Calming Ideas for Creating Your Own Bedtime Ritual

Cotton flower in a vase

Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual is a useful way to optimise your sleep, alongside other methods, such as switching off from technology an hour before bed. Designing a nighttime routine that helps us to unwind can ease stress and quell those racing thoughts we experience when our head hits the pillow.

Dr. Cheri Mah, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco in the US, advises sports professionals on how to get a better night’s sleep. She claims that having a bedtime ritual is key for the athletes she helps. “Having that routine mentally prepares them to prioritize sleep”, she says. They begin to prepare for sleep and recovery as they would other parts of their training routine. And it pays off. She has seen that creating a wind-down ritual and consistent bedtime can improve the performance of her clients on the field.

There is arguably no one-size-fits-all bedtime ritual for adults. But athlete or not, there are plenty of relaxing (and enjoyable) elements to experiment with to find what helps you to nod off.

Designing Your Bedtime Ritual

Pillow Spray

Using a pillow spray is a simple way to start building a bedtime ritual. The relaxing aromas may help to ease stress and over time, it could become a signal to the mind that it’s time to wind down.

This Works’ deep sleep pillow spray is particularly popular and the brand’s research suggests that it’s been proven to help people sleep better. It contains lavender, vetivert and chamomile. The second, if you’re not familiar, being an essential oil extracted from a type of grass which is said to help relieve anger and irritability. Lavender and chamomile are well-known for their relaxing properties. This Works calls their spray a “ready-made evening ritual”. Coming in many different sizes, it’s a good solution for frequent travellers, or those who find it difficult to fall asleep while away from their own bed.

This Works deep sleep spray on a bed

Tea for Sleep

A cooler core body temperature is associated with sleep. This explains why baths can also be a great way to relax and unwind before bed. They raise your temperature due to the warm water and afterwards, when your body temperature drops again, it signals to the mind that it’s time for sleep. Some believe that a hot cup of tea can have a similar effect.

Of course, drinking caffeine in the evening is likely to have the opposite outcome. However, there are many “sleepy” teas packed with natural and relaxing ingredients that can help you create an easy pre-bed ritual. Among them, Pukka’s Night Time Tea includes 100% organically grown and ethically sourced ingredients. It contains lavender, oat flower, lime flower and valerian.


Meditation

Mindfulness apps have boomed in recent years, allowing all of us to learn how to meditate for a better night’s sleep, how to ease stress and how to switch off from daily pressures using (perhaps, ironically) the smartphones in our pockets.

Why is meditation useful for sleep? By helping you manage your reactions to stressful thoughts and worries, it allows you to let them go, so you can fall asleep. One of the most popular apps on the market, Headspace, affirms that “research shows mindfulness training can improve the quality of sleep for individuals with sleeping difficulties.” The app’s sleep single meditation helps you to ‘switch off’ each part of your body and at the same time, your mind.

These are just some easy ways to start building a bedtime routine that works for you. Other popular choices include journalling, creating a gratitude diary, stretching and writing a to-do list for the following day.

Building new habits takes time and dedication, but ultimately, being fully rested is crucial to our health and our ability to seize the day.


“It’s clear that if we’re going to truly thrive, we must begin with sleep.”

Arianna Huffington

It’s time to take sleep seriously.


This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments and mini challenges in living better, not faster. January’s theme is Slow Living & Sleep

How to Meditate in Bed for a Better Night’s Sleep

How to meditate in bed: open book on a bed

You snooze, you lose. A phrase used to describe missing out on something if you don’t act. Or, more literally, something used by smug people who think getting by on just a few hours sleep a night is an accomplishment. Even though we know that sleep is as important to our well-being as diet and exercise, Calm app’s founder Michael Acton Smith says it’s the most disrespected, claiming, “it’s almost a badge of honour to talk about how little sleep you get”.

Regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep a night can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. On the other hand, getting enough sleep of a high quality brings a range of benefits, including reducing stress levels and looking after your immune system. Not to mention, feeling more ready to take on the day and being less likely to fall asleep at your desk at 3pm.

It’s time to take sleep seriously. From creating the optimum sleep space to switching off from technology at least an hour before bed, there are many ways to optimise your sleep. Sleep advocates, such as Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global, also praise the importance of a consistent and relaxing bedtime ritual. When creating a nighttime routine, meditation can become a useful tool to help you drift off. In an era where millenia-old mindfulness techniques have become digitally accessible for all through apps, we explore how to meditate in bed for a better night’s sleep.

How to Meditate in Bed

1. Understanding When to Meditate

Meditating before you fall asleep can help relax your mind and make you more aware of any tension. That said, Headspace, one of the leading meditation apps, reminds us that, “good quality Zzzzzzzs require much more than doing a simple meditation in bed.” Restful sleep can depend on our mindset during the entire day, not just the period before we switch off the lights. For this reason, Headspace designed a 30-day sleep course with exercises to do during the day which team up with a specific sleep meditation to do before bed. So, meditating during the day could also pay off at night, when you’re hitting the sack.

2. Preparing to Meditate

We all know that trying to force sleep when we feel we need it most, rarely helps us fall asleep – instead, we’re left frustrated. It’s recommended that you try to maintain a relaxed focus and ensure you won’t be disturbed. After you’ve done everything you need to do before going to sleep, lie comfortably on your back. Take a few deep breaths to begin calming the body.

3. Choose your Guided Meditation Technique for Sleep

There are both guided and unguided meditation exercises. If you’re just starting out, trying guided meditations via one of the popular apps, can be a great way to dip your toe into meditation for sleep. Guided sleep meditations can involve different techniques, including:

  • Body Scan: notice different body parts and any contact they have with the bed. What feels heavy? Slowly scan through the body to ‘switch off’ each area ready for sleep, starting with the toes before moving up.
  • Day Review: remember and relive each event in your day in detail, starting with getting ready and having your breakfast. Spend around 20 seconds on each event.
  • Silence: after a particularly busy day, lie in silence to try to find focus.
  • Mindful Breathing: this focuses on slowing your breathing a little and easing anxiety, sometimes by counting breaths. For example, count one on the inhale and two on the exhale, until you reach ten. Then, start again from one.
  • Visualisation: imagining a scene can help you focus. Popular spiritual teacher Sonia Choquette suggests using colour as a visual aid. Each time you inhale and exhale, imagine a colour, then, switch to another colour on the next breath, and so on.

Still wondering if meditation apps are worth a try? A 2018 trial compared 35 adults who completed ten introductory Headspace sessions over the course of a month with another 35 adults who listened to excerpts from founder Puddicombe’s audiobook. After just 100 minutes of meditation, the first group of adults found themselves experiencing more positive emotions and felt less pressured by their responsibilities, compared to the audiobook group. With meditation apps making the practice more accessible than ever before, it’s a great time to try using mindfulness in your bedtime routine for better sleep.

_____________________________________________________________________________

This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. February’s theme is Slow Sundays

Discover more about slow living.

4 Tips to Optimise Your Sleep

Book and cup of tea of a white duvet

According to research from insurers Aviva, 48% of UK adults admit to not getting enough sleep. And, a study of approximately 15,000 people by bed specialists, Dreams, adds that 27.8% of respondents say they never wake up feeling refreshed. Given this, it’s unsurprising that Pinterest’s 2019 trends report shows that there are quite a few of us who are interested in making changes to sleep better. Searches for ‘sleep optimisation’ have increased by 116%. With a huge influence on our health, mood and caffeine intake, these people know that sleep shouldn’t be put in last place. We share four tips to improve and optimise your sleep, taking inspiration from a trend that we hope will be sticking around.

4 Sleep Optimisation Tips for a Better Night’s Rest

1. Create Consistent Sleep Times

Research by The Sleep Council reveals that 7% of us don’t have a regular bedtime and almost a fifth go to bed after midnight. According to Sleep.org, ‘our bodies crave consistency’. In other words, creating routines helps our bodies prepare for different activities or events. Prone to waking up at the same time or just before your alarm, even on weekends? That could indicate that your body has adjusted to your wake-up time and is making you feel more alert. 

But, you don’t need to strive for a perfect sleep pattern, every single night. In conversation with Healthline, Michael Twery, PhD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, reminds us that a few late nights here and there is normal, but, “if we’re regularly working against how our biology is organized, our bodies will find it hard to function”.

How, then, do you develop a consistent bedtime? Aside from exploring the following tips that discuss ways to wind down, Sleep.org recommends making gradual adjustments towards your ideal sleep and wake-up times. Adjust your bedtime by 15 minutes each day to give your body a chance to catch-up, rather than trying (and probably failing miserably) to get up at 6am straightaway.

2. Optimise Your Sleeping Space

While it’s fairly obvious, it’s worth mentioning that our sleeping environment affects our sleep quality. Factors that influence our sleep environment could be light, sound and temperature, among others.

The Sleep Council suggests a cool bedroom temperature of 16-18°C, as body heat reaches its highest levels in the evening and then drops to its lowest while we sleep. Light and dark can also impact your circadian rhythm (internal body clock). It’s advised to dim lights before bed and invest in some good curtains, or an eye mask. And if you’ve got noisy neighbours, it might be worth sourcing some earplugs. 

Bedside table with terrazzo lamp, candle, eye mask and book

3. Switch Off Your Screens

It’s not just lightbulbs that can interrupt our circadian rhythm, our smartphones and screens emit a blue light that can keep our bodies feeling alert. If you’re using your phone in bed, the blue light emitted emulates sunlight and suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin, which should increase naturally when we’re preparing to sleep.

Digital distractions, in the form of emails or other notifications, can also keep our minds feeling alert. Checking our phones before going to bed can extend the stress we try to leave in the office to our bedrooms, and prevent us from really switching off when we need to most. You may also feel stimulated or energised when replying to messages from friends.

It’s recommended to digital detox (stop using all forms of screens) one hour before going to sleep. Try charging your phone outside of your bedroom if you’re prone to checking it in the night or, on the flipside, if you tend to procrastinate getting up by checking your feeds first thing in the morning.

4. Design a Bedtime Ritual

If you’re not scrolling on your phone or watching TV, what else can you do with that last hour before bed? While many discuss the impact of a strong morning ritual, the importance of an evening routine can’t be overlooked.

When it comes to the topic of getting enough sleep, it’s almost impossible not to mention Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global and author of The Sleep Revolution. After fainting with exhaustion in 2007, Arianna has become an ambassador for talking about sleep deprivation and encouraging the notion that to succeed, a good night’s sleep is incredibly important. 

Talking to The Telegraph, Arianna claims, “I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual”. She turns off her digital devices at a certain time each evening before removing them from her bedroom. Later, she enjoys a hot bath with Epsom salts and a candle. And, finally, just before drifting off to sleep, she’ll focus on the things she’s grateful for at that moment. This mindful practice, according to Arianna, means that, “my blessings, not my worries, get the closing scene of the night.”

So, taking it from the sleep guru herself, a bedtime ritual doesn’t need to be overly complicated, just relaxing and respected every evening. Reading, yoga, meditation and physically keeping a gratitude journal are other popular choices.

In addition to a relaxing bedtime ritual, getting a good night’s sleep begins with working towards consistent sleep and wake times, optimising your bedroom environment and unplugging from screens. Ready to give these tips a try? 


This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. January’s theme is Slow Living & Sleep.

Discover more about slow living.

Work-Life Balance: Is Achieving it a Myth?

Work life balance myth: flatlay with notebook, plant and coffee

In a thought-provoking Girlboss Radio podcast, Luvvie Ajayi, author, speaker and digital strategist, revealed an interesting conversation she had on the mythical concept of work-life balance with Thasunda Duckett, CEO of Consumer Banking at JPMorgan Chase. Thasunda told Luvvie how she viewed life as a portfolio that you put 100% of your assets (your time and energy) into. When she asked Luvvie to state how much of her life she spends working, Luvvie answered 80%, leaving just 20% for friends, family, self-care and everything in between. According to Thasunda, Luvvie and those who would give a similar response, need to diversify their portfolio. Investors wouldn’t put the majority of their money in one single place, because if the market goes down, you’re only left with 20% of what you put in. So, why should we?

This interesting analogy reminds us that too much of the same thing all the time can come at a cost. But, can we ever strike the perfect work-life balance? Or, is achieving it a myth?

Work-Life Balance: A Flawed Concept?

Setting Ourselves Up For Failure

Balanced means equal. In this sense, we should be spending 50% of our time working and 50% of our time doing everything else, which would be to chase an unattainable ideal. What’s more, this idea of equal parts suggests that to be living well, the 50:50 ratio needs to be maintained.

But, our relationship with work and ‘life’ is never static. At times, the majority of our energy goes into working and at others, we prioritise our relationships, self-care or hobbies. We can’t predict what life will throw at us and the constant adjustments we will need to make. The assumption that this equal parts split or someone else’s idea of optimal work-life balance is something to work towards, is most likely setting us up for failure from the very beginning.

A Division between Work and Life

To create a clear division between work and ‘life’ is also to suggest that they’re mutually exclusive – when we’re working, we’re not living, and vice versa. We might even have one personality we wear at work, and another outside of the office. Perhaps, those who see their working day as something that eats into their personal life, aren’t lucky enough to have found their true purpose, or be able to pursue it. The old phrase, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life”, springs to mind.

Work-Life Integration, Not Balance

One of the thought leaders on the subject of work-life balance, Professor Stew Friedman, has dedicated years of research to the paradox above. In his writing, he stresses the importance of bringing your entire authentic self to work and finding harmony between the four key aspects of life: work, home, community and self.

How? Talking to Forbes, Friedman explains his notion of ‘four-way wins’ as “an action or a different way of thinking that helps you see that what you’re doing is making a positive impact directly, or has a ripple effect” on the four aspects mentioned above. In other words, it’s about work-life integration, not balance, as the improvements we make in our wider lives can benefit our work.

Starting work 30 minutes later because you’ve chosen to do some exercise is a great example. You’ll feel more energised for the working day ahead, you’ll also probably be running on endorphins which will benefit those around you, and you’ll be feeling good about yourself having taken time to care for your body. In conversation with 1 Million for Work Flexibility, Friedman summarises, “My research indicates that if you focus attention on yourself or your family in ways that you expect will have positive, even if indirect, benefits for your business (by being healthier, more energetic, or less cranky, for example), then you’re probably going to see those benefits.”

The idea that work-life balance is something to be strived for, that it brings happiness and success, is a myth. Aiming for a 50:50 work-life balance is arguably chasing failure – we can’t achieve the perfect balance, only better integration. The demands on our time will always fluctuate and separating our career from everything else negates that it’s a core part of our lives. And, crucially, each person’s perception of the perfect balance will be different. Of course, in today’s digital era, switching off from work is increasingly important, but trying to constantly compartmentalise it is exhausting. Instead, Friedman’s method of making small tweaks and improvements that affect all areas of our lives directly or indirectly, is worth some thought.

Slow Living in the City: 5 Tips for Navigating London’s Fast Lane

London streets with checkerboard tiles

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat” – Lily Tomlin, American actress

There’s a reason they call it a ‘race’. In 2007, a well-cited British Council study revealed how our pace of life had become 10% faster than it was in the early 1990s. The research, which measured the walking speed of city dwellers in 32 countries around the world, found that Londoners had an average walking speed of 12.17 seconds. This interestingly only won the capital 12th position in the list of cities analysed, while Singaporeans were found to be pacing the pavement quickest at 10.55 seconds. Yet, we’ve probably all felt frustrated at one time or another when people are dawdling around us, or not keeping right on tube escalators.

Arguably, in the decade or so since the study, our pace of life has only accelerated further as we try to keep up with increasing technological advancements. In other words, pace of life increases with pace of change. Evening Standard suggests that the fast pace of life in London has something to do with the city’s youthful and diverse population – the capital is young at heart with 24% of inner London residents fitting in the 25-34 age bracket.

With a cohort of people open to new experiences, trends are born and die fast in the city, while new tech is often adopted quickly. Uber, Deliveroo and Monzo are just a few tech brands to mention, while on the lifestyle scene, a constant cycle of Insta-worthy hotspots seem to appear overnight. Freakshakes have made way for flower walls and poke is the latest bowl-based food of choice. Londoners are constantly pushing boundaries and this buzzy atmosphere is one of the reasons why it’s such an exciting place to live.

But, does this innovation and the rapid rise and fall of ‘the next big thing’ have a downside? Although glorifying busy is not exclusive to London, there is a perceived pressure to ‘make the most’ of living in the city, as well as pursuing a jam-packed working schedule. But, since when did burnout, both socially and professionally, equate to popularity or success? If your answer to ‘how are you?’ is often ‘tired’, ‘busy’ or ‘stressed”, it could be time to indicate left and move from the capital’s inside lane to the slow lane.

How to Navigate Life in London’s Fast Lane

1. Reclaim Your Time from Your Phone

While we’d never be without the likes of Citymapper, the amount of time we spend on screens each day is increasing. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, we’re checking emails, Instagram and WhatsApp. There are many ways that tech overuse can leave us feeling far from our best – from creating a culture of comparison to stealing our focus from the present moment. Ever found yourself falling into a spiral of screen-scrolling? Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and you’ve read three Daily Mail articles and stalked your ex’s sister’s holiday snaps. Tech is designed to help us become more efficient, but without boundaries, we’re prone to letting it ebb away at our productivity.

Try a screen time app and measure when you’re on your smartphone and what apps you’re using. It will help you work out when you need to reclaim your time from the digital rectangle in your hand. Not charging your phone on your bedside table is a often a good place to start.


2. Cook from Scratch

City living is about choice, but all too frequently, it’s about convenience. Since there are an ever-growing number of healthy takeaway options in London, the joy in cooking from scratch is often overlooked when we can still order nutritious meals to our door. Cooking is often seen as a burden after a long day, but it can be actually be a form of simple meditation and a great way to unwind. Following a recipe and using simple, rhythmic actions, such as chopping vegetables or stirring a pot, allows you to be mindful.

Still don’t fancy spending a long time in the kitchen? Make it easier on yourself by prepping a week’s worth of chopped onions on a Sunday and choosing meals you really look forward to eating.


3. Schedule Downtime

Even tech creators schedule ‘downtime’ for their software, so why don’t we create ‘recharge’ time? Time spent doing nothing can feel unproductive or wasted, but it’s actually incredibly important for our brains. Stew Friedman Ph.D, author of Leading the Life You Want, tells Shape“Research shows that after you take a mental time-out, you are better at creative thinking and coming up with solutions and new ideas, and you feel more content.” In this sense, we should stop seeing unscheduled time as unhelpful, and rather see it as a tool to help us be creative and find solutions to issues we’re facing.

Natalie Macneil, entrepreneur and founder of She Takes On The World, tells Girlboss that she schedules her first appointment of the day for herself. Instead of skipping self-care when other distractions arise throughout the day, she puts activities like meditation and exercise first by building it into her morning ritual.


4. Escape the City

Whether you live in North, East, South or West London, you’re only a short journey away from somewhere new to explore. Taking a day trip or weekend away is a great way to help yourself switch off and slow down by re-adjusting to a slower pace of life – one with much less pollution, people and public transport. And of course, escaping the city will help you reconnect with nature and enjoy its (free!) beauty.

If you can’t get out of the city, there are still many places within London’s boroughs that offer escapism from urban overwhelm. Kew Gardens, for example, are an oasis of greenery and easily reachable from Central London.


5. Embrace Your Commute

Commuting in London is a fact of life, but it’s still pretty difficult to adjust to. The average commute in London is 46 minutes one-way, adding around an hour and a half to your working day. When crammed against the tube doors (no leaning, please), grappling for a space to hold on and faced with someone’s morning coffee breath, the daily commute feels like a bore, a chore and a waste of time. That’s especially when you consider that both ways, the average commute is the same duration as an entire football match.

Yet, as with most things in life, you can make the most of the situation at hand. Rather than spending your journey glaring at that person with the disproportionately large backpack and arriving at work with less #mondaymotivation that you thought possible, turn your commute into time well spent. Listen to an inspirational podcast or meditation session, read a book, write your shopping list – whatever it is, there will be something you can do to switch off from the business backpackers around you.

If you’re looking to slow down and enjoy a better balance while living and working in London, give these tips a try for thriving, rather than just ‘surviving’ the capital.