Confession: I did something crazy. I gave up Netflix for Lent. When I told my students, they looked more appalled than when I said I’ve never heard a 5 Seconds of Summer song (granted, my students are middle schoolers and already think I’m insane and weird). Similarly, when I told my sisters, they were most concerned about how we’d spend our evenings for our sisters’ weekend if we couldn’t watch The Office together.
But I was happy with my choice. I am a first-year teacher and have quickly discovered how precious time truly is. Feeling more and more “busy”—as our culture seems to be in love with busy-ness—I was also feeling more stressed and anxious. I was having difficulty sleeping. I noticed, too, that my evenings, which are basically my only free time, were often spent working with Netflix on in the background "to relax."
But that’s just it—it only appeared that I was relaxing. In reality, I was not relaxed. And science shows that too much screen time, especially before bed, can be harmful. Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., says this is mainly because it causes cognitive stimulation—in other words, causing your brain to increase electrical activity—which is not what you want when you are trying to slow down before sleep. After working all day and then faux-relaxing with screen time before bed, I was actually making it harder for myself to get a good night's sleep.
Hence, my resolution to forego Netflix. During those forty days, I actually started to look forward to that two-hour window before bed, whereas before I dreaded it because I anticipated feeling rushed and unrelaxed. So if, like me, you want to find new ways to wind down before bed, here are a few suggestions.
It turns out that reading fiction is really good for you: It increases your brain power, makes you more empathetic, and can help your memory—while simultaneously fighting off age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s. I always have an extensive “books to read” note in my phone, so I decided to hit up my city's fantastic public library system to begin working through that list. Even though my schedule meant that I had to read at a slower pace than usual, it was such a good escape.
02. LISTEN TO MUSIC
Now, this one comes with a disclaimer: not just any music will do. I’m a huge T. Swift fan, but find that it makes me want to dance too much and therefore isn’t a good option for right before bed. Some music is just more productivity inducing than it is relaxing.
It’s a good idea to create a sleep or soothing songs playlist. There are plenty of apps like Sleep Pillow Sounds or Relax Melodies that will let you choose relaxing sounds to listen to. And apps like Spotify and Songza also have different “moods” for when you want to focus, relax, or workout. I'm partial to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack.
More and more research shows how important it is to intentionally put your thoughts down on paper. It can even help your mental health as a calming mindfulness exercise if you can’t afford a therapist.
It’s helpful to see your thoughts on the page to recognize patterns or simply verbalize some of the things you’re thinking. More than chronicling every move or thought on social media, intentionally writing and reflecting can help you see the little things that add up to happiness.
Need more proof? Writing about personal experiences can improve mood, reduce health issues, and boost memory, according to scientific studies. Reflecting in this way can actually improve your outlook on your life.
04. DO SOMETHING CREATIVE
Ever wonder why you think of all your good ideas right before you fall asleep? Apparently this is because you are finally cutting off the information overload that happens during the day. In an effort to harness that power, slow down and do something creative.
The adult coloring book trend is still going strong, and so are classes for lettering, calligraphy, and other artistic skills offered at places like Brit + Co. There are a number of options that would be perfect to practice just before bed. Especially after a long workday, experts recommend flexing your creative muscles and using a different part of your brain.
Another thing I noticed in my “busy-ness” and restlessness before bed was that I felt like I was being a bad sister, daughter, and friend to my loved ones. I was bad at keeping in touch with them and making time to talk.
When I created time for myself by giving up Netflix, I realized it was a great opportunity to catch up with my favorite people. After talking and laughing, I usually got tired. But I loved that it was like sleepovers when I was young or evenings at home with my college roommates.
Stretching or doing certain yoga moves before bed can help you enjoy more restful sleep. Loosening your muscles, practicing deep breathing, and slowing down your movements trigger your brain to stop going a mile a minute.
Just as stretching can help you wake up, there are also a number of yoga and stretching routines to help your body prepare for bed. Make sure to target areas that hold tension, such as your neck, shoulders, and back. Check out some ideas at Stretches In Bed.
This is one of my favorites.Whether you pray, meditate, or journal, it's a good way to reflect on your day, order your thoughts, and pay attention to what is truly important to you.
Studies have proven the health benefits of spirituality, including “less depression and longer survival, fewer post-surgical complications, and delayed onset and slower progression of physical disability.” Some people believe that prayer can also help you become a better person, as you try to encounter the good, the true, and the beautiful in your life.
08. NEST FOR THE NIGHT
One last thing to consider is the environment in which you unwind before bed, particularly lighting. Our bodies are wired to respond to light—if you're exposed to brightness at night, your body will think this is a signal to stay awake. Make sure to lower the lights, perhaps use soothing essential oils like lavender, or light a candle in the hour before bed. If you must use your computer screen in the evening, I recommend downloading f.lux, which eliminates the harmful blue light that is the main culprit in disrupting your sleep.
Although at first it might seem like giving up Netflix is too big of a commitment or that it will be antisocial or archaic, I actually found that I gained so much more relaxation, peace, and emotional and mental well-being, not to mention better sleep. And like many of my Lenten promises, I think this one will be a permanent change.
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