If we had an off-and-on switch for falling asleep we would most likely be in the book of extinct animals. The act of falling asleep is a process that requires a safe environment and a relaxed state of mind. It would be an evolutionary dead-end for a species to disregard their surroundings and internal turbulences for the sake of a night’s rest. Only a person with a complete lack of awareness would take a nap next to a pride of lions unless, of course, they want this to be their last bedtime ritual.
To say that light sleep, restlessness, or insomnia are a by-product of our evolutionary conditioning is a far-fetched statement. However, the fact that people require a dark and cold environment in order to fall asleep is an obvious sign that our brain seeks specific conditioning for its nightly reboot. As such, it comes as no surprise when people instinctually associate rest with safety and relaxation.
Falling to sleep is a process, it takes time for your body to give in and let you be vulnerable. This is why incorporating the following three rituals would be essential for your bedtime regimen.
A Worry Journal
One of the most potent strategies to alleviate stress or anxiety without the use of pharmaceuticals is writing in a worry journal. This seemingly trivial bedtime ritual holds the potential to bless you with a rather cathartic experience. People are talented in their ability to ignore stress until its burden starts manifesting as weird pains, rashes, or sleeplessness. A pen and a sheet of paper could well be the antidote to this vicious cycle.
It is unfortunate how fast negative thoughts pop up and mushroom into genuine concerns. Fighting fire with fire is a poor strategy when it comes to the battle in your mind. Silently dwelling on the negative thought will only fertilize it – you must take the thought out of its natural environment (your brain) and dissect it onto a sheet of paper. See it for what it is – just a fabricated concern with a solution attached to it. Once the troubling thoughts are transferred onto the page, they will temporarily seize to affect your mind.
Writing down what stresses you or simply what you need to do on the following day will free your mind and improve the health of your sleep. The chances of waking up at night with worries of existential dread or a nagging feeling that you forgot something would be significantly lower once this ritual turns into a habit.
Keep in mind that this exercise may be exciting or overwhelming at times. It’s best to do it one or two hours before sleep, so your body will have enough time to relax. This bedtime ritual will not only speed up the process of falling asleep by up to 50% but will also improve the overall quality and quantity of sleep.
Sometimes our sleep protocol is in need of external help. Be it kiwi, milk, or turkey, aiding your sleep with the introduction of foods is nothing unheard of. Inside the conventional wisdom surrounding sleep health, there are at least a half dozen foods that keep on stealing the spotlight. Warm milk, for example, has been often regarded as the king of all-natural sleep tonics. However, the degree to which milk might be a feasible option is at the very least questionable since this food is notoriously polarizing as many people tend to tolerate the drink poorly. Fortunately, drinking kefir before sleep is a more gut-friendly and beneficial bedtime ritual.
The most likely origin of kefir is North Caucasus, spanning Europe and Asia. From there, the fermented drink took over most of the world due to its health benefits and unique taste. Milk kefir is made by introducing kefir grains to milk. The grains are essentially an ever-growing blob of friendly bacteria and yeast colonies that feast onto the sugars inside the milk and in return produce the highly sought-after lactic acid. This is the most potent probiotic drink out there containing over 50 strains of gut beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
Apart from its immune-boosting properties, the real charm of the kefir drink is that it keeps all the health benefits of milk, all the while getting rid of the polarizing substances like casein and lactose. The brimming cocktail of microorganisms ferments the milk and in the process consumes most of the troubling lactose and pre-digests the casein. What’s left is a thick yogurt-like liquid packed with sleep-inducing tryptophan and anxiety-alleviating probiotics that will rightfully fit in your bedtime rituals protocol.
Of course, if you can’t tolerate dairy products at all or you are simply looking for a vegan alternative you can always drink coconut or water kefir. You may lose on the tryptophan but the benefits of the probiotics and the very freshness of the drink will put you at ease and help you fall asleep.
If the worry journal and the kefir rolled out the red carpet for your big night of sleep, the following meditation practice will walk you down the hall. Long forgotten are the times when meditation was regarded as an esoteric and exotic mind exercise imported from the East. Nowadays, science journals are pumping out more papers on the benefits of meditation than we can handle reading. From better concentration to literal physiological changes in the frontal cortex, meditation might just be the king of all bedtime rituals.
The goal of pre-sleep meditation is to get the mind off of itself and separate yourself from the environment you are in. Visualizing a place that brings you comfort or peace is one of the most effective ways to wind down the mind and body. Going on a mental walk through nature or any other soothing location will significantly speed up the time it takes you to fall asleep.
In other words, you tap into the brain’s desire to find a safe environment into which to rest and recuperate – you become the architect of your perfect safe space, essentially tricking the mind that you’ve found the holy grail of sleeping locations.
As much as Home of Wool wants to believe in sheep counting as an effective bedtime ritual, the practice has been widely regarded as counterproductive. It’s a repetitive and stimulating cognitive process that keeps up your mind engaged. On the other side of the coin, however, going on a mental walk requires little to no cognitive fuel and is far from being emotionally taxing. Be it an elaborate world completely made out of wool or a simple forest path, the visuals you wish to generate will inevitably put you to sleep.
To fully reap the benefits of the practice, it is best to perform it a couple of minutes before going to bed, or even better – use it as the last piece of your sleep regimen just when you are on the edge of falling asleep.
Bedtime rituals are highly individual and the internet is filled with tips that may or may not work for you. However, it might be helpful to cluster the wide buffet of information into three types of bedtime rituals: the ones that soothe the psyche (Worry Journal), those who manipulate the body on a physiological level (Kefir), and finally the rituals that actively put you into a state of sleep (Meditation). Having a bedtime protocol with rituals from all three categories may yield the best results as you will be tackling your restlessness from multiple angles.