habit shift: bedtime routine.

April 25, 2018

bedtime routine | reading my tea leaves I know a lot of you have questions about how we get our two kids to sleep—for the LOVE OF GOD—in a tiny apartment. More on that one day soon, I promise. But in the meantime, I wanted to write about my very favorite subject, which is, of course, myself. (Heh.) And specifically about my very own bedtime routine.

It took me most of my adult life to get turned onto the magic of even having a bedtime routine. Sure, I’ve always brushed my teeth. When I was feeling particularly diligent, I would splash some cold water on my face and call it washed. But when I saw women in movies doing things like sitting up in bed putting lotion on their hands while prattling on to their dozing husbands, first I’d get sad about their general state of affairs, but second I would imagine that people only paid special attention to their bedtime toilette in movies. Surely, I thought, elaborate pre-sleep routines were an indulgent fantasy created by Hollywood. No one actually spent whole minutes just getting in tune with their body before flopping into bed, did they?

In a moment when there’s no shortage of lifestyle advice about the right way to direct yourself on the road to self-care, I never imagined I’d have much to add to the conversation. But I’ve shifted my own habits over the past few years—especially as related to bedtime rituals—and come to feel that far from overly indulgent fantasy, spending a few minutes caring for yourself at the end of a busy day of work or childcare or braving an existential crisis, is, actually, a pretty great idea. Your bedtime routine might include fancy lotions and potions designed to make you feel better. Or it might mean drinking a tall glass of water and adding a drop of lavender oil to your pillow. Maybe it includes measures from both ends of the spectrum. Mine does.bedtime routine | reading my tea leaves

In case you’re thinking about hopping on the bandwagon and caring for yourself a little more tenderly in the evenings (or anytime), here are some of the favorite tools in my toolbox:

Essential oils: I love a good dab of lavender oil applied directly to the corner of my white cotton sheets. That application process is probably not one that would be recommended by linen experts or oil gurus, but it’s what’s very easy and works for me. (I’ve never found it to mark up the sheets.) Once I’ve dabbed my lavender, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, just the smell of it gets me feeling like it’s time to wind down and head toward sleep. (I get a lot of questions about what kind of essential oils I use. I typically buy Aura Cacia oils from my local grocery store. And if you haven’t read it, this piece on the the multi-level marketing essential oil biz is fascinating.)

Face masks: Doesn’t matter if it’s yogurt and oats, or smashed up avocado, or clay, or a very fancy mask filled with science-backed ingredients to get your skin looking refreshed. Spending a few minutes puttering around the kitchen or bathroom and mixing up a mask for my face feels calming and centering and it makes my skin feel great, too. Lately I’ve been using this Resurfacing Moisture Mask, a gift from True Botanicals. No, I never thought about resurfacing anything but a road either, but this stuff seems to work like actual magic. Recommend!

Face oils, and serums, and other holy grails: I’ve talked about my face oil habits before. To be very honest, I’ve rarely met a face oil I didn’t like. I think they’re terrific and I use them every morning and every night on my face and neck and chest. Right this minute, I’m using up the last of a great one given to me by Nectar & Moon, but since writing my last post about them I’ve also used and loved oils from Marble & Milkweed, True Botanicals, Plant Apothecary, and, yes, even the hallowed Olio Lusso from Rodin. What can I say? Love. I’ve also tried a few Vitamin C heavy serums because, yes, I’m 33, no, I haven’t been always terrific about wearing sunscreen. It’s very fancy, but the hype about this Renew Serum is deserved. It’s been a really lovely thing to have the chance to try. Another terrific one I’ve tried at a lower price point is the Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum from Ursa Major.

Floss: My dentist made the small but pointed observation that he can’t get his patients to spend two minutes flossing, but they come to him wanting to know if they should practice oil pulling for fifteen minutes a day. No shade to oil pullers, of course, but the reference point definitely worked its way into my brain and I’ve been trying to build flossing into my nightly routine with a bit more…regularity. Not the most glamorous bedtime ritual, but maybe among the more healthful? If you’re looking into zero-waste floss options, Dental Lace sounds promising.

Hair brushing: If you’re picturing a demoiselle sitting on her tuffet brushing her long locks, well, then, yes. That’s more or less me. Minus the tuffet. This isn’t anything new, but I started really making sure I’d thoroughly brushed my hair before bed, and now I can hardly fall asleep if it’s not brushed out. Maybe it’s just the pregnancy related hormonal swings which have generally changed my hair quite a bit, but I think the nightly brushing habit has made my hair paradoxically less greasy and less dry. Moving all those good oils around, etc. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. (I got my first new hair brush in about eight years a month or so ago and I love it.) bedtime routine | reading my tea leaves

Teas: Contrary to what SEO searches might have you believe, this is not a blog about tea. But I do quite enjoy a cup of herbal tea in the evening before bed. James gave me a special calming blend he had made locally at Fettle, filled with rosepetals, peppermint, skullcap and other calming herbs. It’s very lovely. (And so is having a husband who goes to herb shops to make you calming tea blends.)

Timing: It’s true what they say, but something as simple as going to sleep at around the same time every night makes mornings so much better. (No, I’m not a morning person.) If you have trouble doing this, try setting an alarm on your phone. Sometimes grownups need a reminder that it’s bedtime, too.

Tonics and tinctures and magic potions: I love herbal tinctures and tonics. I love the notion of plant medicine and the people who make it their work to brew helpful tonics to offer a bit of comfort to someone in need. I’ve sometimes dabbled in making things myself, and more often relied on the expertise of others. People ask me sometimes whether these measures “work.” I think yes. But to go full woo-woo on you, I do think you need to approach this stuff with an open heart. I have tried a lot of lovely tinctures from my dear friend Olivia and I’ve loved them. I especially love stirring her Restore & Calm Superfood into a cup of warm milk before bed. I’ve not yet tried Sunpotion, but I know a lot of folks who love it. My general feelings about this stuff? If you think it might make you feel good, go for it. If you’re skeptical, drink another glass of water and live (and eventually die) happily ever after. We’re all mere mortals after all.bedtime routine | reading my tea leaves

Vitamins: I took Vitamin D like it was my job this winter, and I have no intention of letting up. Ditto a B-Complex vitamin. They’re both really important for general health, but also for your mood.  Wintertime is HARD for me. These guys really helped. I forget what brands I have, because of course I covered up the labels. Check in with your local health food store for advice. (Vegan trigger warning: Yes, those golden Vitamin D capsules are made from gelatin because it was the only oil-based Vitamin D capsule I could find and the oil helps with absorption. I do typically avoid gelatin, but occasionally I crave Sour Patch Kids and this winter I took Vitamin D capsules. I contain multitudes. Those are just the facts.)

Water: I was never really a bedside water person. Or, let’s be real, an anytime water person. But blame frequent nighttime wakings due to small humans, and a general effort on my part to do things to make myself feel better, but I’ve gotten so much better about this since having kids. Turns out, it’s awfully helpful to be properly hydrated.

Okay. Enough about me. What sorts of things do any of you do to reset before bed?

Other things:

Aging Ghosts in the Skincare Machine.

Nightgowns and other things to sleep in.

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  • Reply Christie April 25, 2018 at 10:56 am

    As always, I love your blog posts and perspective. At 38, with three kids (including an infant) and a business to run, I am VERY bad at self-care. But I have been convinced that I don’t need to get myself to a spa to care for myself (not going to happen). It’s the small moments of tender acts we do for ourselves that matter. To that end, I have recently started giving myself 10-15 minutes of yoga first thing in the morning. Often just a few sun salutations, more if I have time. This time, in the dark and quiet, before the sun rises, has really been nice. I think I may offer myself a little treat before bed now, too. I love all of these ideas. On another note, your comments and articles about wellness made me think of this article I read yesterday: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/movies/i-feel-pretty-amy-schumer-beauty.html The end (this paragraph) particularly resonated with me: “The amount of brainpower I spend every day thinking about how I look is a monumental waste. The sheer accumulation of images of celebrity bodies in my browser history feels psychopathic. I like to think of myself as a pretty smart person, but the truth is that I can’t seem to think my way out of this.” I thought you might like that piece, too, if you hadn’t seen it.

    • Reply Christie April 25, 2018 at 10:58 am

      Oh yeah, PS, coming to your page after my first morning meeting, is another small act of TLC I give myself. 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 11:01 am

      Thanks so much, Christie!

  • Reply Katie April 25, 2018 at 11:07 am

    I suffer from anxiety and it always is the worst at night which definitely can make it hard to sleep. I recently started meditating, and most meditation guides suggest doing it in the morning. Since I have switched my meditation habit to bedtime, I have been sleeping so much better!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 11:08 am

      So great! I’ve never got into a meditation habit, despite lots of advice to try!

    • Reply Loribeth April 26, 2018 at 8:48 am

      I use guided meditations at night to help with my anxiety too! The Calm app has some really good ones that I enjoy and having it pre-recorded and timed on my phone means I can just be totally absorbed in the meditation. Highly recommend for anyone who has trouble sleeping due to anxiety!

    • Reply Amy April 26, 2018 at 12:36 pm

      Katie – This is just the kind of comment that I need to hear…always putting off meditation until I have ‘time.’ 🙂 Thanks for sharing that.

  • Reply Jordan April 25, 2018 at 11:18 am

    Thank you for sharing TNY article on essential oils. I live in SLC, UT and have many family members and friends who sell oils through Young Living and Doterra. They are the ones who introduced me to essential oils and so I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth about the alleged benefit to them, especially when they tried to tell me that my teenage hormonal acne would be cured by putting an $80 oil on my feet. Where do you draw the line? With the use of them? Or the selling practices of the company? Both?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 11:22 am

      Hey there: Yeah, it’s really tricky. I love to use essential oils, but I’m pretty skeptical of the MLM model and of overblown claims about their powers. I really liked Adina Grigore’s book on the subject. It’s pretty no nonsense and balanced.

      • Reply Jordan April 25, 2018 at 11:25 am

        Thank you I will look into it!

  • Reply Laura April 25, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Sour Patch Kids! I love them, too, especially when I’m pregnant.

  • Reply Emily April 25, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Love it! Mediating and alternate nostril breathing before bed has been life changing for my anxiety.

  • Reply Tania April 25, 2018 at 11:35 am

    FYI Sour Patch Kids don’t have gelatin and are delicious!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 11:36 am


  • Reply Lauren April 25, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Love, love, love this. Thank you. Question – what kind of pillows do you like to sleep on? I see you like cotton sheets (I’m still trying to decide between linen and cotton), but I’m not sure what kind/brand of pillow I should look into. I’d love to hear your input!

  • Reply Karina April 25, 2018 at 11:42 am

    Have you tried Sunny Gummies?! Vitamin D gummy lemon drops. So tasty but I try to keep them as a treat. But I love my vitamin d oil drops, Super Daily d3 by carlson. No flavors and it just takes 1 drop on your food. AND the label easily peels off to reveal an amber glass bottle. Ahhh.
    Also working hard at establishing my evening routine. One night at a time.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 11:45 am

      Aha! Excellent! Thanks!

    • Reply MissEm April 25, 2018 at 1:20 pm

      Yes, here in Canada, doctors encourage patients to use d drops – they’re in oil in an amber bottle and you just put a drop on your tongue. Kids’ version, too.

  • Reply Karina April 25, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Oh! And Eco Dent dental floss is nice, only a little bit of plastic on a very generous size cardboard container. I also really like Dr Tungs floss. It is the best I have ever used and actually got me flossing regularly. The container is plastic, but refillable. My teeth and gums are grateful.

  • Reply Kirsten April 25, 2018 at 11:59 am

    The internet phenomenon of hating on TV ladies that moisturize their hands before bed like it was some ridiculous thing to do: I gotta say…I don’t get it! Maybe it’s because I grew up in a really dry climate, but I LOVE to moisturize my hands before bed. And the rest of my body. In fact, if I’m lying in bed trying to sleep, the itchy feeling of dry skin on my hands and legs will keep me awake until I deal with it. Am I the only one? Does this in fact make me some kind of mockable meme that I don’t understand? I find it so confusing!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      Wait, what? This is an internet phenomenon? For the record: Not hating on it at all, it just took me a good 20 years to catch on to the benefits and realize it’s a very useful thing that people in real life do! All clichés are clichés for a reason, so I think you can rest assured you’re not at all alone. Some of us are just slower to catch on!

      • Reply Mimi April 25, 2018 at 6:45 pm

        For the record, as someone with chronically dry hands who loves to lotion before bed, this account still makes me laugh: https://www.instagram.com/nightlotion

        • Reply Raychel April 25, 2018 at 9:11 pm

          This is amazing!

    • Reply Raychel April 25, 2018 at 9:11 pm

      I find the internet hating on it comical too…I also cannot go to sleep without moisturizing my hands and feet! Sometimes I literally wake up in the middle of the night to put lotion on. It’s a real thing, you are not a mockable meme of a woman!

  • Reply Marlena April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    I love Vitamin B in the morning. I also recommend taking L-Theanine at night. It’s the same amino acid in green tea that makes us calm. I have proof that it works via my FitBit – I am less restless the nights I take it than when I don’t, so now I always take at night along with my Floragen probiotic. I’ve also started to take Cordyceps multivitamin with Zinc if I’m starting to feel a little under the weather. Living in Madison, WI, it just topped 60 this week for the first time in 116 days!

  • Reply Amelia Brown April 25, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    ‘We’re all mere mortals after all.’ I love this sentence. For some reason it gave me the most assured sense of peace. Thank you for this post!

  • Reply Jess April 25, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing a bit about your rituals, I’m pretty haphazard in the evenings but I think it’s time to cultivate a regular rhythm (and bedtime). Whenever you may be in the market for a new face oil, I adore the one by Julia Elise. I think she has been a sponsor here in the past? It’s truly miraculous – hydrating but not oily, calming for redness, and I don’t know how but it has cleared up my hormonal breakouts immensely. Related: face massage – even once a week with a bit of plain almond oil and “beauty guru” Lisa Eldrige’s video tips – I was skeptical but it’s deeply relaxing and rejuvenating. Great for jaw tension and budget-conscious skin brightening.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 1:47 pm

      She has! I love her stuff! I think I’ve only tried her body oil, but no doubt the face oil is just as terrific! Off to fall down the face massage rabbit hole!

  • Reply Ashley April 25, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    **psst: sour patch kids are vegan! no gelatin! 😉 lucky you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      ha! yes! just learned. pheeeeew.

  • Reply Margaret April 25, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    I enjoyed your link to the medium article- I always look forward to reading the articles you find, thank you. I’m days away from turning 31 and was startled to notice just how much my skin has changed recently while I was in a public restroom and bathed in fluorescent light. I am reminded of a touching interview I once heard where Diane Rehm discussed aging and cosmetic surgery. Her parents passed away when she was young and she said she decided early on to not get any cosmetic surgery because she wanted her children to be able to see her grow old, something she had not been privileged to experience with her own parents. Just as we hope to see our kiddos grow up (as heartbreaking as I find that to be!), our kids hope to see us grow old…

  • Reply Rachel April 25, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Great post! Reminded me of this (hilarious) Instagram account … https://www.instagram.com/nightlotion

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 2:41 pm

      Oh my gosh, hilarious! This must be what Kirsten was referencing in her comment. I was so confused!

      • Reply Kim B. April 25, 2018 at 4:37 pm

        OK this is so funny. I am behind the times and watching the SECOND season of Downton Abbey — and I have to admit noticing Lady Cora with her hand lotioning in front of her vanity was cracking me up. Who knew it was a thing!?!?!

    • Reply Genevieve April 25, 2018 at 7:06 pm

      This is brilliant, thanks for sharing it.

  • Reply Katie April 25, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    Erin, you’re certainly on to something RE: Hollywood’s portrayal of the nightly lotion routine 😉 https://www.instagram.com/nightlotion/?hl=en

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 25, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      Ha! Someone else just sent me this! So funny. I’m dying!

  • Reply Audrey April 25, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Highly recommend the dental lace! I have been using it for about a year and found it to be a very economical approach to zero-waste flossing.

  • Reply Kelsey April 25, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    I try to read something enjoyable before bed for a few minutes. Usually it only ends up being a few pages before I pass out. But sometimes the treat is the only thing that can get me to stop what I’m doing and get ready for bed.

  • Reply Genevieve April 25, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    I’m not so good at having a routine but my best habits are: (1) I got rid of Internet at home, so not browsing in or around bed is a huge improvement in my sleep life; (2) change my linens often because fresh sheets are so good; (3) drink the glass of water I brought instead of just putting it by the bedside; (4) read a little.

    I love the hair-brushing idea and am going to try it since my hair needs all the help it can get.

  • Reply Danielle April 25, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    I LOVE drinking a large glass of water before bed. In the morning, I feel fresh, well-hydrated, and ready to talk/sing (I’m at school for classical voice plus I love to talk – haha), but also I find that the need to use the washroom in the morning motivates me to get out of bed!
    One of the things we are drilled with at school is the importance of sufficient hydration. It can take as long as a couple days to recover from dehydration, which prevents us from doing our work. I suspect that it is equally hard on people who talk for a living but they don’t always realize it because no one is assessing the quality of their voices.
    Also, MUSIC before bed. But not the music I’m learning/working on! Usually Schubert piano trios 🙂

  • Reply Victoria April 25, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Brush, floss, wash face with Burt’s Bees Argan/coconut oil face cleanser, eye cream, rose hip oil, moisturizer, the requisite hand lotion, reading (until my eyelids droop). I definitely need to give lavender a try as I don’t sleep soundly. Curiously, no one mentioned bedtime prayers.

  • Reply Alexandra April 25, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    I’ve been getting into chamomile lattes lately. They really help with my pregnancy insomnia. Plus they’re just yummy. I also really love Badger Balm’s Sleep Balm for its amazing scent. Perhaps the best thing I can and should do is shut off electronics hours before bed and pick up a book, but having put two little ones down earlier in the evening sometimes even reading feels like work. I did just do a face mask tonight on your suggestion and remembered why it feels so amazing to just slow down!

  • Reply Kyung April 25, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    I just turned 50 and was never great about taking care of my skin, but then green beauty and facial oils. Which then led me to facial Gua Sha. Treatment by Lanshin has the best video on it. Super relaxing and makes me feel better for ignoring my skin for so long!

  • Reply Briony April 25, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    I love my rituals. I’m so glad you wrote on this topic – I want to add a few things. I do:
    Yogasana, lit candles, frankincense incense, mantra mala meditation, spiritual contemplation, foot cream, a glass of water.
    Sunday evening is spa day for bigger beauty efforts like a salt bath, hair treatment, face mask, and manicure/pedicure.

  • Reply Nicole April 26, 2018 at 7:57 am

    loved this rundown! i diffuse lavender oil at night and find it super helpful (I switched to RMO oils after reading all the chaos surrounding YL). I also drink a full glass of water before bed and read for 30 minutes rather than watching tv. And I do have my nightly routine of cleansing/lotioning, etc. I tend to use Beautycounter or lemongrass products.

  • Reply Amy April 26, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    This post and all of these comments are so inspiring. I dry brush at night as part of my extensive routine. Everyone in my family knows it takes me an hour to get ready for bed. I take a hot bath. I read. I dry brush and then begin application of lotions, serums and oils. Also, am I the only one using a tongue scraper? I got one in February and it’s a life changer. How did I go this long? I often do a short foam rolling workout prior to all of this. I hustle hard during the day. I often don’t sit down until 8:00 at night, so that hour I give myself is quality time and necessary for everyone’s sanity. 😉 I will now be adding B Vitamins, meditation and a slew of other suggestions offered here. This is what I love about the Internet. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel April 26, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    I like to use a thick hand cream at bedtime, and I use cuticle oil as well. I’ve been doing this for close to two years now. No more hangnails or dry cuticles. Which are so important, because I used to be a nail biter. I’d see the little straggly pieces of skin near my nails, bite them off and end up pulling more skin off in the process. Not cute.

    Also to echo someone else’s thoughts on spa days. Mine are on Friday evenings. I come home from work, feed my cats, draw a bath, pour some wine, and start my ritual. Wash off my makeup, put on a face mask, dry brush my body, add soaking salts to my bath and put my Kindle in the corner of the tub. I allow myself one or two episodes of trashy reality tv (or a book) and then I use a sugar scrub all over. Upon exiting the tub, I put on lotion, wash off my mask and finish my normal nighttime routine. It is heaven, and I look forward to it each week.

    • Reply Cynthia April 26, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      I love this, Rachel. You are literally washing away the work week and refreshing yourself for a weekend of freedom and relaxation.

  • Reply Archana April 26, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    Tiny home actually ruined my bed time habits. I dont seem to want to spend the time in the bathroom brushing my hair or doing face routine or flossing ….. Reading this post is very inspiring. Make a little post it note with a a list of to do things and stuck it on my mirror. Hopefully, actions will follow.

  • Reply Gillian April 27, 2018 at 11:02 am

    I struggled to find vegan vitamins to meet my needs, but I’ve really been into these – you might like!

    And honestly the packaging helps for me too 🙂

  • Reply Maryin Maryland April 27, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    I stop reading at the first chapter end after 9:30. I knit for a few rounds, take the dogs for their last walk before bedtime, and give my older dog his eye meds. Once upstairs, I change into my night clothes. Then I floss and brush my teeth and wash and moisturize my face. Back in the bedroom I put on my wool socks and then put carmex on my lips and lotion on my hands. Then I put on my fingerless mitts and turn out the light.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 27, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Sounds lovely, but also chilly! Hope you’re staying warm!

  • Reply sasha lindberg May 5, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Erin, you can get vitamin d oil in a dropper bottle, mine is from vitacost. It’s inexpensive, lasts a long time and my Dr says it works for better than any pills. He also recommends taking in the morning, same for vitamin b. Both are energizing.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Thanks! My doctors recommended taking in the evening, but glad to know about the oil!

  • Reply sonya May 18, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Hi Erin, I figure you might be a good person to ask this question! Do you have any recs for dentists in NYC who incorporate a holistic approach to their practice? (btw, I got a chuckle from your dentist’s comment about flossing/oil pulling.) Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 18, 2018 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Sonya, Can’t say I really do. I do like our dentist quite a bit, but his practice is pretty traditional. Good luck!

  • Reply sonya May 18, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Duly noted, thanks anyway, and for your speedy reply Erin!

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