You know those memes that are some variation of, “I’m so good in bed! I could sleep for DAYS!”
Yeah, I am not one of those people. My body hates sleep. Flat out rejects it. Gets anxious at the thought of it. I’ve gone months greeting 4am like a weary warrior greets home at the end of an epic tragedy. My longest record without sleep? Somewhere around 72 hours, and no I’m not proud. I was going to say “I’ve been like this my entire adult life,” but even that would be downplaying it! As a kid I would purposefully read books under the covers, night after night, until my body just gave up out of pure exhaustion. Sleep and I have never been on a first name basis.
That’s my loss. I’m sure you’ve read the studies (or internet articles about the studies) that all point to the same thing: We need sleep! It’s a boring fact and I hate it, but that makes it no less true. While you’re sleeping, your body and brain repairs itself from damage during the day. Adults who average seven-to-eight hours of sleep a night report lower rates of illness, less physical pain, clearer skin, reduced stress, higher moods, better focus and productivity.
None of this is new information and if you found your way to this article it’s likely you’ve heard it all before. Let’s cut to the chase: Sleep is the magic pill. We wanna get in on that.
If you’re living with anxiety or depression like I am, then sleep is even more important for you and it’s even more likely that you aren’t getting it. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that over 65% of all adults living with depression also experience major trouble sleeping. Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of sleep hygiene. I’ve worked with specialists and therapists about it (this is obvious, but please note that I am not a medical professional! I’m just human, standing in front of another human, wanting to help them get some sleep!). From all of these resources, I’ve cobbled together a routine that – when I stick with it – actually helps! Today I’m going to share it with you.
Carmen’s Go The Fuck To Sleep Routine
1. What are we doing before we go the fuck to sleep? We’re living our best lives during the day, that’s what! How do you feel about meditation and exercise? I know, it’s not for everyone. Here’s the thing, meditation really will help calm your mind and daily exercise gets your body humming in rhythm. If you don’t see yourself joining a rec league anytime soon, maybe think about a 20-minute walk a few times a week? That’s less than half of an Rihanna album! Anything that gets you moving. For meditation, Heather Hogan once recommended the Headspace App to me, and wow it made a difference. Get on that.
Do you work from home? Well then, no more working from bed! No checking your emails “real quick!” Nothing! Keep your bed as a space for sleep or sex ONLY. Soon your body will re-program itself accordingly.
Try not to drink caffeine after 3pm, and no sweets more than two hours before your going to bed. (I know! “No sweets before bed” was the hardest part about this for me, too.)
2. Set a “night routine” alarm just like you set an alarm to wake up in the morning. Stick with it! The alarm goes off, stop what your doing and get ready for bed. For me, the alarm is usually set for 10pm or 11pm, depending on my work the next day.
3. So what do we mean when we say, “routine”? We mean do the same exact things in the same exact order while you get ready for bed. If you do the same things every night, your brain and body will learn to associate those things with sleep and start winding down as you do them. It’s the same concept as muscle memory. For me that routine includes, in order: a probably faaar too involved skin care routine, brushing my teeth, making a cup of tea, putting on my pajamas and taking care of my hair (#BlackGirlLyfe). Your routine might mean laying out your clothes for work the next day or packing your lunch. What’s key is that this routine is intentional and repetitive. It starts with you setting your mind towards bed and ends with your ass actually in the bed. Got it? Got it.
4. No overhead or bright lights in the bedroom after your night routine is complete! There’s no turning back now. Light a candle if you must – just remember to keep it safe, no burning down the house! In a pinch, a table lamp for your bedside (with an extremely low wattage, zero blue light bulb!) also gets the job done.
5. Now let’s talk about cellphones, laptops, and tablets. Y’all, the blue light is not your friend. Point blank period. I’m all for the robot revolution, but when our Android overlords come one day to take over our souls, they’re going to want a well-rested spirit to harvest on. Ideally this means that you’re going to put your electronics on their charger in another room, far away from where you sleep, at least one hour before bedtime.
If you can’t do that because you need to be on-call for work or family or because Internet addiction is real or because your tablet is also your television and simply you cannot fall asleep without Rachel Maddow whispering sweet nothings in your ear (hey don’t judge me!) – it’s time to invoke the night light settings. Most smart phones and tablets have them at this point, but you might have to do some digging to find yours. If you have an Apple product, this tutorial should help. The night settings will turn the evil blue into a warm, calming orange hue that at least won’t keep your brain more alert than it needs to be.
Beyond that, use Do Not Disturb or Airplane mode on your phone to turn off all non-essential alerts. Lower the screen (and volume) to the absolute lowest setting possible.
6. Light, slow exercises or stretches before getting in bed will relax your muscles. Want to learn how? The AARP is here to help! Why yes, I am a wee spry 32-year-old who’s taking advice form the AARP. So what?
7. OK Carmen I did all these things and I’m still not fucking tired! Did you lie to me? My friend, I did not. If you finish your routine and your stretches and are still feeling anxious or alert, try some light reading – from an actual book – for a previously set amount of time before you sleep. When the time is up, you should be ready to go.
8. BREAK THE GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY! It seems counterintuitive, but if you wake up in the middle of night and can’t sleep – get out of bed! Disruptive sleep wreaks havoc on your mind and is one of the worst things for your body. Don’t do it to yourself, you are worth more than gold.
So, now you’re out of bed in the middle of the night. That’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty about it. Our bodies are our bodies, and we gotta let them do their thing. However, you are not going to turn on any overhead lights, laptop, phone or television. No, you are not. Instead try more quiet reading by candlelight (this time, away from your bed) or free journaling. You can also do some light, slow exercise (think: yoga). Once your mind has settled, get back in bed for more sleep.
Ugh, yeah, an eight-step daily routine requires a lot of discipline. It’s probably not for everyone. I told you in the intro, I need a lot of help! But maybe, hopefully, if we wish on a unicorn, at least a few things on this list ping for you? Feel free to mix-and-match as you see fit. Good luck out there! You got this!
Your 4 am is my 3 am. Yes to all of this ❤️ Especially Headspace. I don’t really “like” meditating but it helps so damn much. Also: Riding my bike during the day and Yoga (with Adriene). I’m a big fan of my weighed blanket, too. And reading cozy crime novels.
This is awesome! I, too, am a hardcore insomniac, and it has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. Excited to recommit myself to some of these and try some new ones (light exercise before bed; who knew??)
Carmen this is fab, I love a step by step plan for solving all my problems.
Also friends, I can’t believe that I’m asking this past the age of 9, but does anyone have any advice for minimising nightmares? I’m going through her a rough patch atm where really explicitly violent dreams wake me up in the middle of the night and just ruin my nights sleep.
I get terrible nightmares too! Some things that have helped me are:
Not watching, reading, or talking about anything violent or disturbing in the hour before I go to bed. Instead, I watch things like Kids Baking Championship or the #cakevideo tag on Instagram.
Not consuming caffeine past noon and sugar past 8pm. Something about stimulants makes my brain come up with super terrifying stuff in the middle of the night!
Going through a list of things I’m grateful for right before I go to sleep.
And if I start to have violent/disturbing thoughts while I’m trying to go to sleep, I tell myself that thoughts don’t have to mean anything if I don’t give them meaning, and I try to gently turn my thoughts toward something neutral. Sometimes I try to imagine my thoughts floating by like clouds, and when I have a thought that I don’t want to focus on, I let that thought-cloud float up and out of view.
I also try not to focus too much on the nightmare itself once I wake up. I used to be very disturbed by my nightmares and hold onto the images I saw as soon as I woke up. Sometimes I’d want to talk about them or write about them or try to figure them out. But now I don’t really believe dreams mean that much, outside of whatever meaning I want to give them, so I try to give my nightmares less meaning. For me, this means focusing on something else when I wake up and trying to let my brain naturally forget about the details of my nightmare. I can still usually remember large plot points, but the details start to disappear the less I hold onto them, and sometimes the whole thing just dissolves into something silly or meaningless. Like I used to have this horrible reoccurring nightmare that dinosaurs ate all my family members in front of me. The details were truly horrific. But the general plot is totally ridiculous and almost kind of funny? It sounds weird, but it works!
Lucid dreaming: you can train yourself to realize – while having the nightmare – that this is bullshit and you don’t have to put up with it and wouldn’t it be much cooler if the rampaging monster turned out to just want to give you a hug and teach you the secrets of jam? I occasionally still have low-grade bad dreams but pretty much never really bad nightmares.
Sorry you’re going through this! It happens to me a few times a year, too.
I don’t know how to prevent them but I do know, like Jevonna said : don’t feed the nightmares. So when it does wake you up, don’t stay in bed thinking it over – if you can, immediately get up, wander around, drink somethink warm, read a comic or anything light and paper-based, to take your brainpower away from remembering the nightmare.
Only when you feel calmer, and are sure you won’t dive back into it, head back to bed. It should be alright.
I read children’s books in bed. My local libraries have a good selection, and I just check out a stack. Sometimes they are odd but usually they are about love & happiness, a lot more than ‘adult’ reading material, and the bright pictures help.
This is a good list. Getting in a routine (mine SHOULD be: teeth brushing, litterbox scooping, cat feeding and watering),setting a go to sleep timer, and not using any tech before/in bed are all good advice.
oh carmen, i feel all of this so hard. i was diagnosed with idiopathic insomnia in college and it really, really sucks to not be able to sleep, especially when you get those multiple-nights-in-a-row kind of weeks.
love your tips! sleep hygiene is hard but worth it. as part of my nighttime routine i try to incorporate as much aromatherapy as possible, in addition to tea and white noise and all the other stuff – i hate lavender but smelling certain things as i prep for bed helps signal to my body that it’s time to try sleeping soon. i like lush’s sleepy body lotion, thisworks’ deep sleep pillow spray, and 21 drops’ sleep roll-on essential oil blend. i don’t find that cbd oil helps me sleep, but a generous bit in my tea does seem to let some of my tighter muscles unwind.
meg!!! i just got the 21 drops sleep roll-on for xmas and am OBSESSED
kayla! it’s so good! i hope it helps you sleep again!
Great tips! I started drinking ginger root tea before bed and it always knocks me out. Makes me really sleepy before hand. Discovered it by accident, really. Nice surprise as my insomnia tends to kick in randomly.
This is such an important article. Can I recommend the podcast “Sleep With Me”? It’s a mad boring podcast designed to help people sleep. It has helped me a lot; when I lie awake I just try to focus on what he’s rambling about and eventually I nod off.
Wait are you saying someone has found a good use for mansplaining?
Also a plus: he starts every episode with “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and friends beyond the binary” and it makes my lil insomniac nonbinary heart happy and peaceful, and helps me fall asleep instead of getting angry about gender.
This makes me so happy that I got heart eyes and also cried a tiny tear.
Omg yesss. I especially love that he does The Good Place recaps!
Wow thank you! I needed this so much right now! I realized a couple of years ago I couldn’t do social media or any violent/disturbing shows in the evenings, or else I’d have stress dreams/nightmares. But I still lie awake for hours most nights.
It’s funny, with my kids, all the experts said you have to give them a routine and sleep cues to get them to to go to bed and stay in bed, but it never occurred to me I might need to set such an intentional routine for myself.
I have been a lifelong member of this club, and addition to much of the above I find it helpful to wear a good sleep mask (there’s one I want to try that’s supposed to be comfortable and also completely block out light, from a company called Manta), ear plugs rated to 33, and have a fan or white noise machine on in the background.
I also (after trying just about every possible pill out there) recently found the most amazing herbal remedy that actually puts me into a deep sleep for a full 8 hours no matter how anxious I am (!!!) without any side effects the next day, but it’s a new company that’s just figuring out how to manage their supply distribution, so they keep going out of stock. :( I really hope they can figure it out because it’s been a total game-changer for me.
ooh what’s the company’s name ? I’m always keen on herbal sleep remedies
@kenne120 It’s called U-Dream. It’s made by a Vancouver-based company and I’m not sure if it’s available outside of Canada yet
when i can’t sleep i play the same weird zen yoga music that we play during naptime at work (daycare)
i’m not allowed to sleep during naptime (fired, tried for neglect, blacklisted by the FBI from childcare forever)
but i so, so want to sleep during naptime
the music = sleep response is like, pavlovian now
I have this weird thing for weeks or months at a time where no matter what time I go to sleep I wake up bang on midnight and am unable to go back to sleep until four. Even if I’m desperately tired all day. If I don’t try sleeping before midnight I suddenly become super alert around then. This is really frustrating, especially as I have chronic fatigue and live in a country with about three hours of daylight.
Hello fellow middle-of-the-night-waker, I feel your pain! I have the same thing, but any time between midnight-4am, and I usually can’t get back to sleep before I need to get up at 5:30am. It’s been 5 years of experiencing this at least 1x/week on average…
I’m already doing most of the things in this article, or versions of them (definitely helped get the episodes down from multiple times a week to less) but nothing seems to make this go away.
Have you done a sleep study or anything? Or tried alternative medicine? These are also on my list but I feel so cynical after dealing with it for so long.
Sending you warm wishes for a full 8 hours, one day!
Oh hi, it’s just before 4am here in the UK so this article is the very definition of timely! And I’m basking in those blue light rays just to post this comment!
So anyway, thanks for this article, which I will now reread and follow all advice in.
this is SO GREAT! i have become one of those obnoxious people who raves about their “no-screen” time (ugh, I know). But it really does make such a difference! I’ve started reading books before bed instead and it’s the fucking best!!
also the title of this gave me an excuse to go back to one of my favourite youtube videos of all time, namely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Udj-o2m39NA
Y’all. I am all about listening to books on tape and podcasts to fall asleep at the beginning of the night or when I wake up. Highly recommend science vs., planet money, stuff you should know, every little thing, 99% invisible, and any other non-politics podcast. This routine has changed my life.
I thought I was posting late but I’m so pleased to see all of my fellow insomniacs also commenting tonight. At least we’re “not-sleeping” together
Thank you for publishing this! I’m seriously working on addressing my sleep this year — between the crappy sleep hygiene of a college student and a relatively severe anxiety disorder, I’m chronically sleep-deprived, which only makes the anxiety worse, which means I don’t sleep, et cetera, et cetera…
Is anyone else on the weighted blanket hype? I got one for Christmas and so far I’m loving it. My anxiety tends to flare up at night, and the weight helps me feel calmer. Mine is about ten percent of my body weight. The actual Gravity Blanket is kind of stupid expensive but the Target-brand one is only like 70 bucks and it’s worth every penny.
I got an actual alarm clock instead of my phone. I don’t know if blue light in the morning is just as disruptive as blue light at night, but I would reach over to turn off my alarm and immediately be on my phone, which made my eyes hurt and stressed me out. Not surprisingly, I feel much better in the morning when the first thing I do is get up in the morning and wash my face instead of checking my email and scrolling Twitter at 6 a.m. Having an actual alarm clock also makes me feel like a Real Adult who Has Their Shit Together, for some reason.
Lastly: I’m fully obsessed with the BBC shipping forecast for sleep. I listen to it every night when I get in bed and it puts me right to sleep. I might get “And now the shipping forecast issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency…” tattooed, I’m so in love with this goofy English weather report. Here’s a five-hour video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/CxHa5KaMBcM.
I also have an actual radio clock as an alarm so I don’t have to use my phone! It really helps.
hell yeah weighted blankets! i got one a few years ago. it’s pretty pricey but it’s custom made and filled with tiny pebbles. “salt of the earth weighted gear” – – they make products for people and kiddos with sensory processing disorders / autism / etc.
15 lbs of very good sleep
the hardest part is waking up when you’re so snug underneath one :/
I love the shipping forecast too!
Most of those things are what I was told when I went to my GP about sleep problems. If only my sister would adhere to them! She claims to have seen her doctor and yet there she was over Christmas reading her kindle in bed with the light on and her radio in her ear (we share a bedroom). And one night she actually fell asleep like that – so woke me up with her snoring!
I have blackout curtains in my bedroom and I’ve used a fan for white noise for years because I live on a main road – plus I also find it helps with the night flushes.
People at work think I’m weird not having a TV in the bedroom or my phone or iPad, but it really does make a difference!
I have an actual alarm clock as well.
Caught red handed, or rather red eyed.
Starting tonight I‘ll put my electronics into another room, sigh.
It’s not like I don’t know better, it’s just that I figured messing up innumerable games of solitaire at five in the morning would be a good idea?
I‘ve been working night shifts since sometime in November and with actual jet lag and very little natural light thrown into the mix my internal clock is all over.
I‘ll wake up at two in the afternoon or at six in the morning, randomly.
I‘ll take your advice to heart, Carmen, and watch my lights better.
Good night everyone!
Between this article and Kayla’s about liters of tea, I feel like the AS writers are hiding in my living room taking notes on our lives, and if so please get out of hiding so we can grab a drink.
I’m unemployed right now, so all of my routines have gone out the window, but especially my sleeping patterns.
I reaaaallyyy wanna get back on board with a routine before work starts up again, so I’m definitely gonna try some of these!! Perfect timing.
I found out that the ocean white noise I use to put my baby to sleep helps me too.
Ahhhh! The last step is so helpful! I have no trouble falling asleep (I can do it anywhere! Standing in the shower! Driving! In lectures! While walking!), but lately I’ve been waking up WIDE AWAKE after approximately 2-3 hours in bed, and then cannot fall back asleep. Reading by candlelight? I’ll have to give it a try.
I had trouble sleeping for several years (most of my twenties). It has gotten better int he last few months (knock on wood) because I figured out I need a lot more iron, and that gives me enough energy to exercise, and that helps me sleep (along with meditation, morning routine, and quitting super stressful things in my life, and lots of other lovely things I have learned from you lovely powerful people at autostraddle!) . Actually autostraddle is most of the reason I am physically, mentally, and emotionally much better than I used to be. Before I was too tired to do the things to help me sleep.
I decided 2019 is the year I stop using my phone as an alarm. I might even splurge and get one of these alarms that turn the light on to wake you slowly. Anyone recommend them?
Yes I looooove mine. I’ve had it for three years now and while the buttons are kind of awkwardly placed and the wake-up sounds aren’t great (our of tune birds anyone?), it really really works. Bonus feature: it has a “sunset” setting that helps put me to sleep too! I have one made by Philips (the original company to make these, I think) but there are many cheaper versions now.
YES, Chloe, HIGHLY! I have a phillips one that I loooove. It really does wake me up much more gently, often I start to feel awake just a few minutes before the alarm.
I also use a fitbit that I got specifically because it vibrates as a silent alarm without all the screen bells/whistles of a fancy fitbit. So I also set that to make sure I haven’t fallen back asleep.
love this, carmen!!! my acupuncturist gave me some really good tips for insomnia, and some of them surprised me. (also, acupuncture for insomnia is a thing!) but one thing she stressed was NOT drinking water too close to bed time. while you should definitely stay hydrated during the day, she recommended stopping all food/drink a good coupla hours before bed to allow your body to stop processing things. she also got me into auriculotherapy which is basically accupressure on your ears. you adhere these small beads called “ear seeds” on your ears that end up looking like a really tiny piercing and gently massage them before bed (or when feeling stressed).
essential oils are great, too (though not for everyone, but they have certainly helped me)! i got a diffuser for my room that I can add any oil/scent to, and it has been great
needed, appreciated, and already passed along to a friend
I’ve had trouble sleeping ever since I was a kid and setting up a “sleep routine” has definitely helped; also I’ve replaced the bulbs in all the lamps in my apartment with LED Edison bulbs cause they give off a warmer light that’s less disruptive – I bought a bunch of these ones at Ikea when I moved in: https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20382183/
I’ve also banned my laptop, textbooks, and any school/work materials from my bed but I need to get better about the no-phones thing…
That article on interrupted sleep versus short sleep is super helpful to know, thanks! As a life-long insomniac, I’m always looking for how best to manage with not-good sleep.
I am so bad at doing all of these things, especially putting down my phone and shutting down my laptop. I definitely need to practice this more, because these are amazing tips!
You guys…did kind of realize that putting the „Feel Good Shows“ and „How to combat insomnia“ articles right next to each other was kind of counter productive,right?
Yeah, I’m def reading this as I lay in bed not able to sleep. Lol. Adding all of this to my To Try list for sleep! Thank you, Carmen!
One very effective way to get rid of insomnia is to first take a step back, and make sure that you have a comfortable mattress to sleep on. With a company like IDLE Sleep, we help solve this problem with our special 2-sided mattress. Thanks to the built in buoyancy foam, each of the microscopic air bubbles built inside serve as an independent shock absorber, creating better support for sleeping positions, pressure relief, and cooling.