On Improving Sleep


Sleep hygiene, if you haven't heard, is important. As it turns out, humans need sleep--more sleep than we think. At least 7 hours, and that's probably not enough. And we're talking about restful, restorative sleep of the deep variety, not tossing and turning and waking up a bunch of times during the night staring at the ceiling or watching the clock.


And kids need even more sleep.


We Become What We Practice

If we're on devices staring at screens while in bed; snacking right before bed; or attempting to have important conversations, make decisions, or pick fights when everyone is exhausted, guess what sleep is going to look like? Guess what it's going to feel like?


What happens right before bedtime is important as it sets the stage. Your bedtime routine, such as it is, creates an environment conducive to . . . something. Think about it: you already have a bedtime routine and its consequences. You're living those consequences right now. And the same is true for your kids. Everyone does something for the 60 minutes prior to getting their head onto the pillow.


Putting Attention on the Intention for Restful Sleep

With a little planning, we can all improve our days and our nights, and maybe even our relationships. Here are some elements we can all use to mix and match into bedtime routines. Do them as a family! Don't do them as a family! Figure out what works best for your unique situation and craft your own Mindful Bedtime Routine.

  1. Go to bed at the same time each night.

  2. 6o minutes prior to bedtime, turn off devices, including the television.

  3. Stretch like a cat--luxuriously and slowly. Bring attention to all of the movements and what you feel in your body as you move, when you stop moving, and even in the transitions between deciding to get up or lie down.

  4. Recall and savor your favorite moment from the day. It could be a cup of tea, snuggling with the dog, reading together, a walk in nature. If you can't think of anything, remember something wonderful. You can even imagine a moment of joy, beauty or awe. Your brain won't know the difference. You can easily conjure up sensations associated with joy or awe or love or safety just by thinking thoughts about them.

  5. List three "wins" for the day. Three things that went well. The absence of pain or a day without an argument are also wins. You arrived on time someplace. You checked off your top three items on your list of priorities. You remembered to be mindful a few times. You expressed gratitude to someone or someone expressed theirs to you.

  6. Speaking of gratitude, what one thing are you grateful for from the day? Talk about it.

  7. Describe one kind or generous act from the day. It doesn't have to be something you did. Maybe it's something you saw.

  8. Thank your body for getting you through the day. Thank each other for your favorite qualities.

  9. Do a body scan.

  10. If you're still awake after all of that, put yourself in the most glorious environment to fall asleep in--with the help of your imagination. If you aren't convinced of the impact of the contents of your mind on your sleep, do your own experiment. Watch something like Moving Art and then notice the quality of your sleep and dreams, and compare that experience to watching a disturbing film and the resulting quality of falling asleep and whether you sleep deeply and restoratively. Notice the contents of your dreams. I frequently tell the story of how I watched The Walking Dead--for years--and had to stop because it so dramatically, negatively affected my sleep and dreams.

Pro TIPS

  • Bedtime isn't the time for negativity or decision-making or critical conversations.

  • Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and food, in general, should be avoided when you're closing in on bedtime.

  • Exercise during the day is great, however if it wakes you up too much, you might want to get it done earlier in the day. Ditto for a walk in the brisk, cold night air. You do you! Experiment!

  • Again, experiment! Pitch black is helpful for some people, but upsetting for others.

Parents, this is for you!

Try this 10-minute Bedtime Routine with your kids. Or without them! You"ll begin, ready for bed, standing next to the bed. Enjoy!


© 2021 by Mary Martin PhD 

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Jupiter, FL