When do you start to get ready for bed? It may surprise you, but a proper night of sleep doesn’t start when you turn off the lights and lie down in bed. It actually begins hours before.
By Niki Saccareccia
March is National Sleep Awareness Month, and Sleep Awareness Week is March 12-18! This year’s theme is “Best Slept Self,” highlighting the important connection between sleep and your overall well-being.
If you struggle with getting enough sleep or staying asleep throughout the night, you could be inadvertently sabotaging yourself. This isn’t entirely your fault. Some of our worst sleep habits are reinforced by our social and cultural norms - norms that aren’t natural, even if they make us feel better in the short term. Having a “night cap” may help us decompress after a tough day, but drinking alcohol before bed can interfere with the body’s ability to move naturally from waking state to deep sleep. Sleeping pills, a heavy meal right before bed, and having caffeine or other stimulants after 4pm all have similar effects on the physiological changes that translate to restorative sleep.
There is still more mystery around why we need to sleep than there is science that can explain it. But one fact everyone can agree on is that sleep is essential. Without it, our executive thinking becomes compromised, our physical health suffers, our short-term memory worsens, and our stress tolerance plummets. Sleep deprivation has been shown to look a lot like intoxication when it comes to driving and physical coordination. So even if we never really understand why sleep is so important, we all understand the consequences of not getting enough of it. Normal mental health and normal sleep health overlap, so applying self-awareness to our bedtime rituals is a no-brainer, especially when we’re feeling brain fog!
Here are some “best practices” around preparing for sleep that we can implement right away, encouraging us to set the ideal environment for sleep, both environmentally and internally.
Set the Mood for Great Sleep with these Best Practices before bedtime
Consider the room you sleep in
Your room needs to be very dark and slightly cool. Think about how nighttime feels when you're camping: the Earth is cool, and the sun has set. Strategically place items in front of device lights that remain on all the time. Dim your device screens and keep the blinds drawn tightly. Using multiple layers of bedding can help you adjust your comfort level while keeping the air in the room cooler.
Begin to reduce your light exposure 30 minutes prior to bedtime
Just as our biology responds to sunset, we need to reduce the amount of bright light in our domestic environment, so our mind gets the signal that it is time to start slowing down. Create an atmosphere in your home by turning off or dimming some of the lights, using candlelight or other soft/warm light to create a less stimulating effect in your visual space.
Disconnect from your devices at least an hour before bedtime for the same reason
I lead monthly “Yoga for Sleep” workshops, and when I make this point, someone inevitably looks at me with sincere confusion like, ‘What am I supposed to do, then?’ The answer is really straightforward: Self-care.
As you begin to set the environmental mood for a good night sleep, let your attention move from the world around you to the world within you. Creating a ritual around self-care is an ideal behavior for preparing the nervous system for deep rest.
Disconnect from entertainment and social media distraction
It gives the wakeful/analyzing part of the mind time to slow down and disengage. Introduce self-care so the OTHER part of the mind can activate: the wakeful/sensing part. Pay attention to the sensations and sounds as you brush your teeth, floss, and tongue scrape. While washing your face and moisturizing your skin, take time to focus on yourself and the act of stripping the day away. Add in a few minutes of self-massage or easy stretching to unwind the physical tension pent up in your system. By reorienting your attention away from external sources of information and distraction, you reinvest your awareness back into yourself. This is where we want the attention to go by the end of the day.
Remember that unlike the mind, which can exist in the past and the future and totally imaginary realms, the physical body can only exist in the moment. That is where we need to be in order for the physical body and brain to naturally cycle from waking state awareness to sleep state awareness. Let your physical self anchor you to the present moment and guide you into proper rest.
Niki Saccareccia is a Los Angeles based E-500 Yoga teacher, trainer and international retreat facilitator. She blends her background as a Clinical Behavioral Therapist and poet with ongoing education in Integral Anatomy and yogic philosophy to help others discover their innate creative power and healing potential.