Nighttime has always been a struggle. For me, bed is often a place of maddening frustration, where I toss and turn and really let the anxieties of the day take flight. I’d sooner stay up until 3am sorting mail than attempt to crawl into bed at a decent hour. Fighting to get to sleep is that unappealing to me.
But these days, when health has become our most prized commodity, I’m realizing it’s time to smarten up about my sleep habits. Now more than ever, I want to be at my healthiest—for myself and my family. And while I already have the balanced diet and exercise part down (well, mostly), my next step in boosting my health is to fill up on good, quality sleep. But how? I started by contacting two experts who encouraged me to start with a simple, structured bedtime routine. “A bedtime routine signals your brain that it’s time to wind down. It’s a conditioned response which can help decrease sleep onset,” said Dr. Sarah Mitchell, the founder of Helping Babies Sleep and a member of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
You don’t need an elaborate bedtime routine.
Our nighttime rituals don’t need to be lengthy ordeals, but they do need to center around one idea: consistency. Do the same actions in the same order night after night to tell your body that it’s time to relax, said Christine Stevens, a sleep coach for exhausted parents.
She tells me that it’s important to give our bodies and brains time to decompress from the day. But how many of us actually take this time for ourselves? I know I certainly don’t. I’d be lying, too, if I didn’t admit that sometimes Netflix can be my bedtime routine. But I’m working to change that. To that end, I’ve sampled a host of calming practices from breath work to journaling to a CBD oil from Equilibria all in an effort to send me smoothly off to dreamland. Here’s what worked.
You do not have to do all of these to create a healthy bedtime routine—choosing even just one or two practices can make a big difference!
1. CBD Oil
I have a friend who swears by CBD oil, so I have always been interested in trying it myself. But something—be it pregnancy, nursing, or uncertainty about the product itself—has always held me back. Then, I was introduced to Equilibria and the company’s transparency, sourcing practices, and expertise immediately put me at ease. Of course, it also helped to know that CBD, a substance naturally found in hemp plants, is perfectly legal and does not produce a high.
With the help of one of the company’s specialists, I customized a plan, incorporating the Daily Drops into my nightly routine (though, this product is suitable for daytime use, too). With the drops, as opposed to the capsules, you can expect to feel the balancing effects more immediately, which is what I’m after. I’m eager to see how CBD impacts my nighttime tension with consistent use.
New to CBD? Try this to see what’s best for you…
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As per FDA guidelines, Equilibria CBD is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or ailment. As always, consult with your physician before starting any new program that may interact with your current health plan.
2. A Hot Shower
By the time my girls go to bed, my mental energy is spent. I don’t want to think about anything, much less seemingly frivolous ways to relax myself. That’s why I love Dr. Mitchell’s advice to take a hot shower one hour before hitting the hay. There are no candles or soft music necessary—and there’s nothing I have to do except jump in the shower and let the water work its magic. Dr. Mitchell tells me that the warmth of the water will increase our bodies’ temperatures initially, and then the resulting decrease will help prime anyone for a good night’s sleep. It requires no brain power and I love not struggling to squeeze in shower time the next day when my little ones are running around.
After a stressful day, connecting to your body through a series of slow, gentle yoga poses can be equal parts nourishing and calming. There’s no need to squeeze in a full sequence before bed—just a handful of movements to ground yourself will do. This seven-minute yoga flow is a low-commitment way to ease into a restful night’s sleep. One tip I picked up from a yoga instructor friend? Some poses, such as Downward Dog, can be energizing, so do your homework.
When I want to keep things extra simple (like when I’ve Netflixed too long and have to be in bed stat!), I’ll practice Viparita Karani, or legs up the wall pose, and do a simple breathing exercise. This one is as easy as can be and all you need is to lay with your back flat on the floor with your legs extended up the wall before you. Ensure you scoot your body as close to the wall as you can and then soak in this deeply relaxing situation, breathing in for the count of 4 and exhaling for 6.
4. Self Massage
When it comes to drifting off to sleep with ease, don’t underestimate the power of touch—even if it is your own. A super simple massage before bed on your hands, feet, or neck can mean the difference between snoozing soundly and counting sheep. I have been taking two minutes each night to run my thumbs down the length of my neck and over the base of my skull. I hold a lot of tension in my body, so I like to apply as much pressure as I can–but there are no rules here and how you proceed is totally up to you.
You can also stimulate acupressure points as you go. I learned about the An Mian, or Peaceful Sleep, point from Ashlie R. Martin, a Licensed Acupuncturist and owner of Moon Hill Acupuncture. She said, “This point is used to relax the nervous system and allow the mind to drift off to sleep.” Finding it on myself took some practice; it’s located on the bone behind the ear, about 2 finger-widths from the earlobe. Martin recommends massaging this point clockwise for 1-2 minutes, or until you feel drowsy.
5. Practice Gratitude
I’ve found that the simplest way to end the day on a happy note is to make a list of what I’m grateful for. Recent studies suggest that doing so can have a myriad of health benefits, from improved mood to a better night’s sleep. Each night, I focus on the little things and I give thanks for moments like these: finding my girls cozied up together and lost in a good book; my husband greeting me with a surprise cup of coffee, or the lilacs in the yard suddenly bursting into bloom.
It doesn’t matter how you record what you’re grateful for, whether it’s in a dedicated journal or on a running mental list. It’s the process of drumming up ideas that matters. Resist the temptation, however, to jot down notes on your phone. Research tells us that the blue light our screens emit can have detrimental effects on our sleep patterns if used at bedtime.
If you’ve ever felt intimidated by the meditation community, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you. I have tried my hand at a practice more times than I can count and each ends in a quiet declaration of, “Yup, this is not for me.” My mind is too active. However, research shows that those who meditate regularly have fewer sleep disturbances like trouble falling or staying asleep. And since I’d like to be counted among those folks, I committed to trying meditation once again. This time, though, I didn’t go in unarmed. The Calm app has fast become my go-to tool for bedtime. There are dozens of sleep-specific meditations to choose from, along with a library of audio stories meant to promote rest (narrated by people such as Lucy Liu and Matthew McConaughey no less!). I’ll admit, my mind still wanders, but with an audio track running, it’s easier to fall back in step.
7. Progressive Relaxation
Our bodies hold our stress and anxieties, even if our minds don’t always recognize them. Shake them loose before you drift off to sleep with a progressive relaxation exercise. Lying in bed, focus on tensing each muscle group one at a time, holding for a moment and releasing before moving onto the next. I like the prescriptive nature of this practice, especially when my mind is filled with to-do lists and worries. There’s less time for my brain to wander when it has a job to do in every moment, tensing and relaxing each area of my body.
8. Breath Work
Sometimes my mind is too jumpy for even a guided meditation or progressive relaxation exercise. It simply can’t settle in and I end up wasting my time and reaching for Instagram instead. In these moments, a simple practice called Alternate Nostril Breathing can be a helpful way to calm down. It’s also a really great place to start if you’re brand new to meditating. This exercise involves breathing in through one nostril and out through the other, closing off one side as you go. You can find full instructions here. It may feel a little funny at first—especially in this era where we’ve been trained not to touch our faces (side note: wash your hands!)—but this is my most tried and true method for grounding myself and relaxing enough to sleep.
This post was in partnership with Equilibria but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board.