Self-Care Series: On Books & Bedtime Routines by Madeleine Riley

If you follow Top Shelf Text on Instagram, then you hear me talk about self-care pretty frequently. When I went to craft my goals for 2018, self-care was my main focus. It's why I chose nourish as my word for the year, and why I've been striving to work efficiently so that I can include more self-care practices into my daily life.

I've always been obsessed with sleep cycles (I had a bedtime even throughout college) and the impact that a good night's sleep can have on your overall health and your day-to-day life. In the past few months, I really honed in on my bedtime routine and I've finally settled on a practice that suits my sleep needs. I've been sleeping at least eight hours a night since the first of the year and it has made a world of difference in my approach to daily life.

Every time I talk about my routines on social media, I get a number of questions from readers looking for insights and advice. Throughout the year, I'll talk more about self-care practices here on TST, but today I'm starting by sharing the specifics of my bedtime routine.


BEFORE YOU SET A NEW ROUTINE, ASK YOURSELF THIS:

If I am successful in turning this routine into a habit, how will it impact my life?

When it comes to sleep, you can see the impact in every area of your overall health. When we sleep well, we have a greater capacity for empathy and kindness, we make better food choices, we take things in stride, and we are more likely to stay well in seasons of frequent illness. A good night's sleep = more energy, which translates to more productive and healthy days.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am not a medical professional and that this routine is what works best for me. Every human body is different. If you're truly concerned about your sleep, talk to your primary care provider for targeted advice!


MY NIGHTLY ROUTINE

BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 6 AND 7 PM

I brew a cup of sleepy tea to help prime my body for sleep. I swear by the Traditional Medicinals Nighty-Night Tea with Valerian -- the valerian root smells funky but makes you sleepy and I have found this particular tea to be more effective than others in helping me fall asleep & stay asleep.

At this time, we are typically finished with dinner (although drinking the tea alongside the dinner is always an option) and we can usually be found watching an episode of our latest Netflix pick or doing a quick, gentle yoga session. On other nights, I'll already be reading or will work on DBC tasks.


BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 7 AND 8 PM

This is my nightly prep time, and it's an immensely important part of my routine because it allows me to go to bed feeling totally prepared (and therefore not worried). 7pm is my unplug time, so I will often put my phone away and use my wireless headphones to listen to an audiobook while I do my prep tasks. That way, I'm not tempted to look at the phone, but I can still utilize Audible.

During this time, I complete the following tasks:

  • Prep lunches and snacks, then clean the kitchen and brew my second cup of night-time tea. 
  • Prep my school bag.
  • Check the weather for the next day and pick out my outfit. (Otherwise, I will spend 45 minutes the next morning having a wardrobe crisis.)
  • Tidy up the apartment in general -- I detest clutter and everything in our apartment has a proper home, so this is the time when I collect things that are out of place.
  • Nightly hygiene tasks.

After all these tasks are completed, it's time for me to retreat to the bedroom!


 

BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 8-9:30PM

My bedroom is my sanctuary.

I am a huge proponent of making the bedroom the least cluttered, most white-space room in your house.  We make our bed each morning, and I love the feeling of pulling off the pillows and turning down the bed for the night. I'll bring in my book, glasses, tea, and a glass of lemon water to drink first thing when I wake up. Then, I fill our diffuser with lavender essential oils. (We have this diffuser and I use this brand of oils.)

Just before I climb into bed, I bring my phone and these headphones into the room to meditate. I've been using the Headspace app consistently since January 1st and I can already tell you that it's changing my life. Once I'm more settled into the daily routine of meditating I'll share more thoughts, but for now I'll say that it's 100% worth the effort to find yourself a quiet space each day for mindful meditation. Headspace does charge a monthly or annual fee, which made me hesitate at first but after 32 days of use, I can confidently say it's worth the money. I plan to use it every day -- and often I find myself using it more than once.

After meditating, I plug my phone into the charger in our dining room and put away my headphones. Then I turn on our white noise machine (I bought it in college when I had super loud roommates and love it, but my boyfriend has tinnitus in one ear and says it also really helps him mask any ringing). Then I set the alarm for the next day. I've shared about our alarm clock on Instagram a few times, but we have a sunrise simulation alarm clock and we absolutely love it. The basic function -- that of an alarm clock -- allows me to keep my screen out of the room, but it also has other great functions. We set it to start "rising" forty minutes before the alarm. Throughout that period, it will slowly become brighter, simulating an actual sunrise. We chose bird sounds for the alarm, which is much more pleasant than a ringing sound. In short, it allows for a more pleasant wake-up experience, especially in the winter months when it's so dark.

After all that's done, I settle in to read! I've been mindful of which books I bring to bed lately -- gentle reads allow me to calm my brain and fall asleep more easily. Throughout January I re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition which has been great because there are no surprises. I'm purposeful in avoiding thrillers (too suspenseful), self-help books (too much thinking/reflecting) and emotional books (like our DBC picks this month). Because I read whenever possible, I can still experience all these books, but just choose to do so at another time.

I'd say I average an hour of reading per night, but some nights I hardly make it until 9pm before turning out the light. I am usually asleep by the time my boyfriend comes to bed, so this whole routine is practiced in a pretty solitary way, but I will say that he's more often choosing to follow me with a book than stay up watching television. On the nights when my routine works its magic, I feel a huge difference the next morning.


MY ADVICE FOR GETTING STARTED

This whole routine is a lot to process. Keep in mind that I've been perfecting it over a period of years and therefore it's not be realistic to prime your body for sleep on the first night of a new routine.

Our bodies love routine, so if you stick with it, yours will naturally fall into a rhythm and you'll find that it gets easier. Consistency is key, but I think mindset is too. I consider this routine to be part of my self-care practice!

Here's what I'd suggest if you want to establish a routine but feel lost on how to start:

  1. Establish what time you need to wake up. (And may I suggest, don't try to squeeze your morning routine into the smallest period possible. Give yourself margin in the mornings, too. I wake up at 5am and leave the house around 7:15am).
  2. Count back 8 hours. This is the time you should be getting to sleep. Make this your target lights-out time. (For me, 8 hours of sleep means 9pm lights-out.)
  3. Count back (at least) one hour before that. This is the time your routine should begin. Give yourself room to do nightly prep and time to read. I use about 30 minutes - 1 hour for prep tasks and about 1 hour for meditation & reading.
  4. Remove your phone charger from your bedroom. Invest in an alarm clock. Even a basic alarm clock is better than waking up to your phone.
  5. Establish an "unplug" time. I like to unplug from my phone between 6-7, but I do pick up my phone to press play on my meditation after I've already unplugged. Once you're unplugged, there should be no social media engagement! I also unplug from other screens (TV, computer, etc.) by 7:30pm.
  6. Make your bedroom your sanctuary. Keep it tidy and remove items that aren't 100% necessary. I was keeping a stack of books provided by publishers in our room until I realized it was making me anxious. Having those out of sight while winding down has made a big difference for me.
  7. Find what feels good. Do you enjoy essential oils? Do you love having a heating pad to help you get cosy? What kind of books help you relax? These are all good questions to ask yourself. Find the elements that work for you!

Approach your routine as a luxury, not a commandment. 

I relish my nighttime routine. I love matching pajama sets, mugs of steaming tea, the scent of lavender in the air, and the peaceful feeling I have post-meditating. Some nights I sleep better than others, but every night I look forward to this routine -- it makes me feel like I'm taking care of myself!

SHARE YOUR TIPS BELOW!

Do you have a bedtime routine? How are you incorporating self-care into your daily life?

Reader Recommendations with Kelley by Madeleine Riley

Today marks the return of my Reader Recommendation series here on Top Shelf Text! Throughout 2018, you can count on having a guest here on TST to share recommendations at the end of each month, which will hopefully help us all to expand our to-read lists!

Today I am so happy to have Kelley here as a guest to share some of her favorite books!

Hello fellow readers! My name is Kelley and I am a mental health counselor in Dallas, Texas. I am a lover of all things literary and my favorite genres include historical fiction, family dramas, literary fiction, and young adult fiction. I love books that allow me to connect with vivid characters and learn something new about a culture or historical event. Below are some of my favorites. Enjoy!

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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

You’ve probably heard a lot about this book already but it’s just too good not to talk about again! I love this book because of the writing. The words seem to melt off the page! I don’t know how Towles does it, but his writing had me soaking up every word. Rules of Civility is about a single woman who falls into a world of glamour and prestige in 1930s New York. This book grew my love for reading because it made me realize how much I love character-driven books, rather than just plot-driven books. I also listened to this book on audio and the narrator is fantastic! I recommended it to my mom to listen to on a 16-hour car ride and she was actually mad when she got to her destination because she hadn’t finished the book yet and wanted to keep listening!

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We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

This is a must read for fans of WW2 historical fiction. It follows different members of a Jewish family in Europe during the holocaust. The best part is the author’s note in which she describes that this book is an account of her actual family and their efforts to escape the horrors of WW2. Hunter does an astounding job of making you feel the strong family connection that exists between these characters even though they are thousands of miles apart. She leaves you feeling amazed at all they did to survive.

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Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

A friend recommended this book to me but I didn’t pick it up right away because I assumed I wasn’t going to be able to connect with the narrator, a 13-year-old boy in rural America during the 60s. I was quickly proven wrong because I devoured this book in an afternoon (and I never do that!). It’s a coming of age story that takes you on the journey of two young brothers who learn about the harsh realities of life in their small town. Trigger warning: this book about death, grief, and sudden loss. This book sucks you in and you can’t help but grieve the loss of innocence these boys experience in this story. It’s a beautiful and timely book!

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The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle

I stumbled upon this book as I was scrolling through my OverDrive account before a flight and downloaded it because it was the only non-cheesy romance novel I could find (no judgement here though, there is nothing wrong with those novels!). This book is perfect for the DBC’s January theme of foster and adoption stories because it is about a family who takes in a boy with a very traumatic past and learns to become a family unit (trigger warning: child abuse, incest). This book is an interesting look into family dynamics and how the family system is impacted by the adoption of a child experiencing trauma. The subject matter is difficult, but this book leaves you feeling hopeful rather than sad.

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Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill

My last book is a nonfiction pick by Jackie Kennedy’s personal secret service agent during the JFK administration. This man’s job was to follow Jackie around every single day, which allowed him to get to know her on a very personal, yet very professional, level. His insights into Mrs. Kennedy were inspiring and his loyalty to her made me feel as if I were experiencing his stories rather than just reading about them. I also learned a bit about U.S. foreign affairs during the 60s, which was a welcome but unexpected surprise. If you are at all interested in the inner workings of the white house, the 60s, or political memoirs, then this book is for you.


Thank you Kelley, for sharing this list of fabulous books with us! Personally, I have seen Rules of Civility make it onto readers' lists of favorite books and can't wait to pick it up!

Readers, see any favorites in this list? Tell us about it below!

A Life Well-Nourished: Reading Intentions for 2018 by Madeleine Riley

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I did a lot of reflecting throughout the last few months of 2017, with my thoughts veering specifically towards self-care and ways to make 2018 my best year yet. The bookish community is a great place for conversations about self-care, as reading becomes a natural part of that routine for us bookworms.

But what happens when reading becomes the thing that's creating your stress?

In 2017, I more than doubled my reading volume. I joined the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. I established partnerships with many, wonderful publishing houses. My shelves overflowed. I started the Diverse Books Club. I pushed myself to read farther and faster and when it came to October, I finally crashed.

I came down from the high of a summer spent mostly reading and realized that my reading life was no longer sustainable, and even worse, that it was making me more stressed.

So I decided to quit Top Shelf Text. Enter my beloved guru Anne Bogel, my wise friends RA and Lorraine, and a spattering of others tell me not to quit, but to just slow down. 

So I took a few months off from blogging, learned a new skill, found some balance, and took a deep breath.

Ah.

Now, here we are, and I feel so.much.better. Partially because I've taken a good, hard look at many areas of my life and done the necessary pruning, but also because I've laid some firm ground rules for myself to abide by in 2018. For goal setting, I use the Cultivate What Matters Powersheets to help me gain a clear view of what's working for me, what's not, and what I really want to work on in 2018.

One of the steps in the Powersheets is to select a word of the year. That word sets the tone for your goals and provides you with a mantra to guide you throughout the year.


nourish.


My word for 2018 is nourish because in 2018 every one of my goals has to do with the practice of self-care. Because I reject the notion that is laid by our society, that self-sacrifice is better serving than self-care.

It's no surprise that this word came to me after my conversation with Hallie, the host of The Life Well-Nourished podcast. In my recent episode, we talked about using books as a tool for self-care and nourishment. You can listen to that episode on Hallie's blog, Daily Bites (my episode can be found here).

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Hallie asked me for my definition of a life-well nourished, and that simple question sent me into a self-reflective tizzy. What does that mean? Am I living a life well-nourished? What can do I do to change the circumstances that aren't nourishing me?

Reading is such an essential part of my self-care routine, but I let it spiral into something different last year. So to follow my practice of nourishing my life, I've set a couple loose reading goals for 2018.

READ FOR PLEASURE

I think this one is obvious, but to expand: read what I want, when I want. No deadlines, no stress. That also means I'm taking a hiatus from all book clubs (with the exception of the DBC) and that I've written a more lax timeline into my review policy. I think these little steps will add up to a bigger appreciation for the freedom to pick any title off my shelf.

READ FOR GROWTH

I'm reading a few choice books to help me think deeply about nourishing my life, starting with Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic.

Part of my reading for growth includes reading for the Diverse Books Club. The DBC is a project that has brought the most enlightenment to my reading life and deep friendships to my personal life, so I feel it's encouraging me to grow in many directions.

READ WHAT I OWN

This year a few of my favorite bookstagrammers are putting together challenges for the #theunreadhshelfproject2018, which intends to help readers make time for the books that they already own. I am so guilty of having more than enough books already on my shelves, so I'm making a huge effort this year to pluck titles from my personal library before heading to the bookstore or library. You can read about the first five titles I'm excited to read here.

READ THE NEWBERY LIST

I'm continuing to work on my Newbery Project in 2018, with an emphasis on the books that I've already collected on my "Newbery Shelf" at home. I fell into a great big Newbery slump this fall after listening to (and abhorring) The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. I'm hoping to find some renewed interest for the Newbery books this year.

READ LESS

With 365 days in the year and 139 of books under my belt, the average pace of my reading meant I was devouring one book every two days in 2017. And can I tell you, I loved getting to check so many titles off my list. But I also started to forget the books I had read earlier in the year, and I also eschewed reading longer books because I knew they'd slow that pace. So I'm picking up some of those longer titles this year, and I'm easing my foot off the accelerator. Some books I can't help but read in a day (thrillers, anyone?) but others deserve more time and attention, and that's just fine with me.

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I'll continue to share about my methods of self-care throughout 2018, but tell me about yours! How do you practice self-care? How does reading fit into your routine?