Health and Wellness

How to Establish a Soothing Bedtime Ritual

August 16, 2021

If you’ve ever put a child to bed, or remember bedtime struggles as a kid yourself, you’re familiar with the “Jack-in-the-box” effect. They appear to be down for the night but, as you’re leaving the room, they pop back up saying they are thirsty or scared or want you to read them one more book. Think about your own bedtime habits and you will see a similar pattern of resistance to sleep.

You climb in early and plan to be asleep by 10pm. But, when you next look at the clock, it is after midnight and you don’t know what happened. Scrolling on your phone or binge-watching shows might have something to do with it. You awaken the next morning, groggy and irritable and swear tonight will be different, but it rarely is.

Most of us are overtired and wish we got more sleep. We are adults in charge of our own schedules. Why can’t we just turn off our light early and get the sleep we need?

Because most adults are as challenging to put to bed as children.

Transitioning from being awake to sleeping is a mental hurdle for young and old. Let’s take a look at this pattern of resistance so we can learn how to put ourselves to bed successfully.

We put bedtime on the back burner

Sleep is one of many requirements for happiness, health and beauty and most of us put it last on our list. Why do we prioritize exercise, eating well, taking vitamins, meditating, acupuncture, yoga, getting our hair done, buying new clothes and countless other habits over getting adequate sleep? Maybe because the quest for more sleep stresses us out.

It’s all about the transition

Most of us have trouble with transitions, no matter what age we are.

Scientists have discovered that most people require a transition period to successfully move into sleep. We cannot expect to rip ourselves away from the TV or scrolling through social media and drift off to sleep like we’re on a mattress commercial. An abrupt bedtime does not work for a child and it doesn’t work for us.

Sleep is a vulnerable state

Something we don’t often think about is that sleep is a vulnerable state. We are going from an alert, guarded state during our waking hours to one of complete surrender in sleep. It makes sense that we need to feel nurtured, relaxed and safe as we ease into sleep. How can we support our transition to sleep?

Ideas for creating a bedtime ritual that really works

Experiment to find rituals that work for you.

Don’t give yourself too many or bedtime will feel like a chore. Even one ritual before bed would be a great start. When these bedtime steps become habitual, your body and mind will automatically shift toward sleep upon performing them.

  1. Take a bath with essential oils. Many promote sleep, such as lavender, rose, and valerian.

2.  Upon entering your bedroom, place your devices in a beautiful box or tray across the room from your bed. Soon, this will become a habit and won’t require as much willpower.

3. Pick up an actual book or magazine and let it transport you away from your day. Reading takes us back to the simpler times of youth.

4. Listen to a short, guided meditation or soothing music. There are many free apps.

5. Do 5 minutes of slow, easy breathing. Drape a cozy blanket around your shoulders.

6. Pick three yoga stretches and do them before climbing into bed.

7. Make yourself a cup of herbal tea or a light snack. For people who eat dinner at 5pm-6pm, a snack at bedtime can help them fall asleep.

8. Have a journal by your bed where you can write down your worries from the day. This practice is proven to reduce anxiety before sleep. 

9. Talk to yourself about why you need to go to sleep now. Remind yourself you will feel better in the morning. It’s comforting to do this and, at the very least, you might make yourself laugh.

10. Always make your bed. It shows you that you’re a person who takes care of yourself.

If it helps, imagine how you would assist a loved one who is having trouble transitioning to sleep and give that support to yourself. Looking at our relationship with healthy sleep habits can open up a whole new doorway to self-care. Once you get the hang of self-care, you may find you really enjoy it!