The transition between the waking hours and the sleeping hours can prove to be a tricky subject for many folks. These hours can provide relaxation and connection time for some, but for others they can be the final moments to get in more work after an already strenuous day. For yet others, the need for “transition” between stirring and slumber seems like a frivolous or unnecessary behavior. I believe, though, that even in this turn on/turn off, stop/start world, allowing time for transitions can be important for your mental health as well as your sleep quality.
In my younger years, the evening wind down usually consisted of reading a good book, or watching Netflix and maybe having a glass (or two?) of wine with my husband before bed. We would always dim the lights about an hour before bed and perhaps light candles in the colder months. It was a process that took hours and I think we both slept better (wine not withstanding) after an evening of quiet chat and relaxing activities.
Today, my schedule is a bit more erratic and neither of us have the time for the slow evenings that we used to. The latter half of our day usually consists of tidying, preparing something for dinner, tidying some more, finishing up some work bits, and helping our son prepare for bed (“did you brush them all?”), all the time in a dash against the clock. I notice, though, that when I do get the chance to read before bed (even if it’s Peter Rabbit rather than something by Marian Keyes), or remember to turn down the lights after dinner, I do tend to sleep a bit better.
In the medical world, the idea of creating better sleep and pre-sleep habits is referred to as “sleep hygiene”. WebMD and many other reputable sites have loads of recommendations for improving sleep quality. Here, I will convey what has worked best for myself, some conventional, some not.
Tea/Warm Fluid: It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s chamomile tea, warm lemon water, or even warm milk (my son’s favorite), slowly and deliberately sipping something warm before bed has always helped me relax.
Read/Avoid Screens: A lot of sites recommend reading before bed. It gets you away from screens and the “blue light” that is notorious for interfering with sleep patterns. I would assert though, that reading something calm or peaceful before bed will treat you much better than horror or mystery. For instance, I love Michael Crichton books ( I think that I have literally read them all), but I don’t like to read these types of books right before bed.
One could also try a magazine that you enjoy if you’re not into books. Whatever you do, just try to put down the phone (I understand, believe me).
Lights: I have actually noticed that this affects my young son more than myself these days. If I let the lights stay at full force right up until bedtime it seems that all of us, but especially the youngest, have a hard time settling down before bed. Unfortunately, with our (generally) jumbled evenings, I don’t always remember to turn them down or off a little while before bed and this usually leads to some extra time elapsing between bedtime and actual sleep time.
Time Together/Time Apart: People are social animals and therefore have a biological need to feel connected to other humans. Having family time before bed can help both adults and children gain much need connection after a stressful day and improve sleep for both parties.
Conversely though, if you work in the service industry, or you parent full-time, what you might find useful is some time alone. Ask your partner for 10 minutes to yourself, and use those 10 minutes wisely. Read, think, or just breathe; whatever you need.
Write/Schedule: If I can navigate the various tasks that have become my evenings and still manage a few minutes of writing, I feel so much more accomplished. Writing can also help by allowing me to empty my brain of the concerns of the day. Some people enjoy using a gratitude journal at the end of the day to count their blessings.
What I also find truly relaxing is scheduling my next day’s tasks before bed. I hate waking up in the night only to realize that I have something important to accomplish the next day that I forgot to plan for. Scheduling at the end of the day lets me relax, knowing it’s all there in my planner, and I don’t have to face the next day blindsided by my responsibilities.
For me, creating a better evening strategy is primarily centered around decreasing sensory input, doing something relaxing, and maintaining a solid connection to myself and my family.
What do you do to wind down?
Stay sleepy…I mean cozy!