Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
Bookmark and Share

The Power of Self-Care Routines

Starting with Sleep

By Rachel Hershenberg

Story Photo

Excerpt from Activating Happiness: A Jump-Start Guide to Overcoming Low Motivation, Depression, or Just Feeling Stuck, by clinical psychologist Rachel Hershenberg, Emory assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

It’s important to build healthy habits and stick to them. Adhering to self-care routines can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Often, if you add or resume one healthy habit, it will trigger others. To that end, let’s look at sleep.

Routines you can set a clock by

External cues in the environment signal to your body that it is time to wake up or time to sleep. Are you a lark (an early riser) or an owl (a night person)? Consider this when building your sleep routine. A habit of going to sleep at the same time every night increases the chances you’ll be able to roll out of bed when the alarm goes off. Consistent sleep patterns influence daily secretion of cortisol and melatonin, which promote healthy levels of energy, alertness, and appetite. It’s best to have set sleeping and waking times even on the weekend, plus or minus an hour. If you need to, work your sleep time back in 15-minute intervals. Eight hours isn’t a magic number—go with what works for you.

Creating a sleep sanctuary

Make your bedroom a personal sanctuary. Aim for the right temperature, a comfortable mattress, pillows stuffed just right, a heavy blanket, and low or no light. An eye mask, ear plugs, and white noise machine may help.

Winding down time

Rachel Hershenberg
  Excerpt from Activating Happiness: A Jump-Start Guide to Overcoming Low Motivation, Depression, or Just Feeling Stuck, by clinical psychologist Rachel Hershenberg, Emory assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Create a buffer zone between waking and sleeping. Take 45 minutes to an hour to give your mind and body permission to slow down. If you can’t turn your mind off, get your thoughts out by writing them down, telling them to someone, or recording them onto your phone. Use external cues like putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, listening to music, doing relaxation exercises, or reading. Once you’re in bed, take slow, diaphragmatic breaths for a few minutes; imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of a peaceful place all around you. The more you wind down in the same way, tucked in at the same time, the easier it will be for your body to fall asleep when you turn off the lights and close your eyes.

Email the editor