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Tips for Creating Your Own Bedtime Ritual

A great bedtime ritual designed just for you can make all the difference.

Today, I want to talk about something I’ve been promising for a while: sleep rituals.

I’ve spoken of sleep rituals in the past and today we are going to dive into how you can create an effective sleep ritual of your own.

This next part may sound a little academic but bear with me just for a second; I’ll bring it all around into something really usable.

Rituals allow us to complete things in a prescribed way. Often people will say something like “my bedtime ritual is to take a bath, brush my teeth, read for a while and then try and go to sleep at the same time each night when I can.” While it is tempting to call that a ritual, it really isn’t.

A ritual is defined as “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Sleep rituals aren’t religious but done properly, they are a solemn performance that prepares you and your body for sleep; they also honor you by providing a time and place for you to focus on yourself.

Research shows that specificity around rituals increases their effectiveness, which is why saying “I go to bed around the same time each night when I can is not as effective as saying “I’ll be in bed each night, ready for sleep at 10 p.m.,” and then doing it. Sure, it takes a bit of work, some grit, and repetition to be consistent, but the payoff is better, more restful sleep.

For the purposes of sleep rituals, I like this secondary definition from Merriam-Webster: “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.“

Developing your sleep ritual

Don’t worry if you aren’t perfect at the ritual you develop for the first few weeks. It takes practice.

One of the most effective ways to develop a new habit is to break it down into smaller steps. Dr. BJ Fogg, a behavioral scientist at Stanford developed a process to create new habits using a process he calls “Tiny Habits.” For example, if Dr. Fogg wants to help someone learn to floss, rather than having them start with flossing all their teeth every day, he has them floss one tooth a day for a period of time, over a short period they become more compelled to floss more and over time develop a complete habit. He uses this successfully in many formats from flossing teeth to losing weight and more. He has a free course on learning the tiny habit process here if you’d like more information you can also watch his TED talk here.

First, pick a specific time of night you will commit to being in bed, ready to sleep. This may be the hardest part and the first place to start in developing your ritual but committing is the key to success. I encourage you to use my sleep calculator to determine your bedtime and to ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep.

Work your way backward and determine how long you need to begin prior to your committed bedtime. A good ritual can last from half an hour to an hour.

Next, determine which activities you’ll want to do and the order in which will do them, it is important to determine the items and order in which you’ll do them. When you begin developing your ritual, you can test different activities to see which are most effective for you.

Here is a small list of things you may include in your ritual:

  • Take a warm bath or shower with a cool-down period before bed – The warming and rapid temperature change can help stimulate sleep.
  • Personal hygiene – Your normal evening hygiene should be a part of your ritual. If you don’t have a specific hygiene routine just include something simple like washing your face, flossing, and brushing your teeth or anything else that feels right for you.
  • Journaling – Writing about your day can have a calming effect and reduce anxiety.
  • List making – Simply list all the things that you need to do the following day or things that are currently in your conscious mind; then, you can pick them up the next day and not think about them as you go to sleep.
  • MeditateMeditation has many documented anxiety and stress-reducing outcomes and may help you relax and fall asleep faster.
  • Drink a non-caffeinated beverage – sipping a warm beverage can also have a calming effect and give you time to begin to relax, I like banana tea or a cup of hot water with lemon and raw honey.
  • Stop looking at screens 60-90 minutes before bed – if you must, then wear blue light-blocking glasses.
  • Spend a few moments connecting with your spouse, children, or significant other – Talk about whatever is necessary, it can help reduce anxiety. Connecting with loved ones can create deeper emotional bonds and be calming for all.

Here’s a sample ritual to get you started. Find one that works for you and that you can commit to, you and your sleep will be better and more effective for it:

  • Bedtime: 10:00 p.m.
  • 8:30 p.m. – Turn off screens or put on blue-blocking glasses
  • 8:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. – Conversations with the people in your home
  • 9:00 p.m.-9:15 p.m. – Sip a cup of banana tea. Here’s what you’ll need: 1 normal-sized ripe banana and 2 cups boiling water. Cut off ¼ inch of the top and bottom ends of the banana. Leave the peel on and cut the banana in half, horizontally. Place two banana halves into boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Strain banana water into a cup. Add a drop of raw honey (my favorite) or cinnamon if desired.
  • 9:15 p.m.-9:25 p.m. – Journaling or list making – The Five Minute Journal is great and has the benefit of giving you a quick morning routine as well. This particular journal also gives you journaling prompts that make journaling easy. If you choose not to journal, then list the things that are running around in your head, just write them down so they have a place to rest while you do.
  • 9:25 p.m. – 9:40 p.m. – Personal hygiene
  • 9:40 p.m.-9:50 p.m. – Meditation or rhythmic breathing
  • 9:50 p.m.-10:00 p.m. – Put on an eyeshade, ear plugs, or any other sleep devices you may need, get into bed and go to sleep.

Customize a routine for yourself, make it yours, make it sacred, your sleep should be sacred, you deserve a restful night of sleep and it is necessary for a long and healthful life. You deserve time for yourself, to focus on you, and you deserve to rest through the night. The key to success is repeating the ritual each night, making it a part of who you are.

Have fun developing your ritual. Try developing a ritual and practicing for 30 days and see how you feel. I’m willing to bet you’ll be feeling better and sleeping better.

Sweet Dreams,
Dr. Breus

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