A Better Bedtime: for Grownups
When your days are full of obligations, it can be hard to switch it all off. Ideally, heading to bed should be a peaceful, easy transition. But difficulty winding down is common, and you may find yourself struggling.
When it comes to sleep, predictability serves you best. Your body likes routine in mealtimes and exercise. It also craves regular sleep. A comfortable, natural latex mattress with organic bedding is a great start, but many of us need additional measures.
One helpful approach is to ritualize your bedtime. When you do a sequence of actions every night, in the same order, and at close to the same time, your body and brain can learn your personal sleep cues.
Here’s a simple way to create your own soothing ritual. Start with the three elements common to most bedtime rituals for children. (Remember: the sound sleep of a child is what you’re craving--and there’s nothing childish about tuning into that.)
For kids, splashing’s the best part. For wound-up adults, a hot bath’s a wonder. When you soak in hot water, your body’s core temperature drops to compensate -- and that inner cooling is a biological trigger for sleep. It even helps in summer, as your body cools afterward.
Instead of chemical bubbles, try adding essential oil to your bath (lavender is famous for its relaxing aroma). Or, if your muscles are sore, add Epsom salts (magnesium, another sleep promoter, is most effective when absorbed through the skin).
Now toddle right to bed. Your special drink is waiting.
Although there’s mixed evidence about many drinks believed to aid sleep, there’s no confusion about two types that impede it. For most people, caffeine’s stimulating effect wears off in 4 to 6 hours, but for others it lasts twice as long. So it’s wise to adopt a consistent (and early) caffeine cut-off time. Likewise, although alcohol can help you drift off, it causes shallow, restless sleep all night long. It’s better to make your nightcap non-alcoholic.
Choose a soothing drink that you want to associate with bedtime. Then enjoy it in your ritual as a psychological as much as physical potion. Keep these tips in mind:
- To avoid midnight bathroom visits, take in most of your liquids during the day, and stop after dinner.
- Only have this drink at bedtime. That helps your brain learn the “sleep drink” cue.
- Like other animal foods, milk contains some tryptophan, a sleep-promoting amino acid, but not enough for a direct effect. It’s still a popular choice, most likely because warm milk is a comforting, if subconscious, reminder of infancy.
- Chamomile tea has calmed nerves for centuries (use two tea bags). Other herbs used to aid sleep are valerian, catnip, hops, and passionflower. Or try tart cherry juice, which contains melatonin, a natural sleep hormone.
Experiment with a few to find the drink that helps your body let go of the day.
Sleep scientists say the bed should be used only for sleep or sex--no entertainment, checkbooks, or paperwork. Yet many people struggle to train themselves to just “lie down and sleep.” Years of distracting habits mean many of us find that hard to do.
Why a story? Because it’s not TV. Or email. Or a phone. And skip the e-reader--that light works against sleep. Just choose a pleasantly absorbing novel (not a thriller) and read a chapter every night. Soon, a few pages will start doing the trick. It’s surprising how comforting reading a good story can be. It’s a gift to yourself, just as a bedtime story is to children.
If you have trouble relaxing in silence, try a good audiobook read by a narrator whose voice you find appealing. A human voice telling you a story is comforting, too.
It’s never too late to tuck in your inner child. Or to create a grownup bedtime ritual that will help you sleep like a baby.