**This is the first post in my series Essentials of Self Care. For more ways to soothe your soul, read my second post in this series, Essentials of Self Care: Breathe.
Self care is hard. It shouldn’t be hard, since most of the common choices for self care actions are pretty enjoyable. With some exceptions, many of the things we naturally enjoy can provide us with nurturing, rejuvenation, and comfort. Sports and exercise strengthen our bodies as they simultaneously release endorphins that leave us feeling like the hard work was worth it. A day at the spa, or even just a long hot shower, can bring a feeling of both relaxation and renewal. But I struggle to make time for the self care I need, and based on the many health articles I see on this subject, I’m not alone. There are plenty of ways to care for ourselves, and most people can probably name at least a few things they know are good ways to care for their bodies and minds. So why do we fail to actually do these things if we enjoy them and they’re good for us?
I’m sure there are as many excuses as there are people to make them, but perhaps most of them come down to one word – time. As the world grows bigger in population and more closely connected our opportunities expand exponentially, along with the expectations we and others put on ourselves. Our work lives no longer end after our shift, and many of us are expected to remain available for work-related communications during our time off. This takes away some of the time we may have otherwise used to nurture our families and ourselves. So what one thing can you do today – or even right now – to refuel your body and mind?
You can sleep.
I’m sure we’ve all heard a million times that most Americans in particular do not get enough sleep, that the average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and that our physical and emotional wellbeing suffers for it. We all know it, but that doesn’t change it. We’ve been hearing this for years. We have much to accomplish and experience that makes it hard to turn out the light early enough, or we suffer from pain or insomnia that keeps us awake.
Though I’ve definitely experienced a lack of sleep because of pain, my issue is typically time. After several years of waking up every 2-3 hours to care for my babies they finally began sleeping through the night. Then I discovered the sweet, quiet, peaceful hours between their bedtime and mine, and I craved it all day long. So the light went out later and later each night as I tried to enjoy the silence just a little longer. Lately I find myself taking on new projects that would have been impossible when my kids were younger. This blog is one of them. And so now my projects are my new babies, stealing my late nights alone and robbing me of the sleep I desperately need.
As I continue this battle I’ve discovered one strategy that really helps me get the sleep I need, at least when I utilize it – my winding down ritual.
It took me a few years of exhaustion to realize that even when I was tired I often fought the arrival of sleep. I know I need rest, but I find myself spellbound by the quiet, dark night with its promise of uninterrupted time. Unfettered, I dive into a book or my computer and lose track of time until I feel my head drooping.
So I use my winding down ritual. Here’s how it works:
- I begin mentally preparing for sleep early, usually no later than 9PM. That’s the point when I make the decision to end the day’s productivity and begin a period of rest and transition to sleep. Making that decision is the hardest part, and often I fail to do it, but I’ve learned that when I do that one more thing instead of preparing for sleep I’m actually stealing that time from tomorrow, when I could be more alert and productive than I am at night.
- I try to incorporate all my senses into my routine. Repeating some specific sensory experiences each night helps my body recognize that it’s time for bed. God designed evening and morning, darkness and light, and He also created us with the need for sleep. He knew that by creating us to need times of rest He could remind us of our limitations, along with His love for us.
There are many ways to engage your senses to help you enter a period of rest. Here’s my list:
- I lower the lights, making each room dimmer, to remind me that darkness is a time for rest.
- I light a candle or use an essential oil diffuser to help me remember that I have the privilege of peaceful rest because of Jesus.
- I play relaxing music throughout the house to help lower my heartrate closer to its slowest resting rate. Studies have shown that that music with a beat that is slower than our normal heartrate has a relaxing effect.
- I go through a nightly body care routine that includes a soft moisturizer for my face, some slow mild stretching, and soft cotton pajamas. At this point I am feeling so comforted that anything that doesn’t bring me peace is unwelcome.
- I eat a small healthy snack, usually berries and milk. This is my favorite snack, so I look forward to it as a treat. Comforting my taste buds before bed helps me feel cared for.
- After this routine I may allow myself to watch some TV, depending on the time and how tired I am. However, I make sure to turn off the TV and avoid looking at my phone for at least the last 30 minutes before I turn out the light. I spend that half hour reading, praying, or meditating. Sometimes my husband and I simply just sit and talk.
All of this is my ideal. There are many nights when I choose to ignore the sunset and continue pushing myself to get more done. I almost always regret it.
There are many ways that you can train your body to recognize the need for sleep sooner. Do you have an evening activity that always helps you sleep? Let me know in the comments.
Photos by Jeremy Allouche, Toa Heftiba, Mona Eendra, and Alexander Possingham via Unsplash.