For years, I rose before the sun came up to meditate.
I thought I was clever with my wholesome habits (and it did help, a lot, but…). Never did I think to work on the other half of the equation.
Eight years ago I began rising early. Being a night owl my entire life up until then, it was a big change but one which I quickly acclimated to (Okay, maybe not so quickly, but it happened…). However, it wasn’t until roughly five years later that I began questioning the other side of things: I was rising early, but was I getting enough sleep? And what was the quality of the sleep I was getting? I always brushed off the question with, “I feel fine.” However, the reality is sleep deprivation is very hard to notice.
Unfortunately, most of us just don’t treat our time for rest with enough respect and we end up paying for it. It wasn’t until I began to work on my nightly routine that I saw first-hand just how much of a difference a good nightly ritual can have on the quality of one’s sleep. With an effective nightly routine, my sleep quality was better, I was less stressed, could more easily focus during the day, and always knew I had a moment before I ended the day to reflect which proved invaluable.
5-Step Nightly Ritual to Recharge and Maximize the Quality of Your Sleep
Upon retiring, sleep as if you had entered your last sleep.
– Soyen Shaku
Our time for rest is critical. So many of us take the worries and stresses of the day with us to sleep and this affects the quality of our rest. You need to develop a simple nighttime ritual that helps you unwind and maximizes the time you have to rest so you can be at your best each day.
Rising early is a common goal and something that has become a self-improvement topic of its own in recent years with books like The Miracle Morning becoming wildly popular (and the big names endorsing the power of the practice itself).
However, in comparison, there’s very little discussion about nightly rituals and how to prepare before retiring to maximizing the value of each hour of sleep you get. I think that needs to change.
And if you think that the quality of your sleep is the same with or without a nourishing nightly ritual, you’ll be surprised just good you sleep if and when you adopt one.
Over the years, I’ve developed a simple nightly routine that’s powerful, efficient, and flexible. Ideally, it should take you less than an hour from start to finish. This might seem like a little while, but once you try it out you’ll see that each piece of the routine is important and worthwhile.
Step 1: Arrive
Much of this ritual is meditative, something you’ll notice very quickly. However, each practice is unique and has its own specific use so it’s important you make use of each for their own specific reasons.
The first step is to use a practice I call “arriving”. Arriving is a mindfulness practice used when exiting one location to enter another. For your nightly routine you’ll follow some version of these steps:
- Reflect (leave behind): Reflect on the fact that you’re leaving the day behind. Imagine taking everything that happened throughout the day, placing it into a bag, and leaving it at the side of your door to pick up tomorrow. You’re now in a safe space where you can forget about everything.
- Enter: Become mindful of your body and the space around you as you enter your bedroom for the night. Take a few deep breaths as you take in everything around you and almost let yourself “sink” down into the space around you.
This very simple practice will help you leave the stresses and worries of the day behind you so that you can prepare for an uncluttered and free night of rest.
Step 2: Power down
Pick one or two activities that you enjoy to help you wind down. An example is reading a book, preferably fiction because the story allows you to disconnect from reality and further rest and recharge the mind.
Other examples here include journaling, simple games, and other forms of writing and reading (articles, listening to podcasts, etc.). Try to stay away from electronic devices, though, as the blue light emitted from them screws with your sleep by making your body think it’s still daytime, halting serotonin production, which is critical for getting a good night’s rest.
Step 3: Meditate
Once you’re done powering down it’s time to sit and do absolutely nothing. Okay, not literally, but close to it. Sit and meditate (preferably on the floor where you can be alert and won’t fall asleep yet, there will be a time for that…) for a few short minutes. Even five to ten minutes is beneficial, just make sure you give yourself several minutes of sitting in silence.
If you’re still feeling extra restless at this point I’d suggest practicing walking meditation as opposed to sitting. Walking meditation is great for calming the nerves of the body because of the slow movements.
Step 4: Go to sleep as if you were to never wake up
This fourth step is more of a mindset, and in some ways an extension of the arriving technique, but I’ve found it to be a valuable and very worthwhile practice just before lying down for bed.
Zen master Soyen Shaku, the first Zen priest to arrive in the United States, was known for having a set of very specific rules for living. One of those rules was to sleep as if you had entered your last sleep. The idea here is to lay down for the night with the idea that this is your last and final sleep. Leave everything behind, forget about all of the stresses and worries of the day and allow everything to drop away. Once you’ve imagined doing so for a moment, it’s time to lie down.
Step 5: Practice mindfulness of body while laying down
Now that you’re lying down, there’s only one thing left to do: sleep. However, just as we’ve been so far with everything else, we’re going to be very intentional about this step as well.
Once you lie down to fall asleep, take a moment to relax your body and imagine yourself sinking into the mattress. Now, begin scanning mindfully through the body slowly, starting from the head all the way down to your toes. The idea here is to place your focus on that area and notice anything that arises within that time. This could be an ache or a pain, a different sensation, or a thought or feeling in the mind.
Take as much as fifteen to thirty seconds on each area of the body, moving down from the head to the forehead, cheeks, jaw, neck, shoulders, back, chest, abdomen, waist, etc. Don’t rush as there’s no special reward for finishing. In fact, most of the time you won’t even be able to finish the exercise because you’ll knock out before then.
A simple nightly routine such as this can help improve the quality of your sleep, reduce stress, and set you up for a more focused and productive tomorrow. Use this simple nightly ritual to recharge and maximize the quality of your sleep so that you’ll be ready for the challenges ahead with energy and clarity.