How my lengthy nighttime beauty routine helps me unwind and get better sleep
After graduating college and moving to a new city, I had an ongoing list of things keeping me up at night: Missing my family, worrying about money, stressing about jobs, etc. There were also new environmental factors to get used to, like not having central AC and living in a room with no airflow whatsoever. Not to mention, I saw a mouse run under my bed on more than one occasion and it’s not so easy to harbor sweet dreams after that. The rumors are true: NYC is the city that never sleeps, just not for the reasons that people think.
But after a couple of months of working at HelloGiggles, I noticed a change in my sleep patterns—and it was all due to my nighttime beauty routine.
While testing products for our Beauty Crush Awards, I started spending a lot more time pampering myself (out of pure work obligation, of course). Previously, my nighttime beauty routine was simple: Wash my face, moisturize, go to bed. But with all these new beauty products to try, my routine about tripled in time. I started double cleansing (which I highly recommend) and incorporating facial serums, lip mask treatments, overnight eye creams, and all the body butters, oils, and lotions I could get my hands on. Even though the multi-step process is more luxury than necessity, the sensation of layering on different beauty products in a slow but methodic way felt incredibly peaceful. I often still had those Big Scary Thoughts running through my head at night, but they didn’t come rushing in quite so abruptly when I lay my head down to sleep. Committing to a nighttime routine was also a way to show myself that I deserved that period of intentional relaxation—even if it was just 30 minutes to an hour of self-indulgence. When I put in the time at night, I also woke up feeling more cared for and less frantic.
Even better? After about a month into my lavish bedtime ritual, I noticed that I was sleeping more deeply than I had since I first moved. I stopped waking up every time my roommate left for work much earlier than me in the morning and started actually waking up to my alarm.
Now, I can proudly attest to the fact that spending more time on my nighttime beauty routine has helped me unwind, get to sleep, and stay asleep. But I don’t want to give the impression that simply lathering up in creams and lotions before bed can help you sleep at night, so I talked to a sleep psychologist to learn what’s really going on in your brain during your nightly routine.
How do nighttime beauty routines help you sleep?
Janet Kennedy, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, says nighttime beauty routines can help create a healthy transition from day to night. “[Nighttime beauty routines] are a really good way to take that break before bed by doing something that feels luxurious that you can be in the moment with,” Dr. Kennedy says. She adds that these routines can be especially helpful for younger people who (like me) are transitioning into adult life and needing to establish better sleep habits.
“As you get older and more independent and you’re working and you have an active social life, there are all kinds of things going on that sort of take up time and attention in your life,” Dr. Kennedy explains. “Using the bedtime routine as a time to pause and pay attention to yourself and how you’re feeling both physically and emotionally is really important.”
In order to help you unwind and prepare for bed, nighttime beauty routines should be a period of intention. Dr. Kennedy says your beauty regimen should feel like something you get to do, not something that you have to do. If it starts to feel like a chore, or something that’s getting in the way of you and sleep, that will only add stress and counter the process of relaxation. However, if you consider each step a part of the process of preparing yourself for sleep, it can become an act of meditation, instead.
“You can go one step further and use your beauty routine as a mindfulness exercise and really focus on the sensations like the way that your cleanser feels, the way the water feels on your fingers, the way that it feels on your face and the way the textures of the different products feel on your skin,” Dr. Kennedy advises. “All of that helps bring you into the moment in a mindful way and can also really help give you that buffer from the day.”
Why do nighttime routines matter?
After a long, exhausting day, sometimes all you want to do is jump into bed and fall right asleep. But, as Dr. Kennedy explains quite simply, “The mind doesn’t work that way.” While some people have an easier time falling and staying asleep than others, the mind doesn’t function like a switch that you can just turn off when you’re ready to sleep.
“There needs to be some kind of transition,” Dr. Kennedy says. “You can’t just run a marathon and then immediately stop what you’re doing. You have to have a cool-down period [for your body], and the mind works the same way.”
We may not be running mental marathons every day, but many of us lead busy, filled-to-the-brim lives with little time to pause and reflect during daytime hours. So then, whether we like it or not, that reflection often sneaks into the only open block on our schedule: Right before bed.
“If you’re occupying your mind constantly, which we all are these days, and then the first chance you have to be quiet and still is when you’re lying down, your mind will flood you with thoughts about everything you forgot or everything that needs to be processed,” Dr. Kennedy says.
Instead of trying to force quit all the running thoughts in your mind, you need to give them space to be processed before you can shut down and drift into sleep. And that processing time doesn’t have to be a beauty routine, if that’s not your thing. Dr. Kennedy just suggests taking some form of dedicated, intentional time before bed where you’re consciously working to settle down but not explicitly trying to fall asleep. Journaling, for instance, can be a great way to unpack the events of the day, make some lists of accomplishments and things to work on, and sort through some emotions that you maybe didn’t give the time when the sun was still up.
Dr. Kennedy also advises making small lifestyle changes that can lead to better sleep, like unplugging from your phone and technology an hour before bed, limiting caffeine intake during the day and alcohol consumption at night, and getting exercise. And as a final step before bed, she recommends reading as a way to occupy the mind on something other than the act of falling asleep and allow it to keep settling down in a unforced manner.
Now, waking up in the morning is a different story.
I definitely don’t have this part figured out yet, but Dr. Kennedy says that routines are the key here, too. As you work to establish a nighttime routine, you should also try to keep a somewhat consistent schedule for what time you go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning. And yes, that includes the weekends and your days off, too. Sleeping in way late on Sunday morning may feel luxurious, but staying awake with insomnia on Sunday night and then enduring an especially painful Monday morning may not be worth it.
That said, Dr. Kennedy keeps it real. “Not everyone wakes up like a cereal commercial ready to greet the day,” she notes. But the way you feel in the morning isn’t always an indicator of how well you slept or how tired your body is. Just like your mind and body need a buffer period before bed, sometimes they need a similar transition to wake up. So if you don’t feel great when you first wake up, go ahead and hit snooze, Dr. Kennedy says, but don’t go back to sleep. Instead, sit up, pull back the curtains, drink a glass of water, and allow your body to get used to being awake for a few minutes.
Overall, the more you establish routines both at night and in the morning, the more naturally sleep will come.
“If you stick to a consistent schedule, it’s easier for your body to do what it’s designed to do,” Dr. Kennedy says.
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