by Sheila O’Shea
One of the things I learned from my time at Skyland Trail was how essential good sleep was for recovery from mental illness. Setting up a bedtime routine was an important part of that. Over time, I established a routine to signal to my brain that it’s time to go to bed. Your own routine will depend on your particular needs and circumstances, but feel free to borrow anything you like from mine.
Have a Starting Point
Mine starts with a glass of milk and my evening medications. When I take the first step toward going to bed, the rest of the routine flows naturally and my brain knows to start winding down. It works best if you’re consistent with the time you get started, and that you do it every night.
Lay Off the Screens
I’m as tempted as anyone when it comes to mucking about with my phone at night (or any time, really). But screens before bed keep me awake, so I keep the phone switched off and spend my wind-down time reading paper books and writing in my physical diary. Not only does it allow me to avoid the blue light that can stave off sleep, but it also keeps me from being wound up by the aggravation that social media can entail.
Calm Your Mind
On that note, avoiding things that keep you up at night is also essential. Not just things like caffeine, but things like ruminating about mistakes you made or problems you haven’t solved yet. One thing you can do is use a journal, diary, or even just a notepad, and write down all the things that are bothering you. This helps unclutter your head and allows you to set those things aside. A generous application of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can also help put everything in perspective.
Change It Up When You Need To
When I started outlining this piece, I had a different bedtime routine than I have now. I would have my milk, read a book, write in my diary, plan the next day and then brush my teeth and go to bed. The only problem was my medications had been adjusted so I started to feel sleepy—very sleepy—earlier on in the night. So, when it was time to brush my teeth (which had become a complicated process, involving floss and tiny bristle brushes), I often found myself zonked out on the bed, unwilling to get up and stand in front of a sink. I decided I needed to rearrange things if I was going to have good dental hygiene along with good sleep hygiene, so I shifted that particular segment to just after milk and pajamas. That way, I could do my reading and writing afterward and head for bed after going over the day’s goals and plotting them out tomorrow. It made for a better conclusion to the day.
Setting up a bedtime routine helps you get better quality sleep and gives you time to decompress from the stresses of the day. Figure out what needs to be done before bed—and what you’d like to do before bed—and find a pattern that works best for you. If it doesn’t work, you can always change it until you find something that does. And when you find your best routine, stick with it consistently. All these things can lead you to sounder sleep, and all its benefits.
Sheila O’Shea is a writer, recovering poet, and one of the first graduates of the Creative Writing program at Emory University. She acted in Theatre Gael’s production of Waiting for Godot, sang on the album The Mod Mod Sounds of Middlesex, and DJed for Emory’s college radio station. She’s currently working on The Ten Thousand Flowers Project, in which she draws flowers and gives them away to people, with the intention of drawing and giving away ten thousand of them. She’s halfway through and still going. You can find out how to get one at http://wonderbink.com/10kflowers. She also works as a freelance copywriter, with an emphasis on narrative marketing. You can find out about her writing services at http://sheilawrites.com.