weight loss or gain), increases your immune function, lowers your risk of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, increases overall vitality by slowing down the aging process, improves your thinking and decision-making skills, makes you more tolerable to be around (😊, sorry, but it is true!) and creates happier moods (by decreasing stress and anxiety). Let’s read that last one together:
Sleep can decrease stress and anxiety.
Sleep has been shown to not only be one of the culprits in creating stress and anxiety in our waking hours but also can be one of the best-known remedies for reducing stress and anxiety. Yep, sleep. I am talking about 7-8 hours of restorative and restful sleep decreases stress and anxiety.
I know when you are struggling with a difficult life situation or the never-ending list of tasks, stressors and worries, or even the distracting and tight-fisted grip of anxiety, sleep can feel elusive and frustrating. We can even ask ourselves if sleep will even happen tonight. ☹ I hear ya, we have all been there.
I can also say from experience that the best things you can do when you are wanting to increase your ease of falling or staying asleep is to create a nighttime ritual. And practice that nighttime ritual until you are sleeping like a champion. No, seriously, you need to commit yourself to trying this and sticking to it and the proof it works will be better quality sleep.
Here is my ultimate guide for creating a perfect nighttime ritual, so you can confidently lay your head on your pillow knowing that you will fall asleep easily and sleep soundly. (Ahhhh, sweet and precious sleep)
- Punch out of work. Unless you are on-call duty for some type of emergency work, give yourself permission to stop checking work emails or working on projects at a specific time. This should ideally be an hour or two before bedtime. You need to allow your brain and body time to shift gears from active to sleepy.
- Luv ya, g‘night. Same as the above, designate a time to no longer read or send texts and hit the snooze on social media. You need a bit of time just for you.
- Time it right. Know what time you need to get up in the morning and walk back the clock to see where that brings you in the evening–you should be shooting for 7-8 hours of sleep (and know some adults need more than 8 hours so do what is best for you!). Push it back an hour or two and this is the time for starting your nighttime ritual. The challenge is to be consistent. Remind yourself, if I want to reduce my stress and anxiety AND increase my quality sleep; I need to be consistent.
- Don’t forget to floss! Take care of all your personal hygiene stuff before you start getting into your nighttime routine.
- Get a journal. Research keeps pointing towards the power of journaling. Grab a notebook (I always stock up at “Back to School” sales) or upgrade your journaling experience with something like The 5 Minute Journal or my new favorite Freedom Mastery’s Law of Attraction Journal and you can use my Coupon Referral Code: MARYM10. You can journal on any lingering worries from the day, observations of the day’s “hits or misses”, things to accomplish the next day, sleep affirmations, or anything that is on your mind that is keeping you feeling keyed up or mentally over-stimulated. Practice writing down your thoughts; research shows writing alleviates stress and frees up the mind to support staying present.
- Relax the body. Relax with light stretching, take a hot shower or bath or gently stimulate the relaxation points in your feet using DIY foot Reflexology.
- Seek out touch. Holding hands, snuggling/ cuddling and physical intimacy (yep, sex is great for sleep—just keep it safe) all release hormones that promote relaxation and sleepiness. If you are flying solo for the evening, take a few minutes to rest your hand over your heart/heart chakra and tap out a slow and rhythmic beat of a calm heart. (think lub dub)
- Practice Deep Breathing. By now, most of you know my favorite 4-7-8 counted breath, but for my new friends: Practice taking a deep breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 and release your breath for a count of 8. Practice 3 sets of this counted breath and then continue with deep, slow, rhythmic breathing. A calm body quiets the mind. Variations: Sneak in a mantra with each inhale and exhale. Example: with each inhale I invite in peace, with each exhale I release tension and worry. Or tap the heart/ heart chakra slowly and rhythmically with the deep breathing.
- Grab a book. Reading for even as little as 5-10 minutes can reduce stress levels. Be picky about your reading material. Make sure it is something you find interesting and distracting, not overly complicated, overly stimulating or work related.
- Meditate. Try meditating for a few minutes. Heaps of research all point to the positive impact that meditation has on improving the quality of sleep. Or pop in your ear buds and listen to a guided meditation. YouTube is full of great guided meditations for sleep or you can try an app like Relax Melodies, Calm or Headspace.
- Rehearse tomorrow. Practice visualization or mental rehearsal for how you would like the next day to unfold. Keep it positive highlighting the ideal scenarios. See your day without stress, conflict, or complications. Don’t set yourself up for failure by repeating self-limiting beliefs.
- Shift your mindset. Practice using affirmations. This clues in your mind to what you are planning, hoping for, or even expecting to happen. “Tonight, I am going to have restful and restorative sleep” “Tomorrow morning I will have all the time I need to eat, get ready for work and make it to the office in time, feeling relaxed and ready to start my day”.
- Spot of tea? Sip a cup of warm herbal tea (obviously no caffeine after 2 or 3pm helps too). I love Traditional Medicinals “Nighty Night”. Try teas with chamomile, passionflower, valerian root or catnip as they all promote relaxation. S. if you have cats they will really, really want to see what’s inside your cup of Nighty Night, because it contains catnip. Put your cup somewhere safe or throw out the tea bag after enjoying your tea. I found out the hard way. Meow…crash.
- Lower your body temp. Adjust your thermostat to an optimal sleeping temperature. It will save you a little on your heating bill, but the National Sleep Foundation found that 65 is the best room temp for sleep because as your core body temp lowers your body receives the signal it is time for sleep.
- Diffuse oils. Diffuse oils that have relaxing properties, such as lavender (be careful with using lavender around prepubescent girls and boys as research is conflicting on whether it disrupts their hormones). Lavender is sometimes too strong for me, but I love it in relaxation blends or anything earthy for relaxation and sleep. So, if lavender isn’t your thing, find your own soothing blend. There are also oil infused sprays and lotions you can try as well.
- Sensitive sleepers. If you are sensitive to noise or sound: you can buy those squishy ear plugs to tune out noise, wear a light eye mask, turn on white noise (such as a sound machine or even a fan), play ambient music (no lyrics or singing, just instrumentals), or invest in a weighted blanket.
- What to avoid. I mentioned caffeine, but also avoid drinking alcohol to assist with sleep. It is a central nervous system depressant so while awake you may feel the sedating effects, but it will rob you of quality sleep. I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of over the counter and prescription medications marketed as sleep aids, but I will say– try to avoid these. Obviously talk to your doctor or treatment provider if you are thinking about discontinuing alcohol and have a history of problematic use.
- Check in with your doctor. Discuss your concerns with your doctor, there may be a medical reason why sleep feels so elusive. Anything from changing hormones to vitamin deficiencies to certain medications. If you are wanting to discontinue/start any new medications (over the counter or prescribed) and any supplement have a chat with your doctor. Also, please talk to your doctor if you are struggling with a possible sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, or if you are taking a medication that could cause insomnia or impaired sleep. If your sleep issues seem strongly tied to an experienced trauma, please reach out to a therapist who specializes in working with PTSD or other traumas.
- Bonus suggestion: Take some of the morning stress out of your schedule by getting up at the same time and avoid hitting snooze “until the last minute before you HAVE TO get up or else you will be late”. I can almost guarantee you will not feel more rested after hitting the snooze button 2 or 3 times AND you will wake up feeling more stressed if you are rushed. Pick out your outfit or lay out your workout clothes the night before. Before starting your nighttime ritual, finish meal prep, set up the coffee maker, pack your work bag/school bag or anything else to minimize your stress in the morning.
- Last bonus suggestion: Learn strategies to manage your daytime stress and anxiety. Contact a therapist who specializes in stress, worry and anxiety. Practice strategies to release stress in a healthy and productive manner.
Does inconsistent sleep suck? Yes. Does staring at the clock watching the minutes tick by drive you crazy? Yes. Does it feel like you can barely drag yourself through the day? Yes. Are you stuck in completely crab-apple mode most days? Yes. Are you completely exhausted everyday but cannot seem to shut off your brain at bedtime? Yes!
Do you have to continue to struggle with sleep? NO!
You can positively impact your sleep by managing your stress during the day and letting go of worries and stress before bedtime. Test out the strategies in this ultimate guide for creating a nighttime ritual. See what works best for you. Hit the repeat button on following your custom nighttime ritual every night.
Here’s to catching some great ZZZZZZ’s!