Creating the perfect evening ritual can be an important part of your sleep plan. Getting the best night's sleep possible is necessary for optimal health and well-being, especially mental health and emotional well-being. If sleeping well and awakening happy are things that challenge you, this guide is for you. Part 6 of my ongoing Mental Health Monday series will help you create the perfect evening ritual to help you achieve your best night's sleep ever.
When children are learning to sleep through the night, many pediatricians will recommend a calming nighttime routine. Over time, the child learns to associate a specific pattern of actions as a cue for sleep. This works because of our brain's ability to learn over time through repetition, and thus is true for adults as well. Creating a consistent soothing nighttime ritual for yourself will help you learn to sleep well. As with all of my guides, please take what works, fix what doesn't, and leave the rest. This is intended to assist you in finding the perfect evening ritual for you, so please make it yours. And as always, above all else: try it!
Most of us have a tendency to carry the stress of our work-day home from us. And even if we work from home, or otherwise stay at home, there is still stress! Stress and worry can cause the mind to be overactive, which keep you from having you best night's sleep. So before you can begin any sort of sleep process, it's vital to release the stress of your day. Watch an episode of your favourite show or read a chapter in a book. If you're a gamer, sit down in front of your favourite video game and blow off some steam. Just set a timer on your phone so that you don't wind up playing (or reading or watching) all night. If gaming isn't your gig, then try something else like talking to a friend or family member about your stressful day and feelings, or writing them down in your journal. If exercise helps you clear you mind, go do that. Take a shower. Do whatever it takes to get your mind out of the worry/stress cycle.
Get Some Help
If it's difficult for you to unwind in the evening, try incorporating more soothing things into your nighttime routine. Chamomile, peppermint, lavender, lemon balm, and other herbs are excellent relaxants. You can buy prepackaged blends or come up with your own. The warmth will also help with soothing yourself to sleep. If tea isn't your thing, you can also try herbal sleep supplements in capsule form such as melatonin or valerian. Your local health-food store should have a wide selection as well as knowledgeable staff. You can also always try taking a hot bath or a calming yoga-sequence.
Once you're past the point of needing an electronic device to help you unwind or de-stress, put it away or turn it off for the evening. If you need your device to play music or something similar, turn on night mode and dim your screen as much as possible. Only use the device for your sleep needs. Don't check email, surf social media, or any other activity. Your brain needs to unwind and you are working to create a controlled environment for optimal results. So if you must use your device, make sure it is for carefully curated tasks such as listening to sleep audios.
Listen to Something Soothing
Speaking of listening to sleep audios, listening to something soothing is a great way to fall asleep. There are plenty of soothing audio tracks designed to help you sleep, including nature sounds, solfreggio frequencies, binaural beats, and even guided meditations. I recommend creating a playlist directly on your device instead of running them through a streaming service (unless you have purchased an ad free upgrade). This is because ads can interrupt your sleep cycle with an abrupt change in volume or other disruptive sounds. And, even if the ad doesn't wake you, you now have someone's advertising pumping directly into the most sensitive levels of your brain. You might as well submit for voluntary brainwashing.
Say a Mantra
I have a specific mantra that I say to myself every night as I am getting ready to fall asleep. It functions as a signal to my brain that it's time to unwind and begin the sleep process. Mine is a saying from Dr Wayne Dyer, but you can use anything you like. This would be a great time for some positive affirmative statement such as, "I fall asleep easily and deeply. I dream peaceful and happy dreams. I awaken fully energized and excited to start my day." If you are a praying person, this would also be a great time for prayer. You can also make a list of all of your favourite parts of the day. Basically, you are deliberately choosing positive thoughts and signalling to your brain that it is time to shift modes of consciousness. These happy thoughts will help create a happy dream-state. Ever watched a horror movie before bed and then had nightmares all night long? This practice is the opposite: deliberately cultivating positive thoughts for the best dreams possible.
Dream Your Ideal Life
My favourite part of the pre-bed ritual came from a book by Jennifer O'Neill. When I'm finally through the rest of my evening ritual, I close my eyes for the night and eagerly begin dreaming my ideal life. The idea is to imagine what your perfect life would look like. In this imaginative world, you have free reign without rules. Want to be a millionaire? You are. Want to be a superhero? You are. Whatever it is that you can imagine, do that. Every night before sleep, focus on creating your ideal dream life. You will become more and more familiar with this place and it will be another cue to your brain by falling asleep. By entering the dream-state from your happiest possible place, you are aiming to have the best possible dreams and awaken feeling refreshed and happy in the morning.
Once you have found a system that is working for you, keep doing it. Even if you go on vacation, keep to your evening ritual. Ideally, you want to start it at the same time every evening so that you are going to bed the same time every night. This repetition helps to establish a healthy sleep rhythm. Even if you can't go to bed at the same time every night, repeating your evening ritual will be an important cue to your brain that it is time to sleep. As with all things, practice makes perfect.