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.


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!



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.


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!



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.


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!


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