“I’m tired.” This is the new go-to answer to the question, “How are you?” You’ve probably responded this way before (we all have). And you say it with this little smile, usually followed by a sigh, as if your universal tiredness is a sweet joke or a fact of life. Then you have this vivid image in your mind of your wonderful bed waiting for you, nine hours from now. You can’t wait to go home and go to sleep—and yet, once it’s time for bed, there are suddenly other things to do. Your sleep gets shunted, pushed off to the side while you wear yourself out with other things. And then, once you are in bed, you can’t fall asleep. You eventually slip into your slumber and then wake up the next morning feeling just as tired as you were the day before. Will there ever be a time when you’re not exhausted? Yes, and a bedtime routine might be your answer.
Circadian Rhythm and Blue Light
The human body has a natural rhythm that correlates with a 24-hour day. It’s called your circadian rhythm, and it’s typically associated with sunrise and sunset: your body knows when it’s time to rise and time to rest. It’s amazing that we’ve evolved this way, prioritizing time for rest so our bodies can restore themselves. But something’s knocked our circadian rhythms off balance: blue light. Blue light is found in LEDs, electronic devices, and fluorescent lights. Harvard Health Publishing says:
“Not all colors of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.”
Think of it this way: if the sun never set, would you sleep well? It would be strange trying to fall asleep when it’s light outside, wouldn’t it? Blue light has a similar effect, except it’s artificial. If you’re on your phone or laptop after dark, the blue light is affecting your circadian rhythm, tricking your body into thinking it’s not actually nighttime, therefore making it harder to wind down for sleep. And a lack of quality sleep can lead to varied health problems, because your body’s not getting the reset that it needs each night (e.g., repairing muscle tissue, recording memory, or strengthening your immune system).
Of course, many of us appreciate indulging at night via streaming, social media, or video games, so cutting out blue light entirely may not be a viable option right away. If you want to realign yourself with your natural circadian rhythm, there is something else you can do: try a spiritual bedtime routine.
Five Elements of an Effective Bedtime Routine
We all need better sleep. But we aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we stay up late online or sleep in until past noon. Establishing a nighttime routine can help you prepare for sleep, sleep better, and wake up feeling more energized.In turn, it can help un-confuse your circadian rhythm a bit. But you don’t need a dream journal or a star chart or a bath bomb to have a good sleep routine(although those three items can be wonderful additions!). All you need is yourself. The best bedtime routine is one that connects you to your core self, the part of you that sometimes gets ignored throughout your busy day. In other words, you can weave spirituality into your nightly rituals not just for physical benefits but also for emotional and spiritual benefits.
An effective spiritual nighttime routine has the following elements:
What’s so special about these five elements?They allow you to connect to your spiritual side. And your spiritual side helps you disconnect from what’s not serving you. When you drop the stress and frustration of everyday life, you’ll find it easier to relax and have quality sleep.
Mindfulness makes you aware of the things you can easily ignore when you aren’t paying attention, like that slight crick in your neck that you’ve had all day or the residual anger you’ve felt in the back of your mind. Movement helps you thoughtfully respond to what you observed through your body. It reminds you how important it is to make sure all parts of you are working properly, from your hands to your spine to your toes. Journaling records what’s emerged from your mindfulness and movement. Packaging your lived experience into words helps you process it and learn from it. Prayer connects you to your higher power, helping you express gratitude and ask for help. The relationship between you and divinity is largely sustained through prayer. Rest is a reminder of the purpose of all of this: to relax and be refreshed. Getting adequate rest will reset your mind, body, and spirit.
To be clear—this routine is for after your other typical bedtime things, like brushing your teeth, washing your face, or watching an episode of your favorite show. A spiritual bedtime routine is for when you are absolutely ready to sleep. You need to see your sleep time as sacred time, apart from your other nightly activities. Therefore, your sleep routine should be for just that—sleep. How silly would it be if you spent all this time making a meaningful connection with yourself, only to pull your phone out from under your pillow to catch up on your favorite Youtuber’s new content? You’re effectively extracting yourself from the relaxed, meditative state you’ve created for your body, telling it that it’s actually not time to sleep.
A Five-Minute Spiritual Bedtime Routine
So you know the five elements of a successful spiritual bedtime routine. But how do they look in practice? Strict nighttime routines work for some people: they spend a good thirty minutes to an hour completing their carefully chosen end-of-day rituals, and are usually asleep by their set bedtimes. But for others, their lives are so different each day that having a set bedtime is improbable or even impossible. This makes a nighttime routine difficult—sometimes you have the time to read a book in a nice, relaxing bath before bed, but sometimes you’re out with friends late into the night. How do you strike a balance?
What we know is that having a bedtime routine helps people sleep better. Ideally, you have a lot of time for it, to ensure that your body and mind really relax before bed.However, it’s not always plausible to dedicate more than a few moments to the cause. So we’ve outlined a sample five-minute spiritual bedtime routine for those of you who struggle being consistent. Hopefully, this is doable enough for you to at least try it and see what happens.
- Mindfulness: Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take ten long, deep breaths. See if you can make each exhale longer and longer. Take this time to observe your mind and body without judgment.
- Movement: Gently move your body. Stretch your arms above your head, do a few shoulder rolls, or lean over your legs. Notice how this feels in your body—better?
- Journaling: Write one sentence (or a few) about your day. A good template is “Today I feel ___ because ___.” Another option is “Something I learned today is ___.”
- Prayer: You can give your higher power a recap of your day, or you can focus more telling them on how you’re feeling in the present moment.
- Rest: If your phone is next to you, move it to the other side of the room (or to a new room altogether, even better!). Turn off the lights and go to sleep!
These five steps are so simple that you can adapt them to what you’re feeling on any given night. Suppose you get back to your place past midnight and you have an early morning. You can shorten the mindfulness portion into five breaths instead of ten and say an extremely brief goodnight to God before hitting the hay. On the other hand, if you find yourself with more time, perhaps you can do a fifteen-minute relaxing yoga sequence as part of the movement category. However you arrange these elements, they can connect you to your spiritual self and prepare you for great sleep.
Racing Thoughts Before Bed
Even if you have a solid nighttime routine, the whole “rest” part can be extremely hard to master. A total of 58% of Americans admit to falling asleep while watching TV. Are you a bad person if you do this? Of course not! However, you can get better, longer sleep (think: less tossing and turning, feeling more awake during the day) if you lull yourself to sleep, i.e., just lie there trying to relax until your eyes drift closed.
A lot of us feel an aversion to this. A likely reason that so many people fall asleep watching TV is that it distracts them from the racing thoughts that typically come before bedtime. Bedtime is when your brain decides to remind you of every embarrassing thing you’ve said ever, or everything you need to get done tomorrow, among other recurrent anxiety themes. It’s certainly easier to let your body numb itself into exhaustion through some form of distraction (like TV) than it is to sit still with nothing to entertain you. In fact, your racing thoughts can actually keep you from sleeping if you don’t do something to tune them out. It’s not healthy to let yourself get caught in these anxious spirals, but how do you prevent that from happening without just distracting your mind with something else?
The hope is that doing the five steps of a bedtime routine—mindfulness, movement, journaling, prayer, and rest—will help you clear your brain of some of these anxieties. But if you’re still experiencing racing thoughts before bed, there are some other relaxation techniques that you can try. One is quite simple: When you breathe in, think “1.” When you breathe out, think “2.” Repeat this until you fall asleep. Another is to listen to a soothing soundscape such as ocean waves or a thunderstorm. Most apps that provide these sounds have some kind of sleep timer, where the sound will turn off after a certain amount of time, e.g., an hour.
Note that if you’re dependent on screen time to fall asleep, this may feel nearly impossible at first. You may feel more anxious than normal at bedtime because you won’t know what to do with yourself. Try the spiritual bedtime routine and relaxation techniques, and see how it goes. Maybe set yourself an un official timer, say, 20 minutes, of lying in bed in the darkness with no distractions(don’t actually set a timer, because you may wake yourself up!). If you’re still wide awake after 20 minutes, then you can go to your screen time as asleep aid. But who knows? A spiritual bedtime routine might just work!
Bedtime is a chance to listen to yourself, possibly for the first time all day. Don’t ignore this sacred time. Give yourself a few minutes to decompress from the day before going to bed with a spiritual bedtime routine. It can revolutionize your sleep and your life.