Part of living a healthy, happy life is getting enough quality sleep. There have been countless articles and studies published about the importance of sleep for our health and happiness. It is during the sleep cycle that we are able to slow our body processes enough to allow for more of our energy to be put toward healing and restoration. Unfortunately, for many, that can be difficult to come by - we carve out space in our schedules to make more time for sleep, and are so stressed out that we sleep poorly, or we are so busy and active during the day that we sleep soundly once we hit the pillow, but we hit it later than we meant to leaving less time than we'd like to recover before that morning alarm call. How can we work to balance the two?
One way to help with this dilemma is to establish a sleep ritual. A sleep ritual is simply a routine you can implement to help your body/mind/spirit begin the process of slowing down and preparing for sleep.
There's no one style of sleep ritual that works for everyone, but there are some common practices that can be used effectively by most folks. I've listed six basics of sleep-ritual-building below. Feel encouraged to mix and match them as you see fit.
6 Ingredients for a Healthy Sleep Ritual:
1. Timing. Set a regular bedtime and wake time and stick to it - every day. Our bodies are designed by Nature to go down
with the sun and rise with the sun. If that's not an option for you - and it's not for many - it's still helpful to establish a regular routine of sleep time and waking time. It will mimic those circadian rhythms enough to provide your body with some notion of when to start winding down.
2. Un-plug. An hour or two before your established bedtime, 'unplug' yourself from all your electronic devices. This is a good time to power down your devices for an overnight charge, which is just what you're doing for your body/mind/spirit as you sleep. Too much staring at lighted screens can stimulate your brain activity, as well as put strain on your eyes. Giving your self time to recover from this stimulation and strain before sinking into dreamland can make a huge difference in your ability to transition to sleep quickly and easily.
3. Empty your mind. In these stressful modern lifestyles we live, it can be easy to find ourselves settling into bed at night only to be met with a barrage of thoughts, ponderings and ideas. This mental chatter can be very difficult to ignore when it's just it and us in a dark room. It can be very helpful to set aside some time to acknowledge these thoughts and give them passage before we lie down at night. Two really powerful ways to do this are journaling and meditation. Use one or both. Just give yourself an opportunity to empty your mind before settling in for the night.
4. Empty your body. Going to bed with a too full belly or bladder can make for an uncomfortable night's sleep. It's best to get most of your hydration and nutrition earlier in the day so you can start weaning yourself as night approaches. Keep a glass of water by your bed to curb any possibilities of midnight thirst. And go to bed a little bit hungry. It will help to stimulate your appetite for a big cleansing and nourishing breakfast, thus reinforcing the cycle's rhythm.
5. Move yourself into stillness. It can be incredibly beneficial to move your body in some gentle, but deep stretching movements before retiring for the night. This allows any unspent built up energy to be consumed leaving your body ready to fully relax and release into sleep. This can be especially helpful for those who suffer from sleep-born tension and restless leg syndrome and other similar maladies.
6. Create a sleep space that is conducive to sleep. Your sleep space should be dark and cool and free of loud, disruptive noises. It is preferable to remove any items from your sleep space that are used for tasks other than sleeping, such as televisions, computers, papers that need tending to, and such. The idea is to mimic nighttime whether you are retiring at nine o'clock at night or two o'clock in the afternoon.
And, one last, if obvious, bonus tip for improving your sleep quality, which isn't really a part of establishing a sleep ritual: Avoid caffeine. If you can't avoid it altogether, then at least relegate your consumption to the earliest part of your waking time.
So, now you have some tools to help you improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Experiment with what works for you, and disregard what doesn't.