Take care of your sleep like it takes care of you
Sleep is the one part of self-care and personal health that I’ve always really struggled with. Part of it is overtly my own fault—staying up too late watching TV, changing my schedule, etc. But the rest of the struggle is just part of my constitution, I think. For any age I can remember—college, high school, even as a small child—I’ve always struggled to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Of course for some people, there could be a medical issue at play preventing good sleep. But for many of us, we can certainly do a lot in terms of habits and self-care to ensure that we are getting good sleep. This year, I’m focusing on taking better care of myself through sleep. So at the start of the new year, I loudly announced to my husband that I was going to be building a “Sleep Sanctuary” for myself. Part good habits, part helpful tools, my Sleep Sanctuary is meant to be my daily retreat from the outside world into a place to recharge. Focusing on good sleep is something I should always be doing and almost never actually am, but somehow making it into a project (aka Sleep Sanctuary) helped me to take some actionable steps.
So today, I thought I’d share with you my tips for building a Sleep Sanctuary if that’s something you also need in your life. If your normally sleep well, you may find these tips helpful for travel!
Top Tips for Building a Sleep Sanctuary:
1. Establish an evening routine.
Much hullabaloo has been made the entrepreneurial world in the last few years about the importance of having a morning routine to make sure that you start your day on your priorities rather than somebody else’s. That same principle applies to the time before you go to bed: make a plan to put yourself first or you’ll put yourself last. Not only will an evening routine help make sure that you are blocking off the correct amount of time to sleep each night, but routine itself can actually help you fall asleep more quickly. We do it for babies, why shouldn’t be do it for ourselves?
You evening routine involves everything from when you start the process of going to bed to when you actually fall asleep. A sample evening routine could be having an alarm go off at 9:30pm, writing your to-do list for the next day, packing a lunch, changing in PJs, brushing teeth and washing your face, reading for 45 minutes, and lights out at 10:30pm. Evening routines don’t need to be complicated or long, but if you repeat the same behaviors in the same order, your brain and body will eventually pick up on the fact that this routine signals the day is ending and it’s time to sleep.
2. Get blackout curtains
I used a stock photo for this blog post because my bedroom is too dark to photograph well because of my blackout curtains! Light is hugely important to our hormones to signal our bodies when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime. Artificial lights, screens, and limited outdoor time naturally confuse this whole process. In dark hours, our bodies are supposed to produce melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in sleep. With all the artificial light in our lives, you can see why melatonin is one of the most popular sleep supplements. (Side note: I have tried it for sleep, but it makes me have crazy dreams.)
If you have streetlights outside your home or need to sleep at slightly off hours, blackout curtains will be a lifesaver. I have these blackout curtains in a cream color and while they are not glamorous, they do get the job done. They are not 100% lightproof, but I’m sure if I had been willing to spend more, I could have found some premium ones. We rent so I haven’t installed any kind of permanent window treatment rods—these hold up with tension rods that only occasionally come crashing down.
3. Get Nice Bedding
Nice doesn’t always need to mean super expensive, but I think it’s worth investing in a mattress and bedding that’s comfortable. If you wake up everyday with a sore neck or feel like your sheets are scratchy, you’re unlikely to ever consider your bedroom a sleep sanctuary.
We have the Brooklinen luxe sheets and really like them. (We also got a set of Parachute percale sheets and hate them.) For those that like cotton sheets, these $40 100% cotton sheets from Amazon have a cult following. I haven’t tried them myself, but next time we need sheets, I probably will.
Pillows are highly personal, so just be sure to choose one that supports your neck and doesn’t strain it in whatever position you sleep in. My mother-in-law fell in love with the pillows at the Kohler Spa in Wisconsin, tracked down the manufacturer and found them for sale online here.
4. Store electronics outside of your bedroom
This one has been HUGE for me. Even if I’m not be bombarded with texts or notifications in the evening, I have a hard time not picking up my phone to look at it when it’s on my nightstand. Since I was using my phone as an alarm, I had to buy this digital alarm clock to wake me up everyday. It took a while to find one that didn’t have a display that automatically lights up, but it’s definitely worth it. Other electronics like TVs or computers also stay totally outside of my bedroom.
5. Train your brain with scents
I’m not a huge believer in aromatherapy or essential oils, but I do believe that certain scents can be relaxing while others are stimulating. Scents can also trigger your memory in a powerful way, making them a strong candidate for building an evening routine. I dab a little lavender essential oil (I like this brand) on my wrists and neck before going to sleep. (Lavender is one of the few essential oils that you can apply directly to your skin safely.) You could also dab a little on a cotton ball and tuck inside your pillow. Other essential oils typically used for relaxation and sleep are rose, chamomile, and ylang ylang. I’m currently reading the book The Nature Fix where the author discusses the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” and some clinical research for the benefits of cypress oil, so that may be the oil I try next. I don’t have an essential oil diffuser yet, but I have been eyeing this stylish one.
6. Try a Kindle
Reading is my favorite way to decompress at the end of the day and so it’s a big part of my evening routine. I try to read for at least 30 minutes every day if not longer. I do avoid really intense books or self-improvement type books at that hour because it gets my monkey brain a little too stimulated. I do steer clear of the TV, phone, iPad, etc after 9pm, but I’ve found that my Kindle Paperwhite actually doesn’t trigger me the same way as these other screens do. I’m not sure if it’s because of the light or just the content (there’s not 1 million internet rabbit holes to go down on your Kindle and it’s not intentionally designed to be addicting the way apps on our phone are). The Kindle is also nice and lightweight so it’s easy to prop up against a pillow, leaving both of your arms free to tuck under the blanket with you. Because reading is such a part of my evening routine, using the Kindle allows me to bring this part of the routine with me when I travel since it’s so small and easy to transport.
7. Drink Herbal Tea and Eat Early
I actually compiled a whole post on just foods to help with sleep, so you can check that out here if you are interested. But as far as times for eating and drinking go, when it comes to sleeping, the earlier the better. Try to eat at least 3 hours before bed and to drink most of your liquids around that time too. A lot of sleep-related advice mentions to drink herbal tea before bed, especially varieties that contain calming herbs or sleep-inducing herbs like chamomile or valerian. However, drinking a bunch of liquid before bed just makes me have to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, so I recommend having your tea a couple hours before bed as well.
8. Sound Machine
I use a fan at home to block out noises from the street or my neighbors in my city apartment. But when I travel, I bring along a mini sound machine to block out hotel noises or city noises from wherever we are traveling. I find that it’s also great to help block the snoring of your sleeping companion. For less than $15, this Homedics sound machine has been some of the best money I’ve spent on travel since it’s small and battery-powered. I always use the fan setting but there are other options like rain or waves.
9. Weighted Blanket
This is one tip that I thought would work for me but actually didn’t. I’m mentioning it here though because 1) the online reviews of these weighted blankets have been great and 2) my husband did so much research to find this great blanket for my Sleep Sanctuary to surprise me! (We unfortunately sent it back.) Weighted blankets are meant to feel comforting and calming. I had a hard time moving around under it and found it pretty uncomfortable but it might just be what you are looking for!
10. Minimal decor and activity in the bedroom
If you stay awake some nights because your mind is spinning and you are thinking about all the items on your to-do list or reviewing the day’s events in your head, you might benefit from having your bedroom being a clear, calming environment. One tip I read years ago that I’ve taken to heart is to not use your bed (and bedroom, if possible) to do anything other than sleep. That means no working on your bed, watching TV, etc. Like other aspects of your evening routine, you want getting into a bed to signal only one thing to your brain: sleep!
Alongside that tip, I’ve found having a clean and organized bedroom also puts my mind at ease. That means things like making sure everything is put away and the closet door is shut, but that also means that the decor shouldn’t be too busy. Honestly, I really enjoy busy, maximalist, bohemian home decor, but when it comes to the bedroom and sleep, I find that simple is better for me personally.