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EXPLAINER: Sleep routines and rituals

Mar 19, 2021

March 19th is World Sleep Day and the issue is pretty clear – most of us are not getting enough.

Today is not about sleeping in, but going to bed and specifically falling asleep at a reasonable time. This will help you to get the quantity and quality of sleep you need for optimal wellbeing.

Healthy sleep requires routine (sometimes called ‘sleep hygiene), here are some tips for adolescents and adults on how to get your slumber zones sorted.

+ Work out how much sleep you need and your wake up time.

Your natural biological rhythms are set by a cool body clock in the centre of your brain, called the Supra Chiasmatic Nucleus.

How much sleep you need differs between individuals and the stage of life you’re in.  Generally speaking adults need 7-9 hours and teens need 8-10 hours, little kids and over 65’s have different needs too.

Some people need more or less sleep to feel that they function well. You can work out what your optimal sleep amount is by noticing your sleep cues (what time you naturally feel tired and wake up) and tracking this.

Keep in mind there are sometimes underlying reasons that might add to sleep variations, for example, anemia or depression might mean people feel more tired and need to sleep for longer to wake naturally and refreshed. Treating the underlying issue is required in these examples.

+ Create a sleep schedule (and stick to it)

Having generally set sleep and wake times across the whole week (that means without wild variations on weekends) is foundational.

Many people accrue a sleep debt during the weekdays and try to make up for it over weekends by sleeping in.  This in turn means they feel tired later (their ‘sleep pressure’ is delayed) so they stay up late, then sleep in and bang! Monday morning hits and you start the week with your sleep routine out of whack.

Your sleep schedule needs to combine your sleep needs with your life’s demands.  So, once you have a sense of how many hours of sleep you need, work backwards to schedule your bed time based on what time you need to get up (not wake up).

As an example, if you need to be up by 7am and need 8 hours of sleep, you need to be actually asleep by 11pm, which might mean preparing for bed by 10-10:15pm.

If you have an alternating schedule you will need to adjust this somewhat, but aim to train your body clock for the schedule you most commonly follow.

Your smartphone’s clock is a brilliant tool for supporting this, you can tailor your alarm for each day of the week and set a reminder to start winding up for bed to support you prioritise sleep.  The trick is to use this phone feature without slipping into an internet k-hole at the start and end of each day (bookending sleep with social media scrolling is generally not a great habit).  I recommend keeping your phone on the other side of the bedroom so it’s out of reach (and you have to actually get up when your alarm goes off!).

+ Design your bedtime ritual (to help you fall asleep)

Getting to sleep, known as sleep onset, is one of the big hiccups people face with sleep.

Ideally it should take less than 30 minutes to fall asleep from when you finally stop scrolling and your head hits the pillow. A delay in falling asleep is called sleep onset insomnia, and it can often be associated with anxiety and negative thought patterns.

To help prepare your mind and body for sleep, there’s a range of actions you can take to overcome sleep-onset issues and drift into dreamland. The idea here is that you are creating clear associations and signals that deep sleep and rest is on its way and that you welcome it!

  • SOUNDS: create a playlist of relaxing sounds to play as you prepare for bed, you might like binaural beats, pink noise or other sounds which you find support you to mentally wind down.
  • SMELL: find a ‘sleep mist’ that you like the smell of to use on your bed linen. There are lots around, choose a good quality one with natural ingredients.
  • TASTE: get yourself a nighttime tea blend (or a good old hot milk) to help to both hydrate you and also calm your nerves and mind.  Herbal blends of camomile, valerian root and passionflower are reported to aid sleep. Beware that some green teas actually have some caffeine in them and might not help!
  • TOUCH: Invest in a good pillow and pillowcase (and linen etc if you can afford to) so that sleep is comfy and inviting. Imagine your bed as a nest! Only sleep (and maybe sex) should happen in it (not study or homework or gaming!)
  • ACTIONS: Brushing your teeth, pulling your PJ’s, perhaps keeping a journal and jotting down ideas or anything on your mind can help you round out your day.
  • LIGHT: your bedroom needs to mostly be dark but having a red lamp or salt lamp can be beneficial as warm light helps signal to the brain sleep is on its way (as opposed to cool blue light from devices).

Use these activities 15-30 minutes before going to bed, with the aim being that you fall asleep within 15-30 mins of ‘lights out’. Hence your bedtime alarm might need to be 30-60 minutes before you need to be asleep.

Get these 3 areas sorted and my bet is, you’ll improve your sleep.

Next time we’ll talk more about what to do when you can’t get to sleep and how to manage insomnia.

Image via Unsplash

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