Help for Insomnia: Creating a Bedtime Routine

sleepA good nights sleep (and more importantly, consecutive nights of getting good sleep!) is incredibly important, yet it is something as adults we rarely give much attention to. Our brains need sleep in order to function properly and regulate emotion effectively. Learning is easier when we sleep well, and so is decision making. Even coping with change becomes more manageable when our brains have been rested! Jim White (2000) writes,

“Poor sleeping fails to recharge the individual’s batteries. Thus, during the next day, the individual is less able to fight the effects of stress. Stress then feeds the sleep problems the following night and a vicious cycle has developed. Over a period of weeks or months, the individual’s ability to cope slowly declines. Learning how to improve the quality and quantity of sleep will leave the individual in a better state to fight daytime stress. Fighting daytime stress will help the individual overcome sleep problems. A positive cycle has replaced the vicious cycle.”

Read on to learn ideas on creating and implementing a bedtime routine that soothes. Every person is unique, so please do add/edit/modify as necessary to fit your own life better.

It is important to create a bedtime routine that you can be consistent with each night, regardless of the time you go to bed. Anytime we try out a new routine, I always suggest to try following it consistently for 21 days – simply because evidence does suggest that the more frequently we do something, the more likely it is to become instinctual. So in other words, the more a behaviour is repeated, the more likely it will become a part of your routine.

The following is a list of ideas for creating a soothing bedtime routine. No need to incorporate all of them – select the ones that fit for you and your life, and then create your own routine!

  1. Start the bedtime routine about 30 minutes prior to the time you want to be in bed
  2. Take a shower, or even just wash your face/hands – doing so is symbolic of washing the remnants of the day away
  3. Make a cup of decaf tea for yourself, or have a glass of water
  4. Sit down (but not in bed), and take a few minutes to write out any left-over thoughts that are troubling you. Troubling thoughts could go in to a ‘dumping journal’ – which is never kept but instead each entry destroyed in order to create closure, a sense of letting go, and to ensure your privacy. The thoughts that go into the dumping journal are often the angry, sad, or fearful thoughts that you wouldn’t want to look back on.
  5. End with a positive note: use another journal (one that you want to keep and look back on) to finish on a positive note. You could write anything in this one – something you hope for the next day, what you did well this day, what you have learned that you want to remember, something someone did for you that was kind, etc. You could also fill it with beautiful pictures, sayings that are important to you, and so forth. This is the journal that lifts you up and leaves you smiling.
  6. Put the journal away – you have given attention to those troubling thoughts and devised a plan for the next day, so you can be finished looking at those troubling thoughts for the night now
  7. Read.  Not a murder mystery, and not a book that will take a lot of analytical thinking. Try a frivolous read – doing so can help you start to settle.
  8. Still not feeling settled? Lay down in bed and try listening to a meditation for relaxing. Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness meditation) and Paul McKenna (guided hypnosis) have excellent recorded meditations – but there are many other options.

If you find your mind wandering towards troublesome thoughts while you are listening to the meditation, try to bring your awareness back to the meditation, with gentle kindness towards yourself. You are learning something new, after all – and that can take time. If you find that troublesome thoughts are overpowering, you can no longer focus, or if fear is mounting rapidly, get out of bed. Once you are out of bed, return to your sitting place and write or scribble those thoughts into the dumping journal. If you live with someone caring, try talking with them. Afterwards, remind yourself that although looking at these troublesome thoughts is helpful, it is not helpful to ruminate on them at bedtime. You have given some attention to them and you will attend more to them tomorrow!

References & Helpful Resources:


Helpful Capacities on the Journey of Healing

In her book ‘Healing from Trauma”, Jasmine Lee Cori outlines the following list of personal resources that help when healing from traumatic experiences. Personal resources are inherent capacities which individuals possess, such as their strength and abilities, healthful activities, the ability to regulate affect, a caring and trustworthy support system, and so forth. Cori additionally states that personal resources are healthy patterns, ones which create a sense of feeling good and accepting oneself in ways that are truthful, and not based in self-deception or indulgence.

If you are just starting your healing journey, or even if you are well into it, please review Cori’s list of helpful capacities below. Each capacity reflects something which can further or enhance our healing. As you read through the list, consider which capacities you possess, and which you  might like to develop. How might you build and develop these capacities  in your life?

  • Awareness: the capacity to recognize what is going on around and within you. Awareness is the key to much healing and change
  • Curiosity: the interest to know more, to look at your own experience with free, interested eyes rather than from a stuck perspective
  • Courage: the willingness to face what is difficult
  • Discernment: the capacity to see what is so. To know when to back out of something (such as an unfolding emotional process) and when to go through it
  • Compassion: the capacity to hold your own hurt (and others hurts) with a kind heart
  • Prudence: the capacity to make healthy choices for yourself and avoid what is harmful
  • Hope: a sense that things can get better
  • Humor: the capacity to look with amusement at things that might otherwise get you down, to hold a larger perspective
  • Love: the capacity to receive and extend caring, to bond
  • Resourcefulness: the capacity to identify and locate resources that would be helpful, as well as fully utilize your own capacities
  • Resiliency: the capacity to pick yourself up and try again, to bounce back after being hurt
  • Strength, Persistence, Will: the capacity to run the marathon, to follow the journey through trauma and not give up or collapse into a trauma-ridden life
  • Trust: the capacity to let go of worry and feel some confidence that things will turn out okay

Check our Jasmine Lee Cori’s book, Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding your Symptoms and Reclaiming your Life.

Making Time to Heal …without losing the entire day

“Shit happens. It can embitter and traumatize us for the rest of our lives, or we can slowly integrate it, moving through its pain as we become simultaneously softer and stronger, wiser and less cynical. You didn’t choose what happened, but you can choose your path now.” — Jasmine Lee Cori

We all need some down time to reflect and foster personal growth and enhance our self-awareness. For those who have experienced trauma(s), utilizing this “down time” is even more essential to their healing. The experience of trauma often leaves people finding that they are easily overcome by feelings of fear, worry, anxiety, panic, and/or sadness. At the beginning of counselling, and even prior to starting counselling, we may not know how to handle these overwhelming feelings. We may find it easier to “stuff” them away and ignore them. While this may help momentarily, it won’t help you heal from the trauma and it won’t enable you to move on with your life. Creating time to heal is a helpful way to work on the difficult experience while also containing those overwhelming emotions.

  1. Plan a time (no more than 1 hour), in which you will take the time to heal – and make a list of what you could do for your healing during this time. You can do anything you want during this time, such as writing in your journal, talking with a close and trusted friend or family member, reading about trauma and its impact, meditating, working on self-awareness activities suggested by your Counsellor, and so forth. Try choosing at time of day which you know you  will most likely be uninterrupted. A time of the day when you feel strong, when your energy is at its highest. NOTE: In the evening or around bedtime is NOT the most ideal time for this type of activity because it is harder to contain afterward and sleep may become disrupted.
  1. Schedule this time into your day, once or twice per week. Make an honest commitment to yourself to use this time for your healing, and then try your best to stick to the schedule.
  1. Choose a quiet place where you will have your healing time. Perhaps a room or place where you feel safe, comfortable, and strong. Try to use the same spot each time as this creates consistency – something which trauma survivors have rarely had in their lives. If you are using books or journals, make sure that these things can be kept private from the people you are living with. Make sure to turn off your phone during this time, or talk to the people you are living with to ensure you are uninterrupted.
  1. Create a ritual around your healing time – doing so will serve to contain it. This means doing something specific and deliberate before your healing time begins and when it ends. After the set-aside hour, the rest of the day is yours to enjoy. The rituals will allow you to move on from this time without the thoughts lingering throughout the day. The ritual you choose will be unique to you. For example, you might want to start your healing time by lighting a candle, and end it by blowing out the candle. An ending ritual could involve closing the book you were working in and putting it away. An ending might involve making a cup of tea for yourself and listening to your favorite music. Ending rituals that get you moving have many benefits, also. These might include doing some stretching, or going for a walk – something that will instill a physiological sensation of calm, or strength. You could even end your healing time by washing your hands, or talking a shower – both of which can be symbolic of washing away what you were just thinking about and letting go for today. The beginning ritual clearly identifies that your healing time has started, while the ending ritual plays the part of clearly identifying you are finished for now.
  1. It might be helpful set a timer to indicate when your allotted time is up. This way you will be able to better concentrate – and decrease the likelihood that you sit and constantly watch the clock while working through your chosen activities. When your time is up, take an additional 5 minutes or so to finish off what you were doing. Tell yourself that you made progress and that that is enough for one day – be positive and kind to yourself. You have most likely experienced enough abuse throughout your life that you do not need to be perpetuating it by being cruel or harsh towards yourself. If there is something significant that you had been thinking about or working on, write yourself a note for tomorrow as a reminder of what you want to focus on then. Be sure to write it down, as this clearly removes the thought from your mind and decreases the likelihood that you will be ruminating on it for the remainder of the day.
  1. Incorporate containment strategies between healing times. For example, throughout the day(s) until your next scheduled healing time, if thoughts or overwhelming emotions arise, write them down on a piece of paper and put that paper in the place you are using for your healing time. What you are telling yourself is this: “My healing time is over for today. I understand that this is important, that this emotion has meaning and is telling me something – but this is not the time for it. I will make a note to myself to deal with this during my next healing time, but I will not let it take control of me right now”.
  1. Remember that a new habit doesn’t take root overnight – it takes time to embody the change and the healing you desire. You may find yourself at first writing many things down throughout the day to “put away”– or you may find yourself repeatedly writing the same thing down, and that is okay. You are now in the process of training yourself to deal with the hard stuff on your terms. Doing so enables you to maintain strong problem-solving skills throughout the day and will assist you in feeling emotionally in control.

…And One more Thing to Always remember:
Be patient with yourself. At first this may be very difficult, so stay in contact with your Counsellor or a supportive friend or family member. The more caring people you have on your side encouraging you the better. Remember that trauma is something that happens to people, it doesn’t define who you are as a person. You deserve to live a life in which you are free from emotional turmoil and upset. Allowing yourself specific time to heal is a strategy that can enable you to achieve that. At first you may feel as though you have nothing to work on. You might just sit and stare at a blank page and feel unproductive. That is okay. Try a free writing exercise: this is where you put your pen to paper and just write whatever comes to mind without stopping. Research shows that by doing this, eventually what is bothering you will come to the surface. Or, you could start by looking at a picture that triggers certain memories of the trauma. You could also talk with your Counsellor about a starting point that fits you best. We are all unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Healing is a slow process – bearing this in mind may help you keep a realistic perspective of your own process.

Quote From:
Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding your Symptoms and Reclaiming your Life, by Jasmine Lee Cori