I’ve been an insomniac since I was in sixth grade. Sleeping through the night has just never come easy for me, no matter what I do. I do all the sleep hygiene things you’re supposed to: no caffeine after noon, no alcohol three hours before bed (I mean most of the time), exercise, go to sleep and wake up on the same schedule, no screens. But I’ll still myself awake at 3 am, trying desperately to avoid checking the alarm clock and repeating the mental calculation of how much sleep I can get if I just managed to fall asleep right now and how tired I’ll be for whatever I have the following day. I’ve tried meditation, baths, sleeping pills, CBD, THC, sleepytime tea, Valerian tea, exercising in the morning, exercising at night.
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These days my insomnia tends to come back in cycles—a few days every month I just won’t be able to sleep, no matter what I do. But most of the time, I figured out something that works: My wind-down routine is to treat myself like a baby.
What does that mean? I took cues from my friends with kids and the wind-down routine they have for their toddlers. Those bedtime rituals, which provided consistency and marked the end of awake time and the beginning of sleep, were important for instilling a sense of security and regularity for their kids, and usually involved reading a book aloud or cuddling with a stuffed animal. I decided I would update that for my adult version: Treat myself gently, and with care, as if I was a fussy toddler who needed their rest.
Usually I start with a bath, or a shower. Then I put on extremely soft, snuggly pajamas and sleep socks. I put my hair in a silk scrunchie so it doesn’t fall in my face when I toss and turn. Then I wrap myself in a delicious OFFHOURS robe that functions more like a portable duvet. I make sure my room has no screens, and has a white noise machine going. I usually turn on a fan, too. I put in my earplugs (my partner snores and my cats scream). I arrange the pillows so there’s one that’s slightly softer and one that’s slightly firmer. I go underneath the covers and my weighted blanket, which is basically an adult swaddle, and read a book under the covers until I feel sleepy enough to try to sleep—usually about an hour. It’s not foolproof, but even if I can’t manage to fall asleep right away, I usually don’t feel the creeping sense of insomnia-related anxiety I get from tallying the hours I could be sleeping but am not. Sometimes I just finish a book, but most of the time, at some point, my brain finally releases me into sweet, sweet sleep.
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Sleep routines are so personalized, and so particular. Do you need to have one foot sticking out of the covers to sleep? Should the room be a little cold or a little warm? Do you keep the window open, no matter what? Do you believe in a warm glass of milk, or a pre-bedtime snack? What works for you? We want to hear about it in the comments.