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Illustration by Nikki Ernst

Getting ready for bed is a ritual I’ve perfected over the past seven years. I’ve worked from home since 2015 and demarcating bedtime as a valuable moment for myself has been an essential work-life boundary. Prioritizing a good night’s sleep keeps me calm and grounded, improves relationships and helps me feel better about how I look.

I never really considered the impact of my bedtime routine until I realized that having my phone plugged in by my nightstand overnight encouraged mindless scrolling before bed, resulting in upward of an hour of shut-eye going up in smoke. Since then, I’ve taken an active interest in cultivating a sleep routine tailored to my idiosyncratic preferences. I delight in layering on the heavy creams, oils and skincare masks that are too greasy to wear in public. I look forward to slipping into nice pyjamas even when I’ve spent the day on my couch working in a pair of equally comfy sweats. About an hour before bed, I start winding down by taking my dog for a walk, drinking warm water with magnesium, washing my face, spritzing my bedding with a scented mist and turning on my humidifier. I make sure to pop in some earplugs before my head hits the pillow and always have a novel on hand to drift off to.

We know that getting adequate sleep is critical to our cognitive functioning and physical health but rest is under attack by the attention economy, when everything from video games to Netflix binges and social media doom scrolling are distracting us from the important shuteye we need. Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance and The Sleep Institute in Calgary, says that chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with everything from obesity to accidents linked back to human error.

“There’s no question that technology is a major barrier to sleep,” Samuels says. He explains that it’s not necessarily the blue light emitted from screens that poses a challenge to sleep, but the impact tech has on the brain when it’s used late in the day. “You get charged up, which the body and brain aren’t supposed to do prior to sleep. It’s quite disruptive.”

If you’ve ever been told that you look tired, you’ll know that sleep also has an effect on our appearance. “If you don’t get good quality sleep and enough sleep, it will definitely change your appearance and it can actually change the integrity of your skin,” Samuels says.

The impact of sleep on skin is something that’s perpetually on the minds of skincare entrepreneurs and dermatologists such as Toronto’s Dr. Renee Beach. Beach points to a study of 60 caucasian women that found that chronic poor sleep quality is associated with increased signs of aging, a diminished skin barrier function and lower satisfaction with appearance. On the flip side, we often feel like we look better after a good rest. “It’s subjective but that’s probably the most important thing. You may think you look rested even if you look the exact same,” she says.

Maintaining a specific bedtime routine can go a long way towards achieving that feel-good rest. “These days, I get a prompt from a sleep app around 5:00 p.m., even before I start dinner, to start the winding down process,” writes psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera in her book, How to Do the Work, where she includes sleep as a key tool for healing from emotional trauma. “I believe that one of the most critical aspects of self-care is developing good sleep hygiene; getting quality sleep makes us happier and cognitively stronger and even lengthens our lives.”

Beach adds that including skincare application in a bedtime regimen can be a ritual that helps you rest better. “For a lot of people, skincare is a part of their sleep hygiene routine so they have consistency and they have predictability that allows their mind to start settling down and thinking about bed,” Beach says.

When Ariel Kaye founded her home-goods company Parachute, her goal was to help others live more comfortably, especially when it comes to sleep. Made with natural fibres, Parachute’s bedding is geared toward accommodating different sleep styles. “We encourage people to think about how they sleep. Some people sleep hot, some people sleep cold,” she says. “A percale is naturally cool to the touch and sateen, the smooth sensation can feel warmer and more cozy. And linen fits into both camps because it’s so breathable but it is a heavier fabric.” For bedroom textiles, Kaye says she looks to colours and patterns that are soothing, rather than bold prints and hues that can overstimulate the mind.

There are no shortage of options for those of us who want to try to improve the sleep experience beyond our bedding. Pyjama brands such as Lusomé Sleepwear use a performance fabric to help reduce the impact of night sweats. Apps including AutoSleep track overnight metrics such as heart rate and sleep quality.

Skincare products that promise to tap into the body’s overnight renewal processes abound including the new Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Omega-Rich Cloud Cream or the Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair, a bedtime go-to since the 1980s. One of my favourites is Dermalogica’s Sound Sleep Cocoon Night Gel-Cream. It contains encapsulated French lavender essential oil that’s motion-activated, meaning it releases scent when you stir in your sleep to provide a soothing aroma.

But you certainly don’t need to open your wallet to maximize the benefits of your sleep. The most critical step to getting a good night’s rest is actually more about what you’re not doing. In my experience, putting down your devices early and giving yourself ample time to unwind before bed can make a world of difference to your sleep quality and sense of well-being. As Parachute’s Kaye says, “It’s sort of like working out: showing up is the hardest part.”

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