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Too often we approach sleep in haste without giving this valuable time the respect it deserves.
Chronic stress is the ever present destructive force so many of us battle on a daily basis, and if we don’t have time in our day to sit down and unwind properly, our sleep quality will most likely suffer.
If, for some reason, you don’t have a moment for this, it may be time to reevaluate your priorities… 😐
How to Wind Down Before Bed
Before we get into specific tactics, tools, and strategies, let’s go over some basic frameworks to make sure your wind-down routine is set up for success.
- Set aside time to relax: Begin your wind down routine an hour or so before your bedtime—those with insomnia or phase disorders may want to increase this window.
- Turn down the lights: I advise dim lighting two hours before bed, and all bright/blue light sources should be eliminated.
- Turn on airplane mode: Psychologically disconnecting from the world at large will keep you from getting distracted.
- Stop working and problem-solving! Seriously, put down the thing you’re studying, researching, or building, and do something less mentally challenging.
- Listen to some calming music: Calm ambient music can do wonders for setting the tone for relaxation, especially if your day leading up to this point was hectic and stressful.
Example of a Relaxation Routine
Let’s assume your bedtime is 10:00 pm.
- 8 pm: Put on blue blocking glasses and start finishing up any tasks you might have left.
- 8:30 pm: Stop working – no dishes, no laundry, nada. Turn off normal lights and turn on dimmed red lights.
- 8:45 pm: Brush/floss your teeth, take a warm shower, and put on your favorite pair of PJs. Switch your phone to airplane mode.
- 9 pm: This is when you can include some extras listed below – Spend some time journaling, doing light yoga, daydreaming to ambient music, etc.
- 9:30 pm: Time to get into bed – music may still be playing, you might be finishing up an audible story, but you should be getting quite tired.
- 10 pm: Turn off all lights/sounds. Sleep.
Relaxation Ideas for Sleep
Here is a massive list of relaxation techniques for you to incorporate into your nightly routine.
1. Listen to Your Thoughts
We spend just about every waking moment of our days filling our minds with external information, giving us almost no time to simply think our own thoughts. You may do well to give your subconscious time to voice its concerns before you try to quiet it for sleep!
2. Record Your Thoughts
Once we’ve made the time to listen, we will likely discover thoughts that refuse to be forgotten. Recording these thoughts in some fashion is the best way to clear your mind of them.
A purpose-made journal, a piece of paper, or even a voice recorder can be an invaluable tool for better sleep.
3. Gratitude Journaling
A gratitude practice not only feels good when you get into the groove of things, but it helps to rewire your brain to be more positive and appreciative of everything around you. [R]
Journaling without prompts can often require a little more effort than we’re willing to put in at the end of a busy day, so don’t underestimate the power of a good prompt journal!
4. Take a warm shower or bath
Who doesn’t love a warm bath or shower? It is believed that warming the body 1-2 hours prior to your desired sleep time can have notable positive effects. When you increase the distal (outer) skin temperature, the body begins transferring its core heat to the distal skin, which encourages the cooling of the body as it readies itself for sleep. [R]
5. Put On Some Pajamas!
A great way to passively relax at night is to have a pre-sleep outfit that just straight-up feels good. Find a great pair of pajamas to relax in prior to bed. This is always a good demarcation for your pre-sleep routine-once the jammies go on, the work stops. I’m a big fan of TENCEL modal and lyocell for this.
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6. Get Lost in a Sleepy Story
Getting lost in a book can help bring about a sense of wonder and ease, depending on the story, of course…
Here’s a good list of books that do well in providing just enough intrigue without too much excitement or drama.
And here are some podcasts geared towards calming sleep stories:
7. Download a Sleep App
These apps don’t really fall under any specific category, but instead do a pretty good job of providing a mixture of curated and original sleep music, stories, and meditations.
8. Listen to an Ambient Music App
These applications are well-designed and offer very compelling features for anyone looking for a little help getting to sleep- headphones required.
9. Play Some Relaxing Music
Here’s a collection of sleep music I’ve collected!
10. Try the mySleepButton App
This application works by overriding your lizard brain by using cognitive imaginative thinking.
You’ll be tasked with thinking about the object mentioned, which changes every few seconds. There are a few different modes and settings you can mess around with as well. This is a great application for people who can’t seem to shut things down at night, really interesting. Here is their article explaining the development of the method. There is also the DIY route.
11. EFT Tapping Meditations
Many people have found this to work for them. Tapping is a way of rewiring your brain through the manipulation of meridian endpoints and psychological/physical introspection. Here is one video and here is another, give it a shot!
12. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Of course, no relaxation list would be complete without mentioning meditation. Mindfulness can be useful here as it helps us rewire our ability to let thoughts go, and not get so wrapped up in the negative things that tend to fester without us noticing.
There are several excellent apps for this, as well as the Muse S headband, which is very useful for those of us who need an extra incentive to form good habits.
13. Non-Sleep Deep Rest Techniques
Recently, the concept of getting into a deep sleep state of mind without actually falling asleep has become popular.
This basically boils down to self hypnosis and Yoga Nidra.
Self hypnosis is this context is best described as a state of high focus and deep relaxation. In which you utilize the body to quiet the mind.
Yoga Nidra is a bit different in that it’s a technique involving paying attention to the body and exploring positive emotions in relation to your life goals and intentions.
Obviously, both of these ideas can be utilized at night to help obtain a quieter mind, more conducive to sleep.
14. Watch Nature Documentaries
This is another passive, calming option. I’ll sometimes throw on a nature documentary while I do some yoga, stretching, or deep tissue work. The sights and sounds of nature along with the calming voice-overs do wonders to calm the mind – maybe just avoid the predator episodes? Some great options are Our Planet, Planet Earth 1 & 2, Blue Planet 1 & 2, and really anything else you’re into, like ants, I love me a good ant documentary.
Just remember to wear your blue blockers! And don’t have the TV very bright!
15. Watch Some Comedy
Whether it’s a movie, TV show, stand-up comedy, YouTube video, or whatever, smiling and laughing have been shown to decrease cortisol levels which helps you release stress and relax. [R]
16. Play a Relaxing Video Game
Simple video games can be an engaging way to relieve stress after a long day of work. What we’re looking for here are games that involve light puzzling, exploration, and story.
Consider looking into a Nintendo Switch if this seems like the kind of wind down for you. Just remember to use gaming responsibly, and not as a crutch.
Here’s a list of relaxing video games you can explore:
- A Short Hike
- Breath of the Wild
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
- Kind Words
- Lego Games
- No Man’s Sky
- Stardew Valley
- Viva Piñata
- What Remains of Edith Finch
- Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles
17. Soft-Tissue & Lymphatic Massage
Self-administered deep tissue massage can be another great way to relax prior to bed; just avoid any excessive pain, the point here is to relax. This also has the added benefit of increasing blood flow and circulation throughout the body, which may increase healing performance at night.
In addition to general soft tissue work, you might think about incorporating a lymphatic massage into your night routine. Clearing up the lymph system around the head/neck will likely assist with general lymphatic drainage and clearance while you sleep.
18. Breathing Exercises
Try some pranayama breathing, or a 4-7-8 breathing pattern to wind down – inhale for 4, hold for 7, and release the breath for 8. Playing with and paying attention to the breath is an excellent way to relax in any situation. Explore different flavors of breathing using one of the apps below.
19. Train Your Nervous System With HRV
Quiet your mind with technology: Learn how to attain a calm parasympathetic state with an emWave2 or Inner Balance sensor. This technology from HeartMath is designed to give you feedback training on adjusting your HRV via your breathing. We know that HRV directly relates to your autonomic state, so this is a great tool for calming down. It’s also very cool to see not only your breath affect your HRV in real-time, but even your thoughts!
20. Do Some Calming Yoga
Find a calming yoga routine you enjoy flowing through, paying special attention to your form and breath and how they relate to each other. Yoga in this way can be very meditative and calming once you become familiar enough with it.
Just check out YouTube for a number of guided sleep-oriented yoga routines.
21. Decompress Your Spine
A great thing to add to your nighttime routine is some kind of spinal decompression, whether that’s yoga, an inversion table, or a pull-up bar with gravity boots is up to you. Glymphatic drainage will likely be optimal if we open up the spinal column a bit before laying down for sleep.
22. Use a Facial Heat Compress
Use a facial or eye heat compress: If you do a lot of computer work, you probably carry some unwanted tension in your eyes, forehead, and face that you don’t even know needs to be given a break. A microwave facial compress could do wonders to relax tension in your face and eyes and prepare you for sleep.
23. Progressive muscle relaxation
You need only try muscle relaxation techniques once to figure that our physical bodies store massive amounts of tension and stress. The best part about progressive muscle relaxation is that it’s not only physically relaxing, but it can also be a great time for meditation that also relaxes and eases a burdened mind.
Here’s a good video to try out:
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