Welcome to our campaign to help you get back your bedtime!
We don’t necessarily need more sleep – we need better sleep. After a busy day, it can be hard to relax without relying on TV or alcohol. But studies show that gentle wind-down time away from technology and other distractions is the first step to a good night’s sleep. As the Psychologies team kicks off a month of experiments in spending an hour chilling out before bed, Deputy Editor Lauren Hadden talks about getting back your bedtime routine...
‘How did it get so late so soon?’
Countless studies have taught us that quality sleep, preceded by an all-important period of wind-down time, can help with everything from depression and lack of focus to boosting your immune system and maintaining a healthy weight.
But even here at Psychologies, where reading the research makes us aware of the benefits, the reality is we find it just as hard to actually live out what we’ve learnt – and nowhere is this more obvious than with how we spend our evenings.
I’m always keen to pack as much into waking hours as I can, and have a constant sense of not having enough time to do everything I want to do. This means that you can often find me folding laundry at 10.30 in the evening, when I’d swore I was going to sit down with a book.
So we’ve created a campaign, ‘Get Back Your Bedtime Hour’, which is forcing us to spend the last hour of our day before bed engaging in a wind-down activity that is free of chores or devices, and that will help us prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Here’s how to get ready to relax:
‘I've got lots of ambitions, but I only ever think of them when I'm lying around in my undies having a snooze.’
(Elizabeth Jane Howard, Mr Wrong)
The urge to fill our days with activity is so common now as to be taken for granted – we must always be doing something, filling up our time – including our evenings, when we’re often trying to catch up with housework, socialising or just dreaded ‘life admin’.
But constant busyness leaves no time for quiet reflection or stillness, which is a crucial element for calm and creativity. If you’re an instinctive busy bee, remind yourself that resting now will mean you’re more productive tomorrow.
The other, opposite-extreme effect of a busy day can be an entirely unproductive evening. Alain de Botton has written about this: 'The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close. His mind has been wound to a pitch of concentration by the interactions of the office. Now there is only silence and the flashing of the unset clock on the microwave.
'He feels as if he had been playing a computer game which remorselessly tested his reflexes, only to have its plug suddenly pulled from the wall. He is impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile... For this particular combination of tiredness and nervous energy, the sole workable solution is wine.'
We can be so exhausted by the stress of our day that once supper is made or the children are in bed, all we are good for is that oversized glass of wine and a slump in front of the TV. Suddenly it's approaching midnight and we're wired, still tired and have a sense of having achieved nothing.
‘You will never clear your plate so you can finally allow yourself to get to the good stuff... So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life?’
In her book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One has the Time, Brigid Schulte explains that for historical and cultural reasons, women are particularly guilty of putting off pleasurable activities now until everything on the to-do list is done. The problem is that the list never ends.
If this point rings alarm bells for you, you might literally need an alarm – set one to go off about an hour before your usual bedtime (if you haven’t got a fixed, regular bedtime, this could be a good time to start). When it rings, stop! Put down the tools, switch off the tech and get ready to relax...
‘Moments before sleep are when she feels most alive, leaping across fragments of the day, bringing each moment into the bed with her like a child with schoolbooks and pencils.’
(Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient)
It’s harder than it sounds. When we started this campaign at Psychologies, we found it was easiest in the long run if we planned our relaxing activities in advance (a little planning goes a long way). Get out a pen and make a list of all the things you’d like to do but never seem to have time to – then circle the more relaxing activities.
So you might want to get more exercise, but the idea would be to consider yoga stretches rather than running up and down the stairs. Don’t read enough? Never have time to go through old photos, do some crafting, sit and talk with your partner, meditate? It doesn’t matter what your wish is, as long as it’s absorbing without being too taxing, and is technology and stimulant free.
Then make it as easy as possible to start your relaxing activity when that alarm goes. If you plan to try mindfulness meditation, have the Headspace app downloaded to your phone, and a comfortable chair ready in a quite part of your home.
If you’re going to paint your nails, have all the bits you need ready to go. Gather a pile of tempting books you’ve been wanting to read for ages, and put them by your bed... Creating new habits is about making it as easy as possible to actually make that change.
SUBSCRIBE to Psychologies magazine before 28 May and, as well as having the magazine delivered direct to your door every month, never missing an issue, you’ll receive a FREE gift of Tisserand Sweet Dreams oils*, with lavender, bergamot and ylang-ylang essential oils to help you relax and get more from your bedtime.