What happens when you wake up in the morning?
Do you open your eyes and you’re immediately ready to jump straight into your day?
We’re guessing that the answer is no…
You likely have a few things that you do in the morning to help you wake up and ease into your day.
So, just like how you can’t go from 0 to 100 first thing in the morning, you can’t do the reverse and go from 100 to 0 last thing at night either.
Your body and mind need time to wind down and de-stress, making a slow transition from being super busy and alert to being more calm and relaxed.
A sleep ritual is key:
There are many different obstacles that might get in the way of you getting a good night’s sleep, but the biggest one within your control is whether or not you have a good sleep ritual or bedtime routine.
To get better sleep, you often need to build better sleep habits that help with this transition and improve your chances of getting a great night’s sleep.
A sleep ritual is a set of behaviours that help to facilitate good sleep. It tells your brain that it’s time to calm down, focus less on your to-do list, and focus more on falling asleep.
Another benefit of a sleep ritual is that it will put you in control of your evenings, helping to protect you from sleep disruptors that may decrease your chance of sleeping restfully.
The day-time stages of a sleep ritual:
Ideally, getting a good night’s sleep starts in the morning and continues throughout the day.
1) Wake up at the right time:
Help your body get better at waking up in the morning by getting up at around the same time every morning and avoiding the snooze button.
2) Get some sunlight:
Sunlight, especially in the morning, helps you feel more alert. Light also helps your body set its daily sleep-wake cycle which will increase how awake you feel during the day as well as how sleepy you feel at night.
3) Do some exercise:
Doing regular exercise during the day helps to optimise your hormone levels, making you feel more energetic during the day and then calmer and more relaxed at night.
4) Limit caffeine and alcohol intake:
Caffeine is a stimulant that can stay in your body for up to 8-10 hours. Consuming caffeine after around 1pm can interfere with your efforts to fall asleep at night, even if you can no longer feel the stimulatory effect.
Similarly, alcohol can decrease the quality of your sleep at night. Even though drinking alcohol may help you feel more relaxed and, in some cases, fall asleep quicker, it interferes with your body’s ability to go into a deep and restorative sleep.
The evening stages of sleep ritual:
Day-time activities all help set you up for a successful night’s sleep. But as the day comes to an end, your evening sleep ritual becomes even more important. It has a bigger immediate impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep that night.
1) Decide on a reasonable bedtime:
Based on the time that you usually wake up at, work backwards to figure out what time you need to be asleep at in order to ideally get 7-8 hours of sleep.
2) Set a gentle “start shutting down” alarm to go off 1 hour before you need to be asleep:
When this alarm goes off, start getting ready to go to sleep. Stop all stimulating and energising activities and start doing more relaxing or calming activities.
3) Put away the electronic devices once that shutdown alarm goes off:
Artificial light from these devices can interfere with the production of hormones you need to feel sleepier at night and fall into a deep sleep.
These devices, such as TV, computer, tablet, cellphone, etc, are also usually highly stimulating and will prevent your body from fully relaxing before going to sleep.
A brief bit of exposure, such as to check the time or set your watch for sleep mode won’t be an issue but try to minimise your time on electronic devices before bed.
4) Dim the lights:
As you start getting ready for bed, turn off all non-essential lights and show your body that it is actually nighttime outside.
5) Do a “brain dump”:
It’s hard to relax when your mind is racing and full of thoughts, so get whatever is on your mind onto a piece of paper as you start to prepare for bed.
Not only will this help you to organise your thoughts and identify what’s on your mind, but it will also help you to relax knowing you can revisit these thoughts in the morning.
For some people, this might look like a to-do list to take care of the next day, while for others it might be a review of theirs, and for others still, it may just be random memories, worries, or stray thoughts that are floating around.
6) Do something that truly calms you down:
After a busy day, it’s tempting to do things that help you “unwind”, such as watching TV, playing a computer game, browsing social media, or going out and having fun with your friends.
Those activities may have their time and place, but your sleep ritual should focus on calming and relaxing activities that will make you feel sleepier and less stimulated. This might be taking a bath, reading a book, listening to relaxing music, journaling, doing gentle stretches, meditation, or deep breathing exercise.
7) Go to bed on time.
When done repeatedly over time, sticking to a reasonable and consistent bedtime teaches your body when to release the right hormones to help you fall asleep.
You can have the world’s best sleep ritual and bedtime routine, but if you don’t actually get into bed on time and make an effort to fall asleep, it won’t help.
What’s YOUR routine?
The most important thing with a sleep ritual is making it work for you.
You may not be able to do every single one of these recommendations, and that’s OK. Start where you are and do what you can. Small incremental changes will make a big difference to your journey to getting better sleep.
In the beginning, maybe you’re adding in only 1 thing, like listening to some calming music before bed. Or maybe making a small tweak during the day like swapping your coffees after 1pm to decaf. Experiment and notice what works for you, then do more of that more consistently.
Sleep, like everything else in health and fitness, is not “all-or-nothing”. Rather aim for progress rather than perfection because “something” is better than “nothing.