How to calm your mind for sleep
That feeling when you know you’re tired, you’ve got a busy day tomorrow and you really want to get a good night’s sleep but it’s just not happening. Your mind won’t switch off, there’s a constant stream (or maybe three) of thoughts running through and around your brain and you just want it to stop! You may already be feeling stressed from the day you’ve had and the one you’re expecting tomorrow, so the thought that you’re never going to get to sleep just makes everything worse.
So, what can you do?
Well, the good news is, there are quite a few things you can do to calm your mind and get your brain ready for bed before your head hits the pillow. Before we get into that let’s just clear up something – a good night’s sleep is not a nice to have, it’s essential. More and more research is showing that a few nights of poor or not enough sleep is enough to negatively impact pretty much every area of our lives – it makes us more anxious, we make poorer decisions, our productivity and reactions slow, our moods take a nosedive and we make less healthy choices. If we fail to get enough good quality sleep for several years it can have more detrimental effects on our health.
Now, I don’t say that to be alarmist or to give you something else to worry about – that’s never my intention! I just want to impress upon you the value of sleep and that it is absolutely worth prioritising in your life. When you’ve had a good night’s sleep you’re in a better position to cope with life’s challenges and curveballs, think creatively, get more done, feel optimistic, connect with those around and it even improves your memory.
If you’re reading this I’m guessing you’re quite keen to spend less of your time worrying and more of it enjoying your life so sleep is something you want to take seriously.
A bedtime routine is something that you may associate with children – bath, PJs on, perhaps a milky drink, read a story and then lights out, time for sleep. Parents want their children to go to sleep at the allotted time and stay asleep throughout the night and they know that the best chance of a smooth bedtime is to stick to the routine. It doesn’t always work but as the children’s body clocks, along with the children themselves, learn what the regular routine means there’s a greater chance that sleep will kick in sooner than if there was no routine at all.
As adults we drift away from the idea of a regular bedtime routine as we do last minute prep for work or the school uniform washing or get hooked by the latest boxset or endless social media scrolling. Within a few minutes we go from thinking about work, rushing to make packed lunches or staring at a screen to lying in bed expecting our minds to switch off. And we wonder why sleep eludes us.
Creating a bedtime routine (it doesn’t require loads of time) gives your mind and body clock the signal that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep. Making habits or performing rituals are a way of taking care of ourselves and that makes us feel good too. So, here are six suggestions for how you can calm your mind ready for sleep. This is not a prescription but a menu of ideas for you to choose from to try and find what works for you.
1 Step away from the screen at least 30 minutes before bed.
I know, you’ve heard this plenty of times before and with good reason! The blue light emitted from the TV or digital device interferes with your body producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin which disrupts your body clock. Biologically you don’t know it’s time to sleep because your melatonin levels are nearer to daytime levels than night-time. Creating some space between watching TV or checking your phone and shutting your eyes to sleep gives your body the chance to produce melatonin and get ready for rest. It’s not actually that hard to do when you create the rest of your bedtime routine and your calmer mind (and nerves) will thank you for it. While it’s recommended that you don’t keep any digital devices in the bedroom I do keep my phone by my bed as I use it for my alarm clock. However, I have created boundaries for myself, I make sure that I plug it in and set the alarm well before I want to sleep and I don’t check it again until the next day. I also have all notifications switched off so it doesn’t ping in the night (or daytime actually).
2 Empty your head onto a piece of paper.
If you find yourself thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow or rehearsing a conversation you’re going to have, take it out of your head by writing it all down. As long as you’re trying to remember lots of things your mind isn’t going to switch off enough for you to sleep. Not that your brain goes into rest mode when you sleep, quite the contrary, that’s when it sorts, files and makes sense of everything you experienced in the day, but you do need to sleep for it to do this vital work. By writing down everything that’s on your mind you can rest assured (see what I did there?) that you’ve made a note of it all so you don’t have to try to remember any more. I also write in my gratitude journal when I hop into bed each night. Taking a couple of minutes to think of three good things from my day and write them down helps me finish my day on a thankful, optimistic note, even if I’ve had a stressful, difficult day.
3 Take a hot bath or shower last thing at night.
Going from a warm shower to a cooler bedroom will cause a slight decrease in body temperature which is just enough to trigger a relaxed, sleepy feeling. Keeping your bedroom a little cooler than other rooms in your home helps your body to relax further as your body temperature drops when you sleep and can help you snooze more deeply. This is the one idea I’m giving you that I don’t do myself. I haven’t felt the need and I’m really not a bath person (I know, I know) but because this action works for many people I wanted to include it in case it works for you.
4 Do a winding down activity to focus your attention on something calming and relax your body.
You could do a few gentle yoga stretches, a meditation or read a book (printed not digital). My preferred activity is reading but I have to be careful to not take a work book to bed with me as they spark too many ideas and get my brain all fired up. Instead I take this opportunity to read a fiction book, usually one that’s quite easy going and not too thrilling or else that will get my mind buzzing too.
5 Do something that feels like you’re taking care of yourself.
This could overlap with one of the other ideas, such as a bath or yoga, or it can be another stage in your bedtime routine. It might be taking your time and using top quality products in your skincare routine, rubbing in foot or hand cream and giving yourself a massage while you do it. Or something else particular to you that feels like a nourishing act of self-care. I used to hurry through washing my face, slapping on some moisturiser while my mind was on other things. Now I take my time to use some gorgeous-smelling, organic products to cleanse and moisturise, really paying attention to how they feel on my face. I like knowing that I’m taking care of my skin, not for appearances’ sake, but because I’m valuing and caring for myself. It’s a little ritual that’s become a valuable part of my self-care and wind-down routine.
6 Use calming scents to relax your mind and body such as lavender or chamomile.
You can mix a couple of drops of your favourite soothing essential oil with three parts water and one part vodka in a spray bottle, and give your pillow a couple of spritzes. Or use essential oils with a diffuser (try one that automatically switches off when it runs out of water or put it on a timer) to spread the scent into the air. Only use a couple of drops of an essential oil at a time, too much lavender can have the opposite effect and be more stimulating that relaxing. There are also blends you can buy with a rollerball applicator to rub the scented oil onto your pulse points to help you sleep. I have a night-time ‘remedies to roll’ which I like to rub onto my wrists before snuggling down under the duvet. Then I take a deep breath, inhaling the scent from my wrists, and a big exhale, letting my body relax into the mattress. I do this two more times and I feel it acts as a cue to my mind and body that it’s now time to sleep.
It’s not an idea to specifically calm your mind in preparation but it is much easier to get an undisturbed night’s sleep if you can make your bedroom as dark as possible. If daylight creeps in and you’re not in a position to do anything about it at the moment than an eye mask will do the job well. Make sure it’s soft and comfy so that it doesn’t bother you when you squish down into your pillow.
You may have heard some of these suggestions before and that’s because there’s something in them, they do work. Not all of them for everyone but the only way you’re going to find out what helps you is to try them out over several nights. Your body needs time to learn a new bedtime routine so don’t expect to have a perfect night’s sleep the first time you try these ideas.
Tell me what you experiment with and what works for you, I’d love to know.
Would you find it helpful if I wrote a post about ideas on how to soothe your mind if you wake up in the middle of the night with your head full of thoughts and worries? Let me know what you think.