A 15 step guide to better sleep

My 15 step routine for better sleep (for home and travel)

Hi, I’m Cassie, and I have chronic insomnia.

Oh man, it feels good to get that out of my system. Hopefully, I’ll sleep better now.

When my insomnia was at it’s worse, I was getting 0-2 hours of sleep a night (with an occasional 5 hours). I was awake till 7am, moving between my bed, the living room, and anxiously staring at the wall as I desperately tried to sleep. Then, after sunrise… I’d go for a walk to try and tire myself out, get back at 7:30 and try to sleep again. I was so very, very tired that those years of my life are actually a blur. On the bright side, I ended up getting through university and muddling through jobs. On the less bright side, still to this day, I choose jobs which I find easy because I’m scared of being forced to do complex tasks if I get zero hours sleep again. Oh, and one time in a bad stint of no sleep I set my room on fire… it was an accident. Oops.

Sounds familiar? You might also be an insomniac.

But that doesn’t mean even occasional sleep deprivation is terribly hard and can leave you feeling awful or even ‘drunk’ the next day. It’s important to learn how to manage it.

Safe to say my sleep has come on leaps and bounds since then! Although I definitely sleep way less than others seem to, it’s definitely at a point when I can return to a somewhat normal life. (Hey, I could if I wanted to.) Full disclosure… I DON’T do this routine every night. Sometimes, I get caught up with other things and let my mind race uncontrollably. Sort of intentionally. Don’t recommend.

So I created this list for when I need to reign it in. For example, if I know I have a busy week at work or exciting event coming up which I want to be mentally present for. (And by events I mean, meeting a mate for coffee once a month before returning to my lair.)

I have found that this sleep routine pretty much guarantees me an extra 2-3 hours sleep.

If you are someone with a regular work/life routine, I recommend reading this list carefully before curating your own self-care sleep routine and following it through every night (or 5/6 nights a week).

Nomads… read the list and then see my recommendations for how to adapt it for a nomadic lifestyle.

Before we get started, it’s worth noting that a great sleep routine actually starts from the moment you wake up. Try and have a similar wake-up time every day, and open your blinds when you wake up so you get sunlight. You can even get a sun lamp for Winter, which mimics the light of a sunrise, set for whatever time you want to wake up.

Similarly, partaking in some exercise every day (even a brisk walk) and taking note of when you’re ruminating (going over the same thought again and again) or practising meditation can help you sleep at night.

EARLY EVENING

  1. Write a to-do list for the next day/week.

I do this early in the evening as this means I don’t spend the whole evening worrying about tasks I have to do the next day.

This could be anything from a work task, remembering to text a friend back or reply to a comment on Facebook, and even self-care tasks. You could even add a certain YouTube video you’ve been recommended or add ‘do laundry’ to the list.

Do this early in the evening and if you find yourself thinking about tomorrow’s tasks multiple times, try to take note of the fact you’re ruminating. Feel free to add any additional or precise details to your to-do list, but otherwise leave these thoughts alone. Acknowledge them, and nod to them as they stroll away like an old friend.

  1. Turn down the blue light on your phone

Most phones have a setting where you can switch it to a warm light in the evening. This may be called ‘night mode’ depending on what device you have. Some laptops and tablets also have this setting.

This reduces the amount of ‘blue light’ your eyes take in – blue light can have the negative effect of tricking your mind into thinking it’s still daytime, thus disrupting sleep patterns.

You can also set it automatically to come on at sunset or other time (such as 8pm), which is what I do.

If you have money to spare, you can also invest in glasses which block blue light.

  1. Gentle stretches or yoga

If I haven’t already done exercise that day, I’ll do some gentle stretches in the evening such as a Yoga with Adriene YouTube video. I would chose a calming or ‘bedroom routine’ style yoga video to help me relax and release tense muscles.

This is also not a bad time to have a warm bath or shower.

  1. Set your alarm and have things ready for the morning

Maintaining a similar wake-up time everyday can help sleep too, so bare that in mind if you tend to lie in to try and ‘catch up on sleep’.

Similarly, you should try and go to bed at a similar time each day.

It can also achieve a sense of calm if you have your basics ready for the next day. This could including choosing the outfit you’re going to wear the next day or making a packed lunch.

MID EVENING

  1. Try to eat healthily at dinner.

Eating things that make you feel bloated before bed, such as takeout food, can make it more difficult to sleep. Some people may want to avoid things like lactose or spicy food. (Personally, I live for hot sauce, but you do you.) Some people even keep a sleep diary including their evening meal to see if certain foods correlate with bad sleep.

At this point in the evening, you should try and avoid drinking any more stimulants such as coffee or black tea as well.

  1. Switch to an activity which is less stimulating

If you’re still doing work… it’s time to try and wind down. Whatever task you are CURRENTLY working on should be the least task you do, if your work load permits. Bonus points if you make sure you never do work in the bedroom and have a dedicated space for it elsewhere.

Turn off the amazing TV programme with cliffhangers and turn over to that familiar sitcom. Or avoid screen time altogether and pick up a relaxing book.

  1. Turn off social media / don’t start any new intense conversations online

This is difficult for me as my friends tend to wake up when it’s my evening time (time difference)! But I do try and ensure I don’t use social media too late in the evening. I will also kindly tell friends I’ll reply to messages in the morning.

I ration my time on the social media platforms I find most addictive or don’t log into them at all. I put them on sleep mode.

There’s no one rule works for all for this sort of thing. Just be honest with yourself about small changes you can make that will improve your day-to-day life.

Note for bloggers:

Due to the time difference, it would be better for me to post on instagram at 9pm-1am. I post at 6/7pm so I am not replying to comments late at night… I usually post once/twice a week as it can get a little addictive, especially as I’m alone and no one will distract me enough to get off it haha. I also DON’T log in to Instagram at all most evenings or ration my time on it to about 15 minutes a night. Mental health is worth more than good engagement.

If you’re great at managing your time already, then don’t worry about it 🙂 But if you read this and are feeling uncomfortable, it might be something to bare in mind. Be good to yourself. Of course, I appreciate this is different for people who are working for/with a client with deadlines in mind.

  1. Have a calming tea

I love to have a tea in the evening! But I make sure I switch from black tea to chamomile (or another herbal tea) after 6pm.

And try not to drink so much alcohol haha – it WILL most likely disrupt your sleep patterns. A couple of drinks around dinner time is better than late at night, as then it has more time to leave your system and you can follow it up with water or tea

  1. Start your bedtime routine early (Optional)

This could be anything from removing makeup, changing to comfy clothes, putting on moisturiser… to the essentials such as flossing and brushing your teeth.

I’ve left this is as optional as due to my personality type, I often find simple, mundane tasks a HUGE CHORE. Urgh. If I do this early then it’s ‘out of the way’ and I can stop stressing about it. This means I can dedicate the last part of my evening to calming activities.

LATE EVENING

  1. Light a scented candle

Don’t have a candle? Join the club. I’m not allowed candles. In this case, dim the lights by switching to a lamp, to trick your mind into noticing a natural sunset.

You can also use essential oils to create a calming scent in your household.

  1. Practise Mindfulness

Maybe this is a 10-minute meditation, or considering your daily gratitudes (I have a guide on how to practise gratitudes here), or writing down something you’ve been ruminating on. It’s a good time to take note of anything that you keep going over and over again in your head. Is it something you can add to your to-do list? Is it something that’s making you anxious? Write it down or practise meditation and watch the thought slowly drift away. You can also try a deep breathing exercis, gentle yoga or drafting it in an email to a friend (even if you don’t send it) if the thought is stubborn.

Remember, this is all something you can come back to tomorrow. No need to feel stressed as tomorrow is a new day with ample hours to think about such things. Are you cringing or feeling guilty about something? Practise self compassion. You’re only human, and thus will have all the flaws of a natural human being. Deep breaths; you’re doing just fine, and now is the time for sleep.

  1. Snack carefully in the evening

I usually choose something not too moreish if I get hungry in the evening. If I start on chocolate or crisps, I will finish an entire pack and then feel gross haha. I usually keep a small pack of walnuts or trail mix near my bed. It’s better than not being able to sleep because you’re hungry. Walnuts and almonds have been hailed for improving sleep quality, though I am not 100% if these claims are true.

If you have a chronic sleep condition, you may wish to speak to your doctor about supplements or small doses of melatonin. It is VERY easy to give yourself the wrong dosage. This post does not contain medical advice so please speak to your doctor about this.

NIGHT-TIME

  1. Use the Calm app or listen to relaxing music/white noise

Once the lights are out, you may find you struggle to switch off. Personally, I like the Calm app sleep meditations. They also have a huge selection of sleep stories (fiction and non-fiction) and calming music playlists.

You could also download a playlist on Spotify of calming sleep songs.

  1. Keep your room quiet and dark

If you’re in a position to invest in blackout blinds, that’s great.

Are there any bright lights that keep you awake? For example, my plug socket randomly lights up when it’s plugged in, so I try to not use it at night. A good eye mask helps too!

Some people use earplugs to keep noise to a minimum too.

And yes that was number 14, well done. My laptop apparently also doesn’t so work when it’s tired, apparently.

  1. Forgive yourself if you cannot sleep. It’s OK. Just rest.

Your mind and body is benefitting from this time you are taking to rest and reset. Don’t panic if sleep doesn’t come tonight. Switch on the lamp, read a relaxing book or listen to a sleep story. In good time, you may drift off. If not, forgive yourself, your mind and body. It’s okay. Sleep is waiting for you another night.

A Mental Health Guide for Self-Isolating

IF YOU THINK YOUR BAD SLEEP PATTERNS ARE DUE TO INSOMNIA, your doctor will be able to give you better advice than any blog post. It might be time to book an appointment 🙂

HOW TO ADAPT A SLEEP ROUTINE FOR TRAVELLING:

First of all, do take care to have a morning and evening routine while travelling – as much as you can. Sometimes I plan where I will have coffee and breakfast the night before (even if that just means downstairs at my hostel) so even on a quiet day, I’m motivated to get up and not lie in too much. Try keeping a glass of water (or reusable water bottle) next to your bed too.

In the evening, as a solo and introverted traveller, I do like to have things downloaded on Netflix for the evening, if I’m not writing or working on my blog. However, I’ve just invested in a paperwhite Kindle to make sure I always have a relaxing activity to help me wind down. I’m VERY excited about this. Haha.

The Calm app has also been a godsend for me, especially when I have insomnia on the road.

Q: What can I pack to help me sleep on the road?

Earplugs or even noise-cancelling headphones are a great start. Personally, my most useful travel accessory is my eye mask! I like a comfortable silk one which fully covers my eyes.

You can also take travel pillow for long flight and bus rides, plus some sort of piece of material (a scarf for winter or a sarong for hot countries) are an added bonus as they double as a blanket.

Take something comfortable for sleeping in and personally I LOVE to have some comfy lounge clothes to wear during the evening. What do you need to feel cosy and relaxed? Fuzzy sleep socks, a hoodie, or a lightweight vest and shorts because you get hot at night?

It’s also worth downloading some useful apps for sleep – I use Calm for sleep stories and meditations but used to just used Spotify and download relaxing playlists.

Not keen on using other people’s bedding? You could take a silk sleeping bag liner to put in between the sheets. This is particularly popular with backpackers who are staying in budget homestays and hostels.

Packing Tip – I always keep everything I need in the evening/night in a single easy to reach part of my backpack, including toiletries and my laundry bag for dirty clothes. It keeps things simple.

Q. What should I do if I feel anxious because of loud noises keeping me awake in a hostel?

A: If you really can’t sleep due to loud noise and you’re starting to get bad anxiety, sit up, put on a relaxing movie with your earphones in. Take some deep breaths, maybe even get a cuppa or some water. Try to remember it’s okay that you’re just resting. You may even find you naturally get tired and fall asleep when you’re not thinking about it as much.

And ultimately, book a private room in a quieter place if you need it. No amount of saving money by cheap accommodation is worth it if it puts your mental health at risk.

An anxious introvert’s Hostel Survival Guide.

Q. What about jet lag?

If you’re planning a long trip, keep time zones in mind. It’s better to spend a few months in one continent – or slow travel, staying in one country for while – than hopping about everywhere.

Try to let the light in in the morning when arriving in a new destination, even if your jetlagged, and go for an early (ish!) morning walk to get your body used to the new time zone.

Always try to sync with the local time zone even while you travel to the new destination. Stop checking what time it is back home and accept the current local time. The exception is for very short trips, where you won’t have time to sync by the time you leave.

Q: Can I get the benefits of scented candles while travelling?

Yep, consider buying something like a lavender sleep spray. These are available for many pharmacies, and you can spray your pillow before you go to bed. The same goes for many essential oils.

Q: How can I best pick accommodation for good sleep?

If you go onto booking.com reviews, you can manually search for specific words like ‘quiet’, ‘loud’ and ‘traffic’. Similarly, ‘bed’ and ‘mattress’ are good words to search for if you can’t sleep on an uncomfortable bed.

Try to stay somewhere where you can control the room temperature at night. It’s also worth spending more money on air conditioning in hot countries (rather than a fan room) if you struggle to sleep in hot temperatures. Similarly, check winter destinations will be warm enough at night.

Please read my complete guide for more information on dealing with mental health on the road.

Good luck with your new sleep routine and sweet dreams.

15 Comments

  1. I have chronic insomnia and follow some of the things mentioned above. But I am going to give the whole routine a try, it looks promising. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Cass you have no idea how happy I am that I stumbled upon this. I have chronic insomnia and notice that I am about well everything wrong versus your list. A clean sleep routine seems to be one of those things I just cannot nail down. Thanks for the list, added it to my ‘to do’ for tomorrow.

    1. Ahh I really hope it helps! I am not always the best with keeping up with it but doing this routine really does make a big difference. Good luck!

  3. Sleeping is definitely so important for a healthy living! I’m definitely not taking care enough of it especially while on the road. I pay attention a lot to my morning routine (although keeping it quite simple) but definitely need to improve my evening routine… thank you for those tips!

    1. Hi Marina! I was terrible and considering an evening routine while travelling for a long time. Now I am trying to prioritise my mental health and sleep a lot more 🙂

  4. Writing a to-do list the evening before seems like such a great idea! It will set goals and intentions and set you on a good path for organisation for the next day.

  5. Great tips. I do some of these already, but can definitely incorporate some which I don’t yet do. For me, drinking red wine in evening can effect my sleep.

    1. Ah yes. If I have a glass of wine in the evening, I try not to leave it too late so I can follow up with a chamomile tea. That helps a lot!

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