Have you heard the saying that, “nothing good ever happens after midnight?” Probably it was something your parents told you to prevent premarital sex, underage drinking or just general youthful tomfoolery. But for me it’s been almost uniformly true.
Okay, sure, as a late teen and early twenty-something, I did have a lot of fun after midnight. But despite the fun, you know what else is almost uniformly true? I barely remember anything that happens after midnight.
And from that I've realized there is a difference between having fun and being happy, and while I might have been having fun late into the night, I often wasn’t happy. I was often just pushing myself to stay up later partying with friends to try to conjure up the feeling of happy.
At thirty-three, I can say with conviction that this tactic doesn’t work. If you aren’t happy at nine o'clock, you aren’t going to be happy at midnight. I am done chasing late night happy.
The happiest moments of my life happened in the bright light of day. My wedding on the beach… Fishing with my family... Walking the Camino... Practicing Yoga… All the life-changers.
Wouldn’t you rather chase that kind of happy?
I would. And honestly, I usually do. Because I've trained my body to wake before sunrise no matter what time I go to bed, it’s really better if I get in bed by 9:30. Plus, as I learned in my training to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner, 10pm is when Pitta time starts, and once that fire gets burning, it gets much harder to go to sleep.
Here are some things I do to get to bed by 9:30:
I set an alarm an hour before bedtime. Yes, that is really necessary. It takes me a full hour to wind down and do my evening rituals. I spend a few minutes straightening my house and the rest is pure self-care. I love that hour. That hour is full of restorative yoga postures, warm oil massages, baths and meditations. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I turn off all my screens. This has a triple purpose. First, it keeps me from being overstimulated by artificial light. Second, it prevents me from working. I love to work and sometimes it’s hard for me to stop, but turning off my computer and cell phone makes it much more likely. Third, it ensures that I don’t start scrolling social media and get lost in a click hole.
I turn off all the lights except my salt lamp. I close all the blinds and curtains and turn the baby monitor and alarm clock away from the bed so it is darker. Darkness is a signal to your body that you can relax, that it’s okay to be tired.
I nourish myself through gentle stretching/yoga, meditation, a warm oil massage and/or a bath. At the beginning of the week I schedule in which practices I'm going to do which evenings in order to process the day and prepare for deep sleep.
I rub my feet. I massage unrefined, organic oil into my soles and cover them with socks. This is a super relaxing way to wind down and it also keeps my feet super soft, even if I only get a pedicure every few years!
Here’s what happens as a result of my early to bed ritual:
I get enough sleep. This is so important that I feel like I should put it on the list twice. As a person who was sleep deprived for probably twenty some odd years, I actually can’t express to you how much of a difference this makes in my life. I have more energy. I feel more in control of my emotional state. I am less prone to overwhelm. Because I honor this simple physical need, I am more in touch with how I feel generally. I know immediately if I feel tired during the day that something is going wrong and I need to pay attention.
I sleep better in a dark room. I used to be the kind of light sleeper that was constantly awake at the slightest sound or movement in the room. It was like there was almost no difference between sleeping and waking. I was always aware. Now I sleep hard and deep and waking is a daily revelation.
Other bad habits lessen. The more sleep I get, the less coffee and alcohol I drink, because I’m not trying to artificially regulate my energy. I eat better. Because I am well rested, I am less tempted to justify indulgences. Who needs a cookie when you can have eight hours of sleep?
I get up before my alarm rings. In the past waking up came with a screeching alarm. Is that anyway to introduce your consciousness to the day? No way. Waking up before the alarm gives me time to stretch and yawn and reckon with my humanity before I have to inhabit it.
I know, I know. That’s great for me, but you’re a night owl. Uh-huh, yeah. Except all that means is that you stay up late. What you have to do to change it is change your ideas about what it means to stay up late. If you think life is only interesting/relaxing/creative/fun at midnight, of course you’ll stay up.
You might have to shift your perspective on what kind of person goes to bed early if you want to become one. And it doesn’t have to be that big a deal, either. All you have to do to become the kind of person who goes to bed early is go to bed early. You don’t have to hate fun. You can just have it earlier.
If you’re anything like me, rebellious and adventurous, it won’t be a perfect system. I go to bed before 10 about five or six nights a week. I usually don’t make it past eleven, but every few weeks I stay up really late. The extra bonus of keeping a regular schedule is that I can take things in stride. At this point, my body is so habitually well-rested that I can totally handle a late night here and there and still wake up by 5:30am excited for the new day.