Setting a nightly routine helps you wind down from the day, increasing the likelihood that you’ll fall asleep faster and get more out of your sleep. Sleep is so important for your health, and as I’m sure you’ve read, it’s important for weight-loss and maintaining a healthy weight. For more information on that, read this fascinating recent article in the NYTimes Well Blog. To sum up the article, duration of sleep affects the amount and type of foods you choose to consume, as well as your body’s reaction to that food (insulin sensitivity).
“Dr. Brady said that while better sleep would not solve the obesity problem, paying more attention to sleep habits could help individuals better manage their weight… ‘We think sleep is very underappreciated.'”
I couldn’t agree more. Sleep is not talked about enough. Especially when it comes to weight-loss and maintenance. Why? Well, I can think of one big reason: promoting sleep doesn’t make money. Ah, such is life. But let’s not dwell on that. I want to focus on how you can get more sleep, and fully utilize and appreciate the time you have to get some shut-eye. It starts with a nightly routine.
Get a Grasp on Your Day
Last time I wrote about breakfast and the research backing its role in boosting your metabolism and improving cognitive function, among other things. So, yes, I think you should make breakfast a part of your morning routine. And your nightly routine as well. How?
Plan out your breakfast the night before. Breakfast is definitely a meal we can take control of, more easily than our other meals. Think ahead in the evening, as you’re traveling back from work. If you’re wondering what to eat for dinner tonight, go ahead and let your brain wander to tomorrow morning. You can stop at the grocery or corner store and purchase products for both your dinner and breakfast. (Check out my previous post for some quick, healthy breakfast foods.) Planning ahead eliminates the possibility that you’ll grab that unbalanced breakfast on-the-go (like a bagel and cream cheese from the cart on the corner or a pack of Oreos at the office). Start thinking about breakfast when you’re headed home for the night, so you can stop at the store and grab something healthy for both dinner and breakfast!
Now, you’ve got your breakfast agenda set. What’s the rest of your day look like? Are you planning to workout before work? Do you have an early meeting or looming deadline at work? Checking your calendar for meetings, deadlines, after-work events, etc. can stop your mind from wandering and worrying as you’re lying in bed. Try to check your schedule at least 2 hours before bed so you can remedy or at least defuse any situations that you may have forgotten to prepare for. This may be something as simple as packing your gym bag the night before, so you’re not sitting in bed worrying whether or not you’ll forget your socks in your rush to get out the door in the morning.
Set Your Alarm
Decide when you need to wake up in the morning and when you need to leave your house. If you use an alarm, set your alarm… or two. This certainly puts my mind to rest at night. When I worked an office job, setting one alarm was safe. Now that I work as a personal trainer, it is über important that I am on-time and prepared. I set two alarms, mostly just to put my nerves at ease and get a better night’s sleep.
I do not trust the snooze button. You should not trust the snooze button. In that sleepy state, you are apt to forget how many times you’ve pressed that sneaky button. Plus, how much good is 5-8 more minutes of sleep really going to do you? Instead, I set one alarm at the time I should wake up. I set a second alarm for 15 minutes later. On the off chance that I sleep through or “snooze” through my first alarm, I’ll know to jump up and rush to get ready at the second alarm. However, I do not make that 15 minute “snooze” alarm a habit. Rather, I use it as a checkpoint to tell me how I’m doing on time in the morning. If I get up when I’m supposed to, my 15 minute alarm will go off as I’m eating my breakfast or making tea. Then, I can decide if I have time to sit down and sip my tea while I check news on my iPhone, or if I need to brush my teeth and rush out the door.
While I’m on the topic, why do some people roll groggily out of bed and trudge to the kitchen where they finally open their eyes after that first pungent sip of coffee… while others (like myself) always wake up relatively alert, eyes wide-open, ready to take on the day? Hm… apparently I’ve been blessed with the ability to wake up in the morning. Check out these blog posts on How to Wake Up Feeling Totally Alert and How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off if you aren’t so lucky.
Warm Up, Cool Down, Relax
So you’ve got your breakfast agenda set, your gym bag packed, your work organized, and your alarm set. Now you can start getting in the sleep-mode mindset.
If you take a shower or bath at night, aim to take it 1.5-2 hours before bed. This raising and lowering of your body temperature can help your body prepare for sleep. (Check out this study, and this one).
I have started a habit of drinking tea before bed. It warms me up, and the soothing scents calm me down. Plus, if I’m craving something sweet at night, I can usually stave off that craving with the act of boiling the water and drinking the tea. Of course, I drink an herbal tea with no caffeine, such as Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut (sweet), Berry Detox (fruity), or Lavender by the Bay (flowery).
At least one hour before bed, you should shun any computer/television/cell phone/tablet screens and dim your lights, if possible. I like to turn off my overhead light and use only my desk lamp as light when I’m preparing for sleep. If one hour seems like a lot of time to tear yourself away from your precious electronic devices… you can aim for 30 minutes. I just don’t want you transitioning straight from looking at a screen to the back of your eyelids.
Relax. Wind down the day. I like the idea of reading in bed. I think it’s a great activity to wind down from a hectic day. If you can, try to go back to the good, old-fashioned paper book. I also recommend journaling to reflect on your day. Write about your successes for the day. What went well? If there’s anything you’re frustrated about, write that down as well. Work it out on paper so the feelings don’t resurface as you’re trying to drift off to sleep. Not a fan of journaling? Perhaps you can have a quiet conversation about your day with your roommate, family member, or significant other.
Healthy Habits and Hygiene
Whether we consciously think about it or not, we all have a nightly routine. At the very least, you brush your teeth and take off your work clothes before your head hits the pillow, right? Surprisingly, what inspired me to write this particular post on nightly routines was my nightly dental hygiene routine.
I’ve always been very thorough about brushing my teeth, morning and night. However, it’s only been about 5-6 years since I regularly started flossing my teeth at night. And yet, after 5 years, I still give myself a pat on the back for it. Why? Well, for one, it just feels good. It feels healthy, and it is. More than that, it’s a healthy habit that I haven’t always had. It represents a (minor) change in my lifestyle that I can be proud of. I may not reap the benefits of flossing right away, but certainly it’s prevented a number of cavities in my life. Thinking about that healthy habit of flossing has since inspired me to initiate other changes in my nightly routine. It is my hope that these changes will also directly prevent future deleterious health problems, but also carry over into other aspects of my life, instigating a chain of positivity and healthy habits.
I’m still working on it, but you’ve already read a few things that I’m integrating into my nightly routine. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Drink herbal tea
- Write in a journal
- Use a specific, calming scent, such as lavender oil or lotion before bed
- Massage feet with lotion and use toe separators (I have bunions… I’ve had them since I was a teenager, and I really need to start loving and caring for my feet. Feet are SO important! You should show yours some love, too!)
If you notice, a lot of the things I’ve recommended in this blog series engage one of the five senses. If you’re still having trouble winding down and falling asleep, perhaps you’re not incorporating one of the senses into your nightly routine.
Sight– Dim the lights, avoid electronic screens
Sound- Listen to calming music
Touch- Take a hot shower or bath, massage hands or feet, use lotion
Taste- Drink herbal tea, water, or a bit of honey, even toothpaste can be a taste cue. Try using a different toothpaste flavor at night than you do in the morning.
Smell- Inhale calming scents from herbal tea, essential oil, lotion, or a candle
Alright, that’s all the advice I have for you! Try out some of these tips, and let me know how it goes! Have any other nightly rituals you want to share? Leave a comment!