How To Establish A Good Bedtime Routine
Years ago I stopped wearing a watch. Initially I stopped because the watch stopped working. However I made a choice to not replace the battery or the watch. I found the prospect of eating when I felt hungry rather than at “mealtimes” liberating. Living my life according to my needs felt good. This is not always practical, when my watch broke I was a new mum to a new-born baby and there was the possibility to live a less structured life. Fast forward ten years and life is different. We have a more rigid routine due to activities and work. However, listening and responding to my needs is still something I try to do and advocate. This seems paradoxical to a life with routine. So how can you establish a good bedtime routine whilst considering your needs in the moment?
How much sleep do I need?
It feels fair to make the claim that few people get the sleep their body needs each night. Most sleep organisations report that people between the ages of 18 and 64 need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you get less sleep than this it is unlikely you will feel properly refreshed and function your best the next day. If you regularly get less than seven hours sleep per night, being tired might feel normal to you. What would happen if you experimented with eight or nine hours sleep per night, consistently for two weeks. If it does not work for you it is easy to revert to your previous routine. A two week trial will give you sufficient time to notice what it feels like and enable you to consider how much sleep you need to function optimally each day.
How do I know when I’m tired?
You’ve challenged yourself all day, pushing your body to its limits physically and mentally. When the alarm rang first thing it felt like a rude interruption to your deep sleep and cosy dream. The day begins as soon as you get out of bed with washing to hang up, a dishwasher to unload and pets to feed (or is that just me?!) You take a pause whilst you shower and then dash off to work or the children wake and your focus is meeting the needs of others. When you arrive home there is more house admin and other people with demands. After what feels like a hard day’s slog the evening arrives and you crash onto the sofa where you mindlessly watch TV for a few hours, read a book, scroll your phone, anything that gives you some time for yourself – without thought.
How are you?
Whilst so many of us seem to respond “tired” when asked the question; “how are you” it is this quiet evening time when we often feel our least tired. When the day is complete and there is space to relax.
(I do not like this rushed, unnatural way of life and I personally gravitate towards and wish for a more natural way of living. However, I acknowledge that most people do not have the opportunity to spend their day like those who feature in a Ben Fogle, Lives in the Wild episode!)
So it makes sense that you do not finish your day of graft at 7pm and instantly transition to bed. Relaxing on the sofa feels good. You cherish the moment and it is only the clock striking 11pm, then very quickly midnight that persuades you to head to bed. Interoceptive awareness is the ability to understand and respond to your body’s internal signals. With external distractions it is easier to ignore these signals. So much so that some believe technology, society and medicine have made us poor interoceptors. With some form of interoception training such as mindfulness you will strengthen your interoceptive awareness so that you regain the ability to recognise your internal signals. As importantly, you need to act upon the signals and prioritise your need for sleep.
Prioritising Sleep & Your Bedtime Routine
Now you have established how many hours of sleep you need each night to feel fully refreshed the following day. Providing you get this sleep you will wake up and feel awake rather than still half asleep. If you maintain your health in other necessary ways, such as good enough nutrition, you should have energy to fuel you throughout the day. Using your interoception will help you notice when you feel tired so you can note this and go to bed.
It is important to take into consideration the effect of blue light on melatonin production and reduce your exposure to it once the sun starts to set. Some people feel a need to unwind from a busy day before going to sleep. An ideal way to do this is with guided meditation or journaling depending on whether you feel a need to process your day or ease your mind. Watching TV, scrolling your phone or reading a book help to distract you from your own mind and take your thoughts away from the present moment. A creative activity or yoga session gives time for introspection whilst doing something pleasurable and begins a good bedtime routine.
Some people I work with choose to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. This give them enough time to take (at least) thirty minutes each morning to simply sit and be. They find this ‘me time’ is beneficial to their day and feels better than taking it in the evening when they feel tired watching TV through yawns after a busy day.
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