Like me, are you on overdrive thinking of ways to keep yourself and your family healthy?
One of the most important things you can do to keep your immune system strong and resilient is to make sure you're sleeping well. (I know... so easy when life = 100% anxiety.) Better sleep is regularly associated with better health overall. And, of course, as we all know — when you do get sick, rest and fluids are often the answer.
Most adults need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep for optimal function. Do you know your magic number? I, for one, quickly feel it when I don’t hit my minimum of 9 hours.
Sleep is sacred in my house. We are all early risers, so we all have to go to bed early, too. Knowing my sleep requirement, and working backwards from our rising time of 6 or 6:15am, I need to be in bed at 9pm to get sufficient sleep.
If I'm not well rested, there's no way I'm getting through my day with a positive attitude and loads of patience, creativity, and flexibility. All of which are absolute necessities for my new reality in the time of COVID19.
My new reality is difficult (but really not that bad).
Right now, my days consist of working from home; going to school online; homeschooling my boys; parenting my boys; cooking three meals a day; cleaning and disinfecting on the regular; and responding to interruptions every 10 minutes for a snack. (And, I'm truly blessed to be able to all of these things from my home. Thank you.)
But, if I’m not well rested, there’s no way I’m getting through my day. Much less all the days, weeks, and months to come.
I support quality sleep by treating myself much like an infant.
That's right: with a regular, predictable sleep routine that starts at roughly the same time every night. I don’t always need all the steps I outline below, depending on my current level of anxiety. I choose the steps I need to suit where I am.
If you’re struggling with sleep, I encourage you to develop a sleep routine that you make a regular part of your day. Here are the 4 key steps in a sleep routine for adults.
My 4-Step Sleep Routine (for adults)
Ground Rules: Reserve your bedroom for rest and sex.
That’s right. Sorry. No phone, iPad, computer, TV, workout equipment, laundry, etc.. They’ll undo all the good you do by establishing a sleep routine.
By restricting what activities you do in the bedroom, you'll train your body to know that this room is a place for rest and pleasure. You’ll soon get a Pavlovian response when you enter your sanctuary.
If you must read in bed, avoid murder mysteries, political thrillers, and zombie series. In other words, anything heart pounding (that isn’t sex LOL). My favorites for reading at bedtime when I'm particularly stressed with sleeplessness are books that I've already read and adore. Gimme Jane Austen! I need something that keeps me engaged enough to let my anxieties go, but that doesn't pull me to the proverbial edge of my seat.
Now that we've established the ground rules... onto the steps.
Step 1: Start earlier than you think.
It’s really easy right now to want to stay up later than usual (for one, to see my husband; for two, to have just a little bit of time to myself without the kiddos). But even one night up late throws me off. And I treasure the way I feel when I have a good night’s sleep. Especially now.
Staying up too late -- in other words, extending daytime past its natural limits -- can wreak havoc on your sleep. (And you know how Dunkin Kehn feels about beauty sleep.)
So, start earlier. Aim to wind down by 9pm. That doesn't mean you have to get in bed at 9, but at least start tuning your environment down. (Does that sound insanely early for your household? See what you can do within your constraints. Try just a half-hour earlier for your first week, then go from there.)
Two simple ways to start the process:
💫 Change the lighting. Tune it way down, either by using your dimmers or lighting some candles.
💫 Play soothing music. Nature sounds can be particularly helpful.
Step 2: Give yourself a massage.
Yup, you’ve dimmed the lights or lit a candle (or 20) and turned on some calming music. Now spread out a fluffy towel in a warm room and prepare for a loving self-massage. Called abhyanga in the Ayurvedic tradition, self-massage with plenty of heated oil helps soothe the nervous system and nourish your tissues on a deep layer. (It also happens to promote glowing skin. Just sayin’.)
Sesame oil is a great choice for most people this time of year. Warm the oil by placing it, in its container, into a cup or bowl of hot water for a few minutes. While it’s warming up, you may as well slather on a mask.
To massage, start at your feet (toes, cuticles, tops and bottoms of feet) then work your way up. As you move up the body, use circular motions around the joints, and long strokes on the long bones. My favorite part is the belly; circular motions here help promote digestion and are deeply calming. (The method: move your hands from left hip point to right hip point to right lower ribs to left lower ribs. Now make it circular. Continue in this pattern.)
Don’t be afraid of using plenty of oil. More important than the method of massage is the quantity of oil!
Once you’re done, throw on a fluffy robe and prevent slipping with some soft socks. Let the oil soak in as you continue the rest of your evening hygiene.
Step 3: Drink a cup of warm milk or mylk.
Yes, just like a baby. Because a sleep routine is all about self soothing. Warm milk will help you slow down and calm down. And, the fat content will give you a reassuring feeling of fullness that will help you sleep better through the night.
In Ayurveda, cow’s milk is revered. If you do use dairy, try to opt for organic, non-factory-farmed. (Don’t be afraid of the fat content in 2% or whole milk.) If you’re dairy-free like me, use the fattiest plant milk you can find. I’m crazy for the nut milks from @elmhurst1925, which taste homemade.
Step 4: Take a warm bath or shower.
After 10 minutes or more of soaking up that soothing oil, take a warm bath or shower to remove any oil that hasn’t been absorbed.
Don’t make it too hot, which can be stimulating, and therefore not sleep inducing. Roughly imagine being inside a uterus. That’s the feeling we’re going for. (We’ve all been there, ya hear?)
Resist the urge to wash off the oil with soap. Rather, let the warm water help it penetrate more deeply. Pat yourself dry. If your skin tends to be hyper-dry — like mine with all the forced-air heat — seal in the moisture (oily abhyanga) and hydration (shower / bath) with a lotion.
Finally, soothe yourself with comfortable sleepwear and hop in bed.
Extra Credit: Give yourself sensorial support.
(image courtesy of de Mamiel)
If sleep is a real challenge for you, consider these additional ways to promote restful sleep:
- Aromatherapy. Choose soothing scents designed to help you fall and stay asleep. I love what Annee has created at De Mamiel. Her Sleep Series has a formula to address each of your sleep concerns, as well as solutions to help you feel a bit brighter the day following a poor night’s sleep. Roll these on your pulse points or place a few drops on a tissue between your pillow and pillowcase. (Need help choosing the right oil for you? Email me.)
- Weighted blanket. They’re the rage, and with good reason. The weighted blanket helps keep the nervous system soothed and helps you go back to sleep if you do wake up. If, like me, you get more than a touch claustrophobic under all that weight, I highly recommend a heavy, woven cotton blanket without tassels from Yoga Accessories. I double this over and lay it on top of the rest of my covers for added weight without too much heat.
- Visualization. I love to soothe myself to sleep with a calming visualization. My favorite is picturing (and imagining I can hear) a field of tall grasses blowing in a gentle breeze. But yours can be anything that helps you feel calm. Engaging many senses in your "visualization" is helpful: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.
Sleep well. Then rise and shine.
These methods use the principles of nature to soothe the body into slumber in the evenings. Of course, how you spend your day matters, too. A regular schedule, fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and meditation will also contribute mightily to a better night's rest. Yet, in these unprecedented times, we may have little control over how we are able to spend our days. So let's see if we can find the space to collect ourselves at the end of the day and prepare for a good night's sleep. For me, it's the only way I can deliver my best self tomorrow.
How is your sleep right now? Better? Worse? About the same? Does a sleep routine sound like too much work, or just what the doctor ordered?