If you have trouble sleeping – either getting to sleep or staying asleep – it may be that part of the problem is due to what is carried over from daily living. One way to remedy this is to mark the transition from waking to sleeping with a short sleep ritual.

Done correctly, this will allow you to put close the day with an evening wind-down routine. This can powerfully influence how you sleep, and how you feel when you wake in the morning.

Creating a personal evening ritual prepares you for sleep. It marks the transition between waking and sleeping and underscores your intention to improve your sleeping patterns for the better. This post is written specifically about sleep, you can adapt the elements to any situation in life where you want to facilitate change or mark a transition.

What is a ritual?

A personal ritual is a series of prearranged steps taken consciously. It has a specific purpose, and it is grounded in your own values and intentions. A ritual takes place in a ‘suspended moment’ which exists only for that purpose and is carried out with a hint of ceremony. Another key factor is that of repetition, so a ritual may evolve over time. They may only be symbolic, but rituals prepare us psychologically for what is to come.

A sleep ritual doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It should be simple, sacred, and silent. It will help you end your day in serenity, add conviction and a feeling purpose as you get ready to sleep. Make no mistake, though apparently simple, a sleep ritual can be powerful beyond expectations.

Creating a personal evening ritual prepares you for sleep. It marks the transition between waking and sleeping and underscores your intention to improve your sleeping patterns for the better.

Lastly, a ritual marks a portal or doorway. It is the point of transition as you step over the threshold into night, mentally and physically prepared for your journey into sleep.

The elements of a sleep ritual

This is the design stage of your sleep ritual. Consider them in advance and make a note of each element. These are the steps that make up your ritual. Aim to create an atmosphere which is distinct and apart from the activities and demands of your daily life.

1. Your intention

An effective sleep ritual starts with conscious intention. That means purposefully stating what you intend to achieve. A ritual connects with your inner wellbeing (the spirit), and even a simple routine can be made spiritual through the intention and devotion you bring to it. Because it is purposeful and repeated, this helps to remind you that it is a moment reserved for your wellbeing.

2. A sacred time and space for your ritual

This can be a physical space (for example, a room, a yoga mat, or a shrine), or an implicit sacred space which exists in your imagination. Timewise, a sleep ritual is generally carried out just before bed, so when you do it will be decided by your regular bedtime.

3. Create a mantra

Take a few moments before you begin to say your intention for the night. It helps to create an affirmation or mantra in preparation. Keep it short and simple. It should be easy to say and remember. E.g “I will sleep well through the night and awake refreshed,”, “When I climb into bed I’ll feel my body relaxing.” “I welcome sleep as a new, enjoyable experience in my life.”

4. A routine task or movement

This could be a few simple yoga or tai chi exercises, breathing exercises, journaling… anything which involves focus, gentle movement and which detaches you from your daily activities.

5. Prayer and/or meditation

Your ritual should be done mindfully. This means that all your attention is devoted to the task in hand, preparing for bed, and sleep. This is not so much a step, it is an attitude. Though praying and meditating are of course activities, this is more about the spirit in which you perform your ritual. If you want to pray or meditate, that’s fine, but it isn’t absolutely necessary as the other elements encourage this frame of mind.

6. Be comfortable

Performing a sleep ritual can seem odd at first. You might feel self-conscious (actually, being conscious of self is what it is all about), and slightly uncomfortable. Anything new seems strange in the beginning. Keep at it, and own it pride. You are doing something innovative to improve your sleep and renew your energies the next day.

Further thoughts

  • Looking for ideas for your sleep ritual? You could consider a tea ceremony (replace the green tea with an infusion like chamomile), a warm bath, listening to music… Ritual is as much about HOW you go about something (mindfully), as it is about WHAT you actually do.
  • A ritual is not just about sleep and it can be performed at any time of day. For example, getting up in the morning, planning your day, an afternoon de-stressing ritual.
  • Though there is a notion of ceremony, a ritual doesn’t have to be dull or too solemn. It should be enjoyable and welcoming. After a few days, you should miss it if you don’t do it.
  • Part of the power of ritual is due to repetition mark a rhythm in your life. Its effect is to transcend thinking and touch a deeper level of awareness through the symbolic act.

Online course

My online course will show you how to break the cycle of disrupted sleep and beat insomnia. It includes video lessons on preparing for sleep and a whole range of techniques to help you get to sleep.

However badly you think you sleep, you can start to feel immediate benefits by following the guidance here:

Tips and Techniques for Beating Insomnia – How to wake feeling refreshed