Think for a few minutes about how you usually end your day. Are you “doomscrolling” through news websites, watching an endless queue of suggested videos on YouTube, binge watching a Netflix series, ruminating about a problem at work, getting into an argument with your partner, playing a video game, or texting excitedly back and forth with a friend?
“The end is important in all things.” – Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Now think about how you feel, emotionally and physically when you are doing these activities. Are they relaxing? Comforting? Calming? Do they bring a sense of closure to your day? Do they focus you upon your values, goals, or priorities? Do you have a chance to feel gratitude, pride, or to attend to any unmet needs prior to bedtime? Do they prepare you for sleep?
If the answer to these questions is “no,” then you may want to reconsider how you have been spending the hour before your bedtime.
Having a relaxing wind-down routine prior to bedtime can help to stabilize mood and to improve the quality of your sleep. Paying attention to and prioritizing these activities can help you to cultivate restfulness and to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” mode).
Activities that are known to help with this wind-down process are:
- meditation or contemplative prayer
- journaling expressively
- deep breathing exercises
- thinking of things and people for which you are grateful
- thinking of things you accomplished during the day that enacted your most closely held values
- thinking about the intention of your values that you want to set for the next day
- preparing meals and clothing for the next day
- reading a dull book (a physical book, to avoid blue light, which is activating)
- gentle stretching
- a hot bath
Things to avoid:
- Thinking about problems from the day or problems for tomorrow
- Intense conversations
- Screens that emit blue light, which will signal to your brain that it is not yet time to sleep
- Thinking about what you don’t have, don’t like, or regret
- Entertainment or news
- Any exercise that is more intense than gentle stretching
To make a change, first observe what you do in the hour prior to sleep and record how you feel about it, both physically and emotionally. Also, record the quality of your sleep the next day. Then, institute the changes suggested above by eliminating those things that are activating and by replacing them with activities that calm and soothe you. Record how the changes make you feel and how they affect the quality of your sleep. This will help you to track to the effectiveness of the changes (and perhaps help you to remember when you feel better why you made these changes in the first place so you don’t start to relapse to your old behaviors!).
The changes in mood and sleep you notice may be modest, especially at first, but remember that when managing a chronic mood disorder, any improvement in the quality of baseline mood and sleep can make a new mood episode less likely to occur and less severe and shorter-lived when it does.