The Magick of Bedtime Routines

June 18, 2021

This blog post is all about The Magick of Bedtime Routines! Thank you so much for being here. I’m looking forward to sharing some ideas to help you create your own calming, fulfilling bedtime routine. We will also be covering the topic of therapeutic sleep hygiene.

sleep hygiene

This post has been inspired by my personal wellness journey as well as the sleep hygiene protocol from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Implementing even just one of these tips can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of sleep. I will share what the current research says about sleep hygiene, and how I use these skills in my everyday life. Hopefully, you’ll gain some inspiration to create some valuable rituals for bedtime.

consistency is actually really important

Following a consistent sleep schedule is key, even on weekends. This seems to be where many people struggle, but it can make a huge impact and provides a solid start to improving sleep hygiene. If you’re able, choose a bedtime and a waking time that you are willing to commit to. Consistent sleep has been known to improve depressive and anxiety symptoms as well as improve cognitive function (Bei Bei et. al, 2017), (Finan, P. 2015), and (Lyall et. al, 2018).

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nutrition and movement

A solid bedtime routine truly begins hours before you cozy up under the covers. Research suggests avoiding caffeine (Drake, C. et. al., 2013), nicotine, alcohol, heavy meals, and exercise later in the day. I try to choose non-caffeinated teas before bedtime and prioritize keeping meals before 7pm. This is especially helpful if you experience acid reflux symptoms like I do. If you are hungry, though, please do eat! I keep snacks light and avoid choices that irritate my stomach or trigger reflux. Some of my favorite late night snacks are an apple, a banana with almond butter or pistachios.

If you drink alcohol and/or smoke, it may help to slow down a few hours before bedtime. If intense exercise too late in the day keeps you tossing and turning at night, hope is not lost. Many people enjoy opting for light yoga, a slow to  moderate paced walk or gentle stretching later in the afternoon or evening.

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calming evening and bedtime habits

Creating evening and bedtime rituals that support inner peace, calm and rest can be so helpful (especially for highly sensitive people, like me). Nightly rituals that you may wish to consider are hobbies or activities that are less likely to be overstimulating or too physically energizing. Some of my favorites are reading, meditation, journaling (especially gratitude journaling) and coloring. I also really love mindfully making a cup of tea or moon milk, listening to binaural beats and enjoying aromatherapy. My bedtime aromatherapy essentials? An oil diffuser, lavender-filled eye mask and valerian root face mask.

Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash

creating your sacred sleeping space

Creating a sacred bedtime space can be helpful, as well. This means reserving your bed strictly for bedtime rituals, sleep and intimacy. Try to avoid using your bed during the daytime for activities such as reading, using electronics, watching television, talking on the phone, etc.

lighting and screen time

Mindful lighting also aids in melatonin production and relaxation. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in the natural sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels rise in the bloodstream at night when the lighting gets low. This is partially why harsh light can keep us awake longer, so avoiding screen use and reducing bright lights can help to prepare the body for sleep. I personally try not to use my phone, computer or Nintendo after 8pm, but most healthcare professionals seem to agree that logging off at least 20 minutes before bedtime is recommended. I also really enjoy pink salt lamps and the soft glow of faerie/holiday lights.

bedroom temperature and physical comfort

Your room should ideally be comfortable and relatively cool. Rather than turning up the thermostat, some people opt for heated/electric blankets. Weighted blankets may also help soothe anxiety and overstimulated nervous systems. If you’re feeling too hot and cannot change the room temperature, it may help to poke your feet outside the covers or use a fan. Some other helpful items to work with sensory comfort include earplugs, eye/sleeping masks and white noise machines.

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still having trouble sleeping?

If you haven’t fallen asleep after you’ve given yourself 30 minutes to an hour, it may be time to revisit some of the tips above and/or consider if there are other concerns that need to be addressed, such as physical and/or mental health symptoms. If you’re experiencing poor sleep that you’re having trouble resolving, there are options.

seek opinions from your treatment team

If you’ve been pretty consistent in implementing the above tips and are still struggling with poor sleep, it may be time to consider some medical and/or more focused behavioral health interventions, as well. First and foremost, consider if you need to have a chat with your physician.

Therapists often work with primary physicians, sleep specialists and neurologists when patients are experiencing difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and/or generally not getting restful sleep. There are definitely physical medical concerns that can impact a person’s quality of sleep, such as hormone imbalances, sleep apnea, acid reflux, and many more. There may also be mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, among others. The bottom line is that mental health (and sleep hygiene skills) are only one part of the story. This is why we work with treatment teams, because wellness includes many aspects of our lives and requires multiple interventions (even if simply for maintenance). This is why we have dentists, optometrists, therapists, primary care physicians, and so on.

limited healthcare access?

If you cannot afford needed healthcare (in the United States), you may try exploring options through healthcare.gov. The healthcare system in the United States needs a ton of work, especially the government-run programs. If you find that you’re having trouble navigating these systems, please reach out to a professional or advocate who is familiar with these programs. We have professionals for this because so many people experience difficulty with it. Making an appointment at your local Community Mental Health Center is usually a solid start. The Case Managers are specialized in assisting people and families in navigating these systems.

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try some more focused behavioral health interventions and/or see a mental health provider

There are therapy skills that may help some sleep problems. If you’re finding that anxiety, ruminating and overthinking are disrupting your precious shuteye, here are some tips using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Skills and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’s Sleep Hygiene Protocol:

  1. Reassure yourself and try to self-soothe using cognitive skills. This might look like gently reminding yourself that you’re experiencing “middle of the night worry/thinking.” You might feel and think differently in the morning.
  2. Focus mindfully on a body sensation that accompanies the worry. Try to notice any emotions that show up. If you’re in emotional pain and/or experiencing physical pain that cannot be resolved right away, it may also help to practice self-compassion.
  3. Try breathing exercises and/or meditation practices. Linehan recommends the 9-0 meditation practice. Count down as you breathe slowly, deeply, mindfully. Each inhale and exhale (together) equal one count total. Track your count on each exhale. Once you reach zero, do more inhale-exhale sequences starting with the even numbers (8-0, then 6-0, then 4-0, then 2-0). Continue then starting with odd numbers (7-0, 5-0, 3-0, 1-0). If you get lost, start over with the most recent number you can remember. Continue until you fall asleep (Linehan, 2015).
  4. The DBT Skills Manual also suggests reading an emotionally engrossing novel for a few minutes until you feel slightly sleepy. Then, stop reading and close your eyes. Try to continue the story in your imagination until you drift off into sleep (Linehan, 2015).
  5. If you continue to worry, overthink or ruminate, consider whether your worry can be solved. When you can solve a problem, then do that. If you cannot solve it, try to delve deeper into cognitive skills and coping ahead. This may look like considering the worst case scenario (or catastrophe). Sometimes, preparing and rehearsing coping strategies for the worst case scenario (and then self-soothing/calming afterward) can provide some relief. To take this even further, some people also ask themselves what the best case scenario is. Then, consider what is most likely. Usually, the worst case scenario isn’t the most likely – and, if it is, well, you’ve prepared for that! It may not be ideal, but typically life will go on regardless (try practicing radical acceptance).

references and resources

Bei Bei et. al. (2017). Too Long, Too Short, or Too Variable? Sleep Intraindividual Variability and Its Associations With Perceived Sleep Quality and Mood in Adolescents During Naturalistically Unconstrained Sleep, Sleep, Volume 40, Issue 2. Website: https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/40/2/zsw067/2662322.

Drake, C. et. al. (2013). Too Long, Too Short, or Too Variable? Sleep Intraindividual Variability and Its Associations With Perceived Sleep Quality and Mood in Adolescents During Naturalistically Unconstrained Sleep, Sleep, Volume 40, Issue 2. Website: https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.3170.

Finan, P. (2015). Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3 or 6 Hours before Going to Bed, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Volume 9, Issue 11. Website: https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/38/11/1735/2662282.

Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press.

Lyall, L. et. al. (2018). Association of disrupted circadian rhythmicity with mood disorders, subjective wellbeing, and cognitive function: a cross-sectional study of 91 105 participants from the UK Biobank. Website: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29776774/.

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