Several months ago, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us saw our schedules and routines go out the window. And it wasn’t just work, school, and leisure that went through a transformation — our sleep patterns also took the hit. 

At the same time, when there’s a great deal of stress and uncertainty in our lives, quality sleep is exactly what our bodies and minds need most. And what we do at night before bed can have a significant impact on how well we sleep and how we feel the next day. 

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the nighttime rituals they’ve prioritized during this time. Which of these will you try tonight?

Spend time outside in the evening 

“I’ve connected more to nature during this time and have noticed a significant improvement in my mental well-being and my sleep habits.  On a nightly basis, I spend time outside before bed, watering my plants, meditating, journaling, or prepping for the next day. This nightly practice of grounding myself with nature has made all the difference in how I sleep at night.”

—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Sarnia, ON, Canada

Give yourself a “wind down window”

“As a heavy sleeper pre-quarantine, I would usually fall asleep in five minutes, even if I had a lot on my mind. With the recent disruption, my sleep has been hit the hardest. And since it’s an important part of how I function in my day with work, exercise and community, I came up with an evening wind down process. I wind down on work, then write down thoughts or any pending tasks that are on my mind. I give myself a two-hour window so I can clear my mind, do a short meditation or gratitude practice, and then fall asleep. I will definitely incorporate my new ritual as a good mental health practice going forward.”

—Diana, financial advisor, Austin, TX

Try a crossword puzzle

“I have started doing crossword puzzles every night before bed, and I’ve found the new ritual very successful in helping me go to sleep. The questions force my brain to think about a multitude of topics that are completely unrelated to anything I might be worried or stressed about. After about 15 minutes, I put away the unfinished crossword and am able to fall asleep right away.  I have also found that I tend to wake up less in the middle of the night with my brain looping on issues from the day. The hard questions I couldn’t answer immediately keep my brain just distracted enough while I’m sleeping to prevent it from getting back on the track of worries. Plus, I’ll often return to the crossword the next night and be able to answer more questions. I feel accomplished and rested!”

—Lisa Christy, chief external affairs officer, Portland, OR

Reflect on your highs and lows from the day

“This sounds super cheesy, but my boyfriend and I have a nightly ritual of sharing our ‘highs and lows’ of the day before going to sleep. It reminds me that there is always a high in the day to be grateful for (no matter how small), and it provides a good way for us to pause and process the countless everyday moments we would otherwise not register. Sometimes, this takes no more than five minutes and we fall straight to sleep. Other times, we end up meandering through other topics of conversation and discovering even more ways to laugh and connect with each other. I always had trouble sticking to nighttime rituals in the past, but this one stuck rather naturally. Our daily practice not only declutters my mind but also helps me end each day on a positive note.”

—Jane Jeong, attorney, New York, NY

Swap screen time with reading time

“The number one ritual that helps to improve the quality of my sleep and my mental state before and after the sleep is my screen time. I’ve started making sure that I don’t look at my phone at least one hour before sleep, and that any information that goes into my head during that time comes from reading. My nighttime reading ritual is key to a good night’s sleep. I try to read something more relaxing and imaginative, either a science fiction book or a biography. Taking my mind off my screens and into another world feels like a very healthy mental exercise. It’s also given me the ability to approach real-life problems at work and in personal life with more clarity and perspective.”

—Diera Kaytati, entrepreneur and founder of Maaind, London, U.K.

Try a lavender diffuser

I recently began to learn about essential oils. Each one has unique properties, but lavender in particular is said to reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, and promote good sleep. Every night, I’ve started putting about five drops of lavender into a diffuser before I get into bed and also rub some on my neck and chest. I inhale the scent from my palms deeply three or four times as I begin to let go.  Having a nighttime practice is soothing and helps ready my brain and body for relaxation and sleep.”

—Dena Lefkowitz, lawyer coach, Media, PA

Carve out time for self-care

“One nighttime ritual I’ve adopted during the coronavirus crisis is completing a full nighttime skincare routine while listening to a couple of my favorite songs to unwind. I’ve leveled up my skincare game and have added some new steps, which gives me some time to indulge in self-care right before bed. Not only is this ritual helping me take better care of my skin, but it also allows me to feel refreshed and relaxed so that I can fall asleep faster and sleep better.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

Take an anti-racism course

“I’ve been doing one act of anti-racism learning before bed every night. Currently, I’m working my way through Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. It’s a 28-day challenge that includes education and journaling prompts to help me unpack the role I’ve played in upholding white supremacy. I’ve also subscribed to Rachel Cargle’s The Great Unlearn course. I commit at least 30 minutes before bed to my daily act of anti-racism. I fully believe that being anti-racist requires a strong, daily commitment and doing this act before bed has been my way to uphold this to myself and the movement.”

—Chelsea, nutritionist, Portland, OR 

Do a “brain dump”

“How I end my workday actually helps my sleep as well. I do a brain dump of all the things on my mind and leftover to-dos. That way my evening is mine to unwind and the next day I can pick up where I left off. If my brain is still swirling with to-do lists as I wind down to sleep, I find Ten Percent Happier’s sleep meditations (available by app) work brilliantly. The more I do them, the more quickly they work.” 

—Sarah Hunt, director of client relations, Los Angeles, CA

Try restorative yoga

“At the end of each day, I’ve been doing a restorative yoga routine that shifts my mind and body into deep relaxation. If I don’t have time for the whole routine, I do just one pose called ‘Legs on the Chair’ for eight to ten minutes. It’s so relaxing that restorative yoga expert, Judith Lasater, calls it ‘Instant Maui.’ The shift I experience is a quick and magical way to end a busy day and wind down in body, mind, and spirit. It’s helped me sleep better during this time, and I’ll continue to implement it into my nightly routine.”

—Sally Stone, author, photographer, RYT-200, Northbrook, IL

For more tips on how to improve your sleep, check out the latest stories from Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor at Large, Shelly Ibach.

Is there a recent nighttime ritual that you plan on incorporating into your routine going forward? Share it with us in the comments.

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.