Sleep. We all know it’s important. Among many other benefits, getting enough quality sleep boosts our ability to learn, improves our cognition and decision-making skills, helps regulate our hunger and fullness cues, and allows our bodies to repair and regenerate cells and tissues. Unfortunately, quality sleep can be hard to come by for many of us.
I’ve struggled with sleep for years and slowly developed a little arsenal of bedtime rituals that have helped me improve my sleep and set myself up for more cheerful mornings and energetic days overall. My bedtime rituals help settle me down both mentally and physically, and of course it includes some skincare too. Let’s jump in—I hope my tips help you!
If you’re anything like me, then flinging yourself into bed without any preparation will result in at least an hour of mental tossing and turning: worrying about current events or life challenges, overthinking perfectly normal interactions in a grim search for new sources of anxiety, dredging up embarrassing moments from years ago to cringe about all over again. It’s really not fun. It’s also really not conducive to slipping into a peaceful night’s sleep. To combat this, I’ve gotten into the habit of gratitude journaling at the end of the day.
Journaling is obviously very personal and very Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV), so you’ll likely end up developing your own favorite method. I use my journal very intentionally as a record of positivity. I always write down one thing I’m grateful for that day, and if I’ve done anything I’m particularly proud of or if I had a particularly happy experience, I write about that, too. I do this so that when I’m feeling anxious, I have happy things to look back on. My journal is documentation that life is good and that things go well more often than they don’t. If there’s something really preying on my mind, I may write about that as well, but I don’t give as much space to negativity as I do to positivity.
Worries about the next day also feature prominently in my bedtime fretting. To minimize this, I spend some time at the end of the day going over the next day’s agenda in my planner. Remembering what I have planned helps me remind myself that it’s all perfectly doable. When I see it on paper, I’m often able to get it out of my head for the night.
General mental discomfort isn’t the only thing that can keep us up at night. Physical discomfort affects sleep (and how you feel the next morning) just as much, and these days, most of us feel at least some physical discomfort, thanks to sedentary jobs and a very common tendency to carry our stress in our shoulders or our backs.
Journaling and reviewing my planner help to ease my mental tension; a few gentle stretches at bedtime help to release physical tension. This bedtime ritual isn’t a long, involved yoga routine that requires a mat and a real time commitment. It’s just a few minutes to loosen up the knots in my muscles that pull tight when I lie down and make it difficult to get comfortable.
As with journaling, you may need to find your own personal favorite stretches, since we all carry tension differently. Mine should be a good place to start, however.
I like to start on the floor next to my bed with a few slow and gentle cat cow stretches. These help release neck tension and improve upper spine mobility, which can help prevent that horrible “crick in my neck” twingeing in the morning.
After cat/cow, I sit on the edge of my bed and do eagle arms, holding the pose for about 30 seconds to a minute on each side. This stretch does wonders to release tension between the shoulder blades, an area where I often find myself achy by the end of the day.
Once I lie down, I’ll do a slow and gentle figure 4 stretch on each leg. I used to suffer from sciatica pain, and it turns out this stretch is often recommended for sciatica. Figure 4 stretches lengthen and relax the hip and glute muscles.
I finish up by circling back around to spine mobility with an open book stretch on each side. Spinal twists like this pose feel amazing for my upper back and shoulders, where I hold most of my stress.
Having a bedtime stretching ritual doesn’t just help you relax your muscles so you can sleep more comfortably. Over time, stretches appropriate to your body can help increase your overall flexibility and mobility, allowing you to go through your day with less pain. Putting down the phone to stretch before sleep is also a nice way to tell your brain and body that it’s time to shut down for the night.
Finally, it wouldn’t really be like me to end this article without talking about my bedtime skincare routine and the benefits of having one.
This isn’t a skincare article, so I’m not here with specific product or practice recommendations. (For those, you can look through my Kalista Edit archives, my blog, or my Instagram.) Instead, here I simply want to encourage you to have a bedtime (or just evening) skincare routine, as much for your mental health as for your physical beauty.
Much has been made of skincare as a self-care ritual in the past few years, and with a global pandemic and other assorted disasters throwing lives into disarray, self-care has become ever more important to our sanity and collective sense of calm. And skincare as self-care has been endlessly commercialized, but it’s not about some specific product or device or technique. Your bedtime skincare routine might be full of SK-II or it might simply be Cetaphil face wash and Cerave cream. As long as it’s what suits you and your skin, the details don’t matter.
What matters is this: When we take care of ourselves, including our skin, we send ourselves a powerful message. That message is that we have value. We are worthy of care. We are worthy of care, and we are capable of giving ourselves care, of taking the small actions every day that lead to big results.
Taking a few minutes to journal, adding another few minutes to stretch, and cleansing and moisturizing our faces before bed won’t take much time out of our day. These small bedtime rituals can help us sleep better right away, but even better than that, the incremental progress that we make by sticking to them every day, by making these small actions of self-care into long-term habits, will bring us big rewards in the future.
So take good care of yourself. Find ways to sleep a little better every night. That way, you’ll have the energy and motivation you need to make the most of all the days in your future.