Breaking the rules and putting guilt to bed

As you know, I haven’t been very good at keeping to my sleep schedule so far. There’s always something to distract me from my bedtime, whether it’s a night out with friends, the final chapter of my book or a plumbing emergency (don’t ask!)…..And then, of course, I’ve been feeling guilty about my lack of self-discipline. Seriously, how difficult can it be to make sure I go to bed at the same time each night? I’m a grown adult after all!

Yesterday afternoon, I was flicking through Sammy Margo’s book The Good Sleep Guide, when a few key sentences leaped off the page and made me feel very happy. The sentences in point were:

“A regular bedtime routine is essential for creating good sleep habits. The routine should be calm and gentle. Ideally you should try to go to bed at the same time each night but that isn’t always possible or practical. The key is to teach yourself to fall asleep whenever you do get to bed, and to establish a progression of thought that will allow you to fall asleep. Most important, the routine should be as consistent as you can make it.” (page 68, my emphasis added)

When I read this, I felt a sense of relief, which surprised me. Until then, I hadn’t appreciated that trying (and then failing) to rigidly stick to my sleep schedule was making me feel a little anxious.  Sammy Margo’s advice – being less prescriptive and (in my view) more realistic than that of some other sleep advisors – seems like the practical solution I need. But, is the secret to good quality sleep really as simple as following a regular bedtime routine (irrespective of the time I go to bed)?

I raised this question with my friend, founder of We Love Sleep, and all-round Sleep Geek, James.  The answer, of course, is no (there are many things that contribute to getting great sleep every night – as I will soon be discovering). But, he agrees that following a consistent sleep routine will signal to the body and mind that it’s time to slow down and switch off in readiness for sleep, and this in turn will improve the quality of your sleep.

I already know that winding down before bed helps me to drift off more easily, but it seems that the key is to create cues for sleep, which then enable (or at least help) you to fall asleep anywhere at any time.  James says that if you have the time, your sleep routine could be a lengthy period of relaxation, including a warm bath, listening to music and some gentle stretching for example. Alternatively, it could be as simple as drinking a mug of chamomile tea (or a glass of wine!) or watching half an hour of tv.

And so it seems that it really doesn’t matter that much if I miss my usual bedtime or if my bedtime routine only lasts half an hour, provided that it relaxes me and I try to follow it every night.

According to James, it’s about finding a sleep routine that works for you. I haven’t quite figured out what that is yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. And in the meantime, I’ll try to stop worrying about following the “rules”….

James has written an interesting article on snubbing stress-causing sleep “rules” in favour of finding your own way. You can read it here: Sleep shouldn’t be about the don’ts

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