As a new mum I decided it was a good idea to try to establish a bedtime routine for my baby girl. It was a very loose one at first when she was just a few months old but by 5-6 months we had a set pattern 90% of the time that we followed and still do today. And why did we do this? To help her get to sleep, stay asleep and get into a good sleeping pattern. Logical really.
Now I know that not all babies stick to their routine or respond to it (sometimes the phrase EPIC FAIL springs to mind) but there is plenty of research that it is a good idea to create a bedtime routine for a new baby. It is also a commonly discussed issue.
So why does this get lost as we become adults?
Where Did the Routine Go?
Now as children get older, bedtime routines may vary as sleep requirements and daily demands change. It's a well know fact that getting a teenager out of bed in the morning can be a challenge! Then as we become adults and our lives get busier we work hard, exercise late, socialise daily, go out at night, look after families, have hobbies, spend time on technology, deal with life-changing events - it seems that the habit of a strict bedtime routine gets lost.
Now I'm not saying that no-one does it as I am sure there are plenty of people out there who have a proper bed-time routine. However I am going to make an assumption that if you are reading this article and curious about sleep that you either don't get enough, are disturbed in your sleep or don't have a set routine. And even if you have a loose bedtime routine, is it as set in stone as those we create for our babies and toddlers? A routine that involves eating times, final drinks before bed, baths, massage, calming reading, nightlights, dark rooms, cuddles and careful planning of bedding.
For many people we simply aim to get to bed by a vague time at night, which we may or may not achieve. Plus this probably goes out of the window at weekends when we stay up late, have a lie in, or when we have to work late, or get caught watching the latest box set on Netflix. Sound familiar?
The concept of having a bedtime routine very often gets forgotten as we prioritize other things over sleep.
Sleep Like a Baby
I have always found the concept of 'sleep like a baby' odd. What, you want me to wake every 2-3 hours, night and day for food or a cry? ha ha
However, I do know what the phrase really means and we could actually learn a lot from babies and the sleep patterns we help them to develop as they grow. Babies sleep when they need to, when they are not fighting it that is. They sleep a lot because their brains are growing so much and with time they learn to differentiate night from day as parents introduce bedtime routines in whatever form and however simple.
New parents often spend a lot of time and effort in constructing a carefully thought through nighttime routine to relax their little one, illustrate that it is nighttime and encourage them to sleep through the night. These routines can include baths, reading time, food, lighting, soft words, shusshing, getting into the bedroom early, gentle music, womb noises, special nightlights, special sleeping bags and of course carefully planned timing and consistency.
I can 100% say that I do not put as much thought into my own bedtime routine as I do for my baby. Sometimes I stay up late to finish work, sometimes we go out, sometimes I have a shower before bed, sometimes I don't, sometimes I go to bed early and sometimes it is late. Some days I have energy and some days I don't. Some days I sleep like a baby and some days I cannot get my to-do-list of my mind.
Consistency is the Key
Part of the success of a bedtime routine whether for children or adults is consistency. Consistency in timing as well as familiarisation with the structure of the routine - doing the same things at the same time each day. The mind and body will start to recognize the pattern and know that it needs to start winding down ready for sleep. In a way it is like a subtle form of hypnosis or conditioning. And if this conditioning is multi-sensory (smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing) then it has a stronger effect.
The most important of all is a regular, consistent time for bed. Making sure you are asleep at the same time each night will make it easier for you to get up at the same time each day and get the same amount of sleep every night. This all re-enforces our inbuilt circadian rhythms that instinctively want us to go to bed when it is dark and wake up when it is light.
The Last 60 Minutes
In my opinion, the last 60 minutes before bed are the most important in terms of your bedtime routine. If these are carefully constructed to be the same or you do the same few tasks within this period each night, it can only help to assist you to get to sleep easier and get a better night's rest.
For example in that 60 minutes I would unplug from ALL technology - phones, TV, laptops, tablets and any other technological device. I would get dressed for bed, brush my teeth, have a camomile tea, tidy a few things up, unload my mind by making a list for the next day or journalling and move slowly into the bedroom, which would have a dimmer light setting. I also tend to use some lavender essential oil and listen to a 10 minute guided relaxation as well.
But to be honest it doesn't really matter what your routine is as long as the activities you do help to unwind your mind ready for bed and get you slowly into the bedroom so that you are ready to sleep at your chosen time.
A Multisensory Routine
As mentioned above, if the routine is multisensory then it will be all powerful as well. Here are some examples of how you can shut down and calm all of the senses:
- Sight - switch off technology, close the curtains, dim the lights in the house, get rid of all visual stimulus in the bedroom (TVs / work related item), use an eye pillow or eye mask, read a book
- Hearing - turn off all loud noise and music, listen to a recorded guided relaxation, play gentle white noise, sing a song, recite a mantra, poem, affirmation or meditation, listen to an audiobook
- Touch - change your clothes, get into a comfortable bed, read a book, take a shower or bath, have a massage, wash your face, brush your hair
- Smell - use essential oils such as lavender, burn a scented candle, have a herbal tea, open the window to smell the fresh air
- Taste - drink a herbal tea, have some warm milk and a biscuit, brush your teeth
A Few More Complications for Adults
As adults there would of course be a few other things we need to consider such as cutting out caffeine and alcohol late at night or not eating big meals close to bedtime. We may also have a lot more on our minds with work stresses and strains and family to consider. Not to mention medial conditions both physical and mental that can interfere with our ability to sleep properly. So I know that I simplify for the purposes of making the point of this blog article - but the basic principles of creating a bedtime routine will be of help to most people and can only assist in terms of calming the mind and preparing yourself ready for a good nights sleep.
Be Like a Baby
Now when we compare a routine that includes all of the things I mention above with the types of routines created for babies, there is a remarkable similarity! So be like a baby - create your own bedtime routine and see if that helps you to get a better nights rest.
Fore more information on Yoga Nidra (Guided Relaxation) as part if your bedtime routine please visit this page
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To download a FREE 10 minute guided relaxation 'rest and relax' please visit this page.