More often than not, by the end of the day, I’m downright exhausted. I feel like I could fall asleep as I brush my teeth, and on really extreme days, I feel like I could rest my head on my dinner plate for a little snooze.
I change into pajamas, slip into bed, try to close my eyes, and… BAM! There are no fewer than 45 things trying to get my attention in my brain. Can’t forget to send the check to my accountant. Oh, need to remember to call the vet tomorrow. Shoot, did I email that person back or not? What blog posts do I have lined up in the next two weeks that I still need photos for? The list goes on and on and on and on. Suddenly, I’m not tired anymore. I’m downright amped up. Pretty sure I could hop up and sit at my desk for five hours cranking through my to-do list. Instead, I toss and turn until I eventually fall asleep.
This used to happen to me regularly. But I’ve been implementing one particular change (in addition to what I’ve always tried to do) and it’s made a huge difference in my sleep. Not only do I fall asleep so much faster, my sleep feels deeper and more peaceful. (I’m no sleep scientist, so that’s just how I feel about it, not sure if it’s actually accurate or anything, but I do know for a fact I fall asleep faster and I wake up feeling so much better.)
ONE // Create a routine
Getting into a sleep routine is a huge thing for me. As I go through each step, it’s like my brain is realizing, “Oh, okay! It’s bedtime.” At this point, my routine is pretty second nature and not rocket science. Double check my calendar for the next day, get my to-do list started, (walk the dogs if Gar’s at work), brush teeth, wash face, moisturize, pajamas, phone on silent, read for thirty minutes, sleep.
TWO // Do a brain dump
I’m circling back a little bit here since I mentioned it in the first step, but getting into the habit of “brain dumping” will change your life. (Or at the very least your sleep!) This is such a game-changer. For me, glancing through my calendar for the next day is key for knowing what exactly I have to do to prepare. Either tonight (if I forgot something) or tomorrow. Sometimes I’ll send a follow-up email to confirm a meeting, but it’s generally pretty quick. After that, I’ll get a to-do list started for the next day. Then I don’t have to lay in bed reminding myself of things I have to do or freaking out that I’m going to forget something. It’s on the to-do list and I can deal with it in the morning.
THREE // No screens
While I get ready for bed, I eliminate all screens. My phone goes into sleep mode. The television goes off. My laptop is shut. Screens are so bad for your sleep because it tricks your brain with the light (plus other bad stuff). This is also huge for me since I work from home, it’s a major signal that the work day is over!
FOUR // READ
Even if you aren’t a huge reader, I’d recommend picking something up (hard copy) to read before bed. (A printed newspaper article or magazine for example.) I love to squeeze in a few pages or a few chapters, depending on the night. It’s the best way for me to wind down and it’s something I really look forward to. I feel like it also helps bring on some drowsiness if I’m not naturally feeling exhausted.
*FIVE* // Relax, starting with your toes
This is the “trick” that I’ve newly been implenting and it works like a charm. It’s actually not new to me; I remember my dad used to walk my sister and I through it if we couldn’t fall asleep. But basically, you start to relax from your toes all the way up to the top of your brain. Once I’m in a good sleep position, I start trying to relax my toes. It’s a mental thing, but for me it feels like everything starts to get heavy where it almost feels numb. Then I start to move up to my ankles, and my shins, and my knees, etc. Instead of going one-two-three, it’s more like a wave… where I’m still focusing on my toes while I relax my ankles… and then I’m relaxing my shins while still thinking of my ankles. The first time I did this, the last thing I remember was relaxing my hips. But now by the time I get to my legs, I’m already asleep.
It feels a little bit like meditation, but I still have something to focus on. It helps keep unwanted thoughts out as I focus on the “task at hand.” Seriously try it. And then let me know if it works for you too!
(As I wrote this I tried to Google what I was doing because I started to think I sounded crazy but it turns out that it’s actually legit. It’s more intense than my method, but try searching “progressive muscle relaxation” for better details and instructions.)
Do you have any tricks or tips for getting a better night’s sleep?
Love love this! I think the two sure fire keys to success are a good night routine and an even better morning routine!
My favorite yoga instructor ends our evening class with a body scan exercise. It is my absolute favorite part of the class. I feel absolutely relaxed for the rest of the night! She begins with the top of the head and works downward. It is the best!
I totally agree with you on having a routine! I’ve also started drinking sleepy time tea or Natural Calm before bed and I’ve found both to be incredibly helpful as well.
I use lavender essential oil. I’m not crazy about the smell, but it seems to work. I also can’t read because I get sucked into the story and pretty soon it’s 2am!
Sometimes I pick something I’ve already read to avoid that, haha!
I second the tip about essential oils. They have worked wonders for me. The key is to make sure you use therapeutic, pure grade oils (i.e. not cheap ones you can pickup at the grocery store or online). I personally love the ones from Young Living. Lavender and cedarwood are my go-to’s for a great night’s sleep! Secondly, one of my college roommates had a rule of no naps after 4pm. This rule has served me well into adulthood.
I’m totally with you on having a great night time routine! I find self-care to be increasingly more important with each year that passes and I find true joy in taking off my makeup, cleansing my skin, applying lotion or coconut oil to my body, and brushing my teeth. I love knowing I’m going to wake up clean and refreshed. In a weird way it almost feels like I’m getting ahead of tomorrow. Anything I can do to prevent stress or extra time in the morning is great because I love being able to have “slow” mornings where I can focus on happy things (like giving my outdoor cat some indoor snuggles and playtime) before I head off to work.
Also, I love the idea of doing a “brain dump” before bed, since I’m always guilty of running through my mental checklist of to-do’s before bed. I tend to lay out a to-do list for myself before I leave work, but maybe having one for general life stuff is a good idea!
Thanks for the awesome tips!
Thank you so much for posting this, Carly! I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety as I prep for my last year of law school and I am having major trouble sleeping – I really needed to see this post right now. I’ll definitely try out progressive muscle relaxation.
I do something like this in yoga classes I take…you scrunch up each part of your body from your head to your toes and then release all the stress, in a wave like you said. I think it’s the most helpful trick when relaxing/destressing!
Just last night I imagined massaging my brain to turn off my racing thoughts. It really worked!
I use a white noise app on my phone that has a timer on it and shuts itself off after a few hours. It has made such a huge difference in my ability to quickly fall asleep!
The hardest thing about getting sleep for me is that my mind goes all over the place and sometimes verges on anxiety. A brain dump would totally help. What I usually do is listen to a podcast before I go to sleep, because it focuses my mind. Odd that focusing my mind helps me sleep, but it works for me 🙂 -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s
I always read, just like you said. I also find it helpful to make a cup of decaf tea just to relax.
xx. The Coastal Confidence
I’ve heard of the relaxing toes thing before but it’s never worked for me! I’ve also tried a counting breaths thing that’s similar. Weirdly the thing that gets me to sleep fastest is a screen – I watch reruns on Netflix! It has to be a show that I’m interested in so I can focus on it instead of other thoughts, but a rerun so I don’t get too into it to fall asleep. Gilmore Girls usually does the trick 😉
Kristina does the Internets
Totally needed this right now. I have had the hardest time getting to sleep for the first time in forever. Never really had a night time routine, and starting to think I need one. Thanks!
Carly, what mattress do you recommend?
I have a 4Sleep and LOVE it
Such great tips! I love reading before bed as well 🙂
Edye | http://gracefulcoffee.wordpress.com
I have an anti reflective coating on my glasses that reflects off blue light (i.e. computers, phones, TV), and they help with making it easier to fall asleep after my brain feels fried from working all night. Hope that helps!
I really need to get into a routine. Every night I say this is the night I set up a routine and fail and the first step! Screens are also my weakness that I need to stop.
Meditating at night has become an essential part of my nighttime routine too! I got the Calm app and bought a year long suscription, and they have multiple tapes to use to fall asleep like progressive muscle relaxation and also body scan (like that one, but you just focus your attention on parts of your body, not tensing them). Now I fall asleep before my 10 min tape is up. I used to try to do it by myself, but my mind would race and get in the way of me focusing through different parts of my body. The app also has different ‘classes’ you can take and it is really great!
No screens is something I need to work on. I always do one last scroll through my feeds at night and I feel like that gets my brain stirring and definitely interferes with me getting to sleep!
Love body relaxation practices! There are some great short audio guides on iTunes and online, too, which are great when it’s hard to focus. They make such a difference!
Your routine is so similar to mine – I also read every night before bed and do the “muscle relaxation” trick as well. Cheers to routines and restful sleep!
These tips are so helpful! My sleep schedule has been all over the place since starting school- definitely need to improve that!