The older I get, the more important sleep becomes. And while I don’t subscribe to any spiritual philosophy, these self-care sleep habits are basically my religion.

Self-Care Sleep Habits

Original photo by Tracey Hocking 

I have a lot of recently-formed opinions about sleep. When I was younger, I could fall asleep anywhere, any time. In fact, I did it often. Even while hanging out with friends. Basically, I was like a toddler who needed a nap in an immediate way when the feeling struck me.

But now, my body is doing this weird thing. It denies me sleep. My brain won’t turn off the second my head hits the pillow. I actually have to try to achieve that comatose state where you’re drooling all over yourself.

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While this has been a shock to me, I have taken the time to develop a series of self-care sleep habits that usually ensure I can get enough sleep to function. And know that I’m writing this in the dark of a morning when I woke up super early after not being able to fall asleep because I didn’t follow ANY of these little bits of advice.

Self-Care Sleep Habits

001: Set a fairly consistent sleep schedule.

I won’t tell you to be in bed by 9 on weekends, because I know you’re not a square. (I love that only cool kids read this blog.) But I will also float this idea to you: Going to bed early on the weekends is probably the most luxurious thing I can imagine. So don’t let that manic Saturday night energy keep you up scrolling through Instagram or binge watching a show that you aren’t 100% in love with. If you’re going to stay up, do it for a worthwhile reason. Like reading a good book or because you’re too scared to go to sleep after watching a horror movie.

I know that my mornings are a million times easier when I get a consistent amount of sleep, and pretty much the only way to do that is to have a pretty consistent sleep schedule. I’m generally in bed between 9:30 PM and 11 PM, and I wake up between 5:30 AM and 7 AM. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I can do, and it works for me. Also, knowing the amount of sleep your body needs is really helpful too. I’m a 7 hours sort of girl, so I try to set my wake up alarm to enable that.

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And real talk: You may need a night time routine to keep you honest about your sleep.

002: Do things that make you tired.

If I’m not working out, it’s next to impossible to get to sleep. And while I openly admit to not being a gym rat or a fitness guru, I do know that I need at least 30 minutes a day where I’m doing something to make my muscles tired. (Lately that’s been the 21-Day Fix on Beach Body on Demand.) My life is incredibly sedentary, because writing is definitely an “ass in chair” sort of activity. So burning some energy throughout the day is important for me to actually get tired at night.

It’s also important to note that sometimes I don’t have to get my body tired to be exhausted. You ever use your brain so much that you basically pass out when your head hits the pillow? That’s how I feel when I grade the big papers my students write toward the end of the semester. Or when I’m lecturing hardcore about writing styles. So, basically, make sure you either expend your body energy or brain energy. Get yourself tired, and then you’re going to have a really good night’s sleep.

003: No caffeine after noon.

This is one of those “do as I say and not as I do” items. But here’s the deal. I know that if I have caffeine after noon that I’m not going to be able to easily get to sleep that night. I don’t know when my body started pulling this shit, because I used to drink a cup of coffee right before bed in grad school, and it did NOTHING. But fast forward 8 years and well, here I am. (I know it’s because I no longer consume grad school levels of caffeine, and have a low tolerance to it, but I also feel like a cup of coffee at 1 PM shouldn’t stay in my system until like 3 AM. The human body is a mysterious contraption that is mostly trying to destroy me.)

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If your tolerance to caffeine is higher, that’s cool. Just do what works best for you. I know as I get older that my tolerance lowers to a ridiculous amount. So, lately half a cup in the mornings is what I’ve been able to handle. And if you’re like me, know that there are delightful herbal teas out there to sip on when you feel the urge to have a nice hot mug in your hand. No, it won’t give you that coffee jolt, but it will also enable you to get to bed at a decent hour, and not stay up all night re-organizing your bookcases like some kind of maniac.

Not that I would do that.

004: Your bed is for two things and neither of them is “watching TV.”

There are only two things you should do in bed: sleep and shuffle Pokémon cards. (I’m kidding about that second one, but if you want to use that as a euphemism for sex, I think that would be great.) I used to be the sort of heathen who did homework in bed. Or ate in bed. Or basically tried to live in my bed. There’s something about college and grad school that makes you want to curl up at all times, even when you need to crank out a 20-page paper before the deadline closes.

But now I can’t do that. Basically, I need to use my bed for its intended purposes because if I don’t, then I can’t make myself sleep there. It’s like my brain is all, “Hey, we should be writing here because that’s what we do.” And I’m like, “SHUT UP BRENDA IT’S 3 AM AND YOU HAVE A FULL DAY OF TEACHING COMING UP.” By keeping my waking life and sleeping life separate, I prevent awkward conversations like that from happening.

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005: If your brain won’t chill, get out of bed.

There are some days when your mind won’t let you chill. Some nights, you just have to get out of bed and do something else until you get tired. It can be hard to make yourself do that, because as you look at the clock, you’ll want to count how many hours of potential sleep you can get, and that will really only make you more anxious, and less likely to fall asleep. But if you get out of bed when you can’t sleep, you’re more likely to do something that makes you tired.

In these times, I have been known to do some yoga or to simply read. Sometimes I’ll journal and just try to get my brain out on paper, which seems to quiet my mind. I try to avoid screens as much as possible, since the light in them does the opposite of making you tired. (I’m not perfect at this. If you see me tweet at midnight, know that I’m relapsing.) And if all else fails, I make myself a nice cup of a caffeine-free tea and just try to let the warmth of it lull me to sleep.

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What Are Your Self-Care Sleep Habits?

How do you make your brain tired? Do you get out of bed when you can’t sleep? Do you try to keep a consistent sleep schedule? How often do you shuffle your Pokémon cards?

3 Responses

    1. Good luck! And I’ll admit I’m terrible at sticking to the them the minute I remember that there are so many things on Netflix I haven’t scene.

  1. I am awful at being on a schedule anymore. I am on forced retirement and I have found sleep to be very elusive to me now. I’d love to get more without taking medicine for it!

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