Sleeping Beauty by Edmund Dulac
If I were to wait for someone to ask, “oh, Sarah, won’t you divulge your bedtime routine and rituals to us?” Well, I imagine I would be waiting a very long time indeed because unfortunately, no one ever asks me those kinds of questions. But I do enjoy talking about all things bed and sleep and dream-related, so I won’t let a little thing like lack of inquiry or interest stand in my way!
It’s funny how a lot of those zodiac memes like the above have us Taurus folks sleeping and napping all the time, our persons permanently parked in beds beautified by our need for comfort and luxury. That’s not me at all! Well, yes, yes, I like the beautiful bed part of that assumption and ok, sure, I have been known to hit the snooze alarm a few times– but I am not one to lounge and linger in bed once I am already awake. Once I am up, I am up! Otherwise, if I lay in bed not sleeping, I just start to feel antsy and peevish. And RE: naps–I nap maybe once a year, at most. I understand that naps can be restorative, a good form of self-care, and for some individuals a necessity, and I truly do not begrudge anyone their naptime…it’s just…I’d rather be doing something. Anything. Even just puttering around! But preferably knitting or reading. Or cooking or watching a creepy film! To me, those things are almost as relaxing and recuperative as a nap, but I actually have something to show for it at the end of an hour– whether it’s a few chapters read or a few more inches completed on a handknit shawl.
I suppose that puts me in uncomfortable territory regarding our addiction to productivity culture and how we determine our worth and value based on our output and deliverables and what not. I don’t mean to do that. What’s right for you is right for you. For me, personally, napping feels like a waste of my time, and I’d rather waste my time while I’m conscious.
As I don’t nap, and I don’t linger in bed– I don’t spend much time in the bedroom other than my 6-8* hours of sleep at night. I don’t even read in bed! So the time I do spend in the bedroom is pretty special, and I like my environment and my rituals and routines surrounding that time to reflect its importance to me and to be optimized for how I like to best use the room: SLEEP.
* I was routinely getting 6-8 hours of sleep until about 2 months ago, at which point I cut it down to five. The reason for this is because I wanted extra time in the morning while it’s quiet to get in some more reading and start the day on my own terms, doing the things that I like to do. Now I am reading that 8 hours of sleep is pretty non-negotiable if you want to avoid many deleterious effects to your health. Yikes. I’ve got to re-think everything! And I guess that’s what happens when you try to get more reading done
Paolo Roversi for Dazed & Confused
As the day comes to a close, but there are still a few hours left before I plan to turn in for the evening, I have a handful of pre-pre-bed items that I like to take care of. If I typically cozy up in bed around, say, 11PM, I will get to these things around 9:30 or so:
-Clean up the lingering dishes in the sink. When I stumble from bed in the morning and attempt to orient myself to the wakeful world, the last thing I want to do is be scrubbing sharp knives or stacking clanking piles of plates in the cupboard. For you, this may mean something different. Folding the laundry, tidying up, whatever. The things that need cleaning up and clearing away so that you don’t have to look at them first thing in the morning. It’s easy to say, “ugh…can’t that wait til tomorrow?” Sure it can. But then …you have to do it tomorrow. Take five minutes and do it now, instead.
-Fiber and bedtime vitamins! Yeah, I know, adequate fiber intake isn’t very glamorous, but I feel like once you reach a certain age (I’m not sure what that age is, but I am guessing I am there now) it’s just a fact of life. I mix the powdery stuff with water in a charming spring green juice glass embossed with enchanting scroll-y motifs, and pretend I am drinking a magic potion. Spellwork to keep my innards working!
-Put my phone on the charger and curl up to do something gentle and quiet for an hour, with a cup of tea (or sometimes a glass of wine, but I am trying to break that habit.) For me, “gentle and quiet” might mean reading or working on a hands-on type of project. Sometimes this is knitting, but I feel like maybe that is not the most relatable thing to keep bringing up, so let’s say that you’re preparing your overnight oats or packing a lunch for the next day, instead. Some people might take this time to journal or write in their planners for the next day. I think the point is to start letting your brain wind down, and you probably don’t want to do this in front of a television or phone screen.
Mert & Marcus for Vogue Paris.
When I feel my eyes begin to grow heavy, or perhaps I’ve noticed that the hour is beginning to draw late, I have another handful of habits and practices I walk myself through before tumbling into bed:
-A skincare routine, which–I know, I know, every blogger and Instagrammer and Youtuber has got a skincare routine, and you probably don’t need to hear about one more, so I won’t bother going into that (unless you are curious? Let me know in the comments and we can tackle that in another post!) My skin has issues with redness and inflammation, and all of the products that I use are geared toward addressing that. It’s nice to go to bed with a face free of makeup, or, if like me you don’t wear much makeup, free of the grime of the day, pampered and anointed with nice, calming balms and salves.
-Cozy pajamas. I used to be super self-conscious about the size tags in my pajamas. Why? Who is even going to see that, and why on earth are they looking down the back of my pajama pants? And furthermore, if there is any time that you want to be comfy, it is definitely when you are trying to fall asleep at night. Nowadays I buy my pajama bottoms up to two sizes larger than what I might normally wear because, friends, I want elasticity and stretch. I do not want a seam caught up in my booty and suffocating my nethers all night long and I’m here to tell you, that does not lead to restful sleep. Buy your jammies for comfort! I cannot stress how much I love my Sudara pajama bottoms. I could probably wear them as loungewear if I were someone who lounges in public or actually even left the house in any capacity. But I also love this spooky-cute pair that I got from Target in October for 365 Halloween sleepy feels.
-Light stretches. I still don’t do any actual yoga. I’d love to start. Maybe in 2020, who knows! There are quite a few “yoga for sleep” videos on Youtube, which I’ve never actually followed along with, but there are two stretches in particular that I like and actually do, while lying in bed: the supine spinal twist and what I believe is called the “reclining goddess pose.” Again–I don’t know yoga, I don’t do yoga, but I think I am doing these correctly and most importantly, they just feel like a nice, much-needed unknotting before sleep.
Perla Maarek for l’Officiel magazine
Some sensory ambiance that helps send me off to dreamland, once I have settled in:
-Sounds. I don’t like to sleep in complete silence, and I love the sound of rain, so that’s my preferred lullaby. Sadly, it does not rain every night– nope, not even in swampy, humid FL. So we tune in to a rain channel on Youtube, darken the screen, and set a timer on the tv, and allow the pitter-patter of rain on celluloid windows lull us to sleep at night. Alternately, when I am sleeping alone, I play Mortiis’ Født til å Herske, which is one long eerie song, split into two tracks, of the gloomiest most monotonously marvelous dungeon music. Or if I’m not quite sleepy enough and I need a little extra help along the way, I will plug in some headphones and put on the WhispersRed ASMR channel on Spotify.
-Scent. I like a bit of fragrance before turning in for the evening, but your mileage may vary on this point. I think it’s either a lovely way to calm your senses with a soothing aroma or, the chance to try something fun and new and let it completely influence your subconscious for a few hours. I have written about some of my favorite night-time scents on my personal blog, in the past, and these scents are still some of my favorites! To this, I will add that LUSH’s Sleepy lotion is the loveliest sweet lavender scent to slather yourself in before burrowing under the covers.
-(Inner) sight. If you find your thoughts racing and anxious before bed, you might employ a bit of visualization. These are two unrelated (I think) techniques that I learned from my therapist, but I typically bundle them both together at bedtime. First, I think about all the things that are plaguing me, and I open the hinge of my skull and pluck the items out, one by one (I imagine them as little people, pinched between my thumb and forefinger, wriggling with outrage!) I then plop them one by one into a jar, plink! –I envision an empty Claussen pickle jar, for some reason– screw the lid on tight and stick in the refrigerator overnight. Plague me no more, petulant pickle people!
After I’ve ousted the rabble from my brain, I take a moment to imagine somewhere that I find deeply peaceful and soothing. I breathe deeply and spend time in this space. This is a technique that my therapist encouraged me to practice with regard to finding a “safe space,” but I also think of it as a space for giving my mind a bit of tranquil beauty before slipping away to dreamland. I have for some reason chosen to conjure forth imagery of places I’ve never actually traveled, but after months of nightly visits, I don’t feel like that’s exactly true anymore. They feel very real to me now.
-Touch/feel. This is the year that I finally committed to giving our bed situation an entire overhaul. We had been sleeping on a mattress that was very, very old, and it was time to put the old gal to rest, so to speak. We replaced it with an Airweave mattress; which, if you’re interested, is a Japanese mattress brand–and it must be noted that this thing is very, very firm. I’m still not decided on if I love it or not but I am the kind of person who will stubbornly and relentlessly stick to a decision that I made no matter what, so I guess this mattress is here to stay. I will say that it is great for sleeping on, but not so much for lounging on, so it will definitely propel you out of bed in the morning. And because it is so firm, and in case you are wondering, it is also great for other things that people might do in the bedroom…but I’m not here to talk about that. (Not today, anyhow!)
We treated ourselves to super luxurious bed linens–actual linens— from House of Baltic Linen, and I will be completely honest with you here: they are not inexpensive and you are probably going to wait a very long time for them to arrive, but they are worth every penny. Even my partner, who would normally never notice such a thing, remarked dreamily after climbing into bed “…these are so nice…” They are absolutely SO NICE.
I previously had a glorious William Morris duvet cover, but I have discovered that I utterly loathe the hassle of dealing with duvets, and I also felt that it was almost a little too colorful for the space I was trying to create, so I found a nice, lightweight linen quilt from Brook Linen. I have the black variant–which, while I didn’t want too much color, I also didn’t want to summon my inner angsty goth teen with pitch-black bedding, either–but it’s been washed a few times and has faded to a nice neutral charcoal, and it is precisely what I envisioned that it should look like. Not a Crayola explosion but not too crypt-y, either. Maybe even a little boring. But that’s ok, I’m trying to fall asleep in here, after all.
For pillows, we have a bunch of old raggedy things that lay there during the day just for looks, but as far as functional nighttime cushions for sleep, I also have a bunchy, insanely heavy buckwheat pillow for me to hug to my chest while I am sleeping, and memory foam Ghost pillows for our heads. I first slept on a Ghost Pillow at Maika’s house and it was a revelation. I immediately fell so profoundly in love that I had ordered one as soon as I woke up the next morning. Highly recommend!
Upon my nightstand is a small stack of books including a dream dictionary, and:
–Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey by Alice Robb
–A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics
–Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936-1940, Carl Jung
…as well as Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, which is not pictured above, because I am currently reading it, and like I mentioned, I don’t read in bed, so it’s not even in the bedroom at the moment. Thus far it is an alarmingly eye-opening read, although the author himself has suggested that if you find your eyes slipping shut and you nod off while reading it, he is fine with that, too! All of these pages are kept company by a small but splendid altar cloth from Poison Apple Printshop, a gently-scented moon phase candle from DeuxMoons, and a gorgeous third-eye sleeping mask from Sleephammer.
Also not pictured is my dream journal, which doesn’t actually live on my nightstand. I record my dreams at the kitchen table, oddly enough. And I will share that I am not sure what initially prompted me to do this, but I take my glasses off while I am writing out my dreams, and because my vision is so poor, I have to scrunch my face down to about a half an inch from the page while I am scribbling. I look like a grade school kid taking a test and trying to make sure that no one is cheating off me, I’m sure it looks pretty ridiculous! Somehow, though, when I remove my glasses and everything becomes unfocused and insubstantial, it opens the pathways for better recall of that unconscious territory I had just been visiting. It’s a peculiar little trick that works for me!
Additionally, Naomi Brodner has a wonderful Dreaming 101 class offered via ritualcravt, where she shares some more helpful thoughts in this vein and some incredible insights and information in general. At Luna Luna magazine, Lisa-Marie Basile has some lovely ideas for keeping a dream diary, as well as other beautifully-written rituals and practices involving your dreams. Looking to the tarot to interpret some of the baffling and bizarre questions raised by your dreams? Well, perhaps you can ask Acanalogue!
A moment of whimsy a few months ago inspired my desire to build a dream-shelf/altar (which I did not literally build, it came from West Elm) and which I have stocked with scents and oils that I use before bed, I have adorned with dreamy crystals and quartz with properties to assist in untroubled sleep and lucid dreams, and I have bedecked with blooms, that, while perhaps not associated with sleep, are shades of color that I find soft and soothing. A surreal little tintype by Wenzdai rounds out the menageries, to remind me of the important symbolism to be found in the strange stories my brain cooks up while I am slumbering.
One last thing that may be of use–do you perhaps talk in your sleep? Do you wake your partner up with your babble, but in the morning, no one quite remembers exactly what was said? Well, like they say, there’s an app for that! Do they even say this anymore? I am so out of touch. Anyway, I don’t talk in my sleep but my little sister carries on entire conversations that sound so clear you would swear there is someone else in the room responding to her. She began using a sleep recorder app so that she can eavesdrop on her nocturnal ramblings, and she routinely shares them with me for help with interpretation, or mostly, I suspect, for a laugh. She’s given me permission to share this one, (the sleep-talk is right in the first 8 seconds, afterward it’s just snores and mumbles.) She’s pretty clear and lucid sounding, so I thought this was a great example of what you might capture on a recording but of course, your mileage may vary–you might be a mumbler or a whisperer. Or a shouter! I’m excited for you to find out.
It’s a good time of year to cozy up and hibernate for a while, and while you certainly don’t need any of the things I’ve listed above for a good night’s sleep or to gain entrance to the Land of Nod, and I am in no way an authority on these matters, listed above are all of the rituals and practices that routinely help me get to the world of dreams and wake up rested afterward. Let me know if any of this helps you–or if you have any tips or tricks of your own up your cozy pajama sleeves!
Bonus! If you are looking for a few nocturnal luxuries for yourself or a friend– earlier this week I shared a wishlist of sumptuous sleepy-time favorites…!
A similar version of this article was also published at Haute Macabre on 12/17/19.