A clean sheets ritual is an imperative part of my life upon leaving town for a few days. There is something calming, inviting and reassuring to return home and crawl into a bed of clean, yet to be slept in, crisp sheets. Stripping my bed and replacing the sheets is the first task done following morning coffee on departure day. When I’m a guest, I typically offer to do the same upon departure, ensuring that the next guest is greeted with the same invitation of fresh, sleep-inducing sheets.
I arrive home; glad to be back, generally joyful and exhausted knowing my bed awaits with fresh sheets and ironed pillowcases. Yes, I still iron my pillowcases. It’s a small luxurious indulgence I give myself that only requires time on my part. Definitely worth the glorious reward — an evening of sleep nirvana. Just as important is a pair of clean, fresh breathable cotton pajamas to crawl into…and yes, if they come out of the dryer too casual, I may even take the iron to them as I whip across the pillowcases. It’s the perfect cleanliness, all things in their proper place, orderly way to enter dreamland.
I’m not sure when this ritual began. Perhaps it timed with hauling laundry home from college, returning with clean bedding, exhausted but first having to make my bed, only to happy to finally crawl into it. Or living in my first apartment, using it as an excuse to do the bedding or maybe after marriage, what my husband coined ‘going on vacation’ sex. We’d change the bedding together before eagerly leaving town. By now, it’s a mindful practice that creates order, sequence and expectation — no different than setting the evening table, sitting down, clearing the table, and stacking the dishwasher. Routines that bring completion and fulfillment, lights out, kitchen clean, signaling preparation for tomorrow. Leave town. Arrive home. Trip completed. Slip on clean pajamas, crawl into fresh sheets. Guaranteed fulfillment.
My friends talk about their inability to sleep, the need for Ambien, best pharmaceutical friend ever that accompanies them to bed nightly. Or, a cup of chamomile or rose petal tea to calm, soothe and induce sleep. For others it’s a glass or two of wine. Most have learned to rid their bedrooms of all screen lights, replacing them with white noise or ocean/nature sounds. We have ongoing conversations about the cause of sleep deprivation ranging from stress, menopause, being overly exhausted and the dreaded aging word. Most of us are beyond the years of sleepless night tending to waking babies and puppy training.
I have to admit I seldom have a hard time sleeping. My husband used to say, “I’ve never met a person who fell asleep so fast, your head hits the pillow and you’re out.” That’s because I used to go like hell till all hours of the day until ‘dropping dead’ at the end. I still do on occasion, but it’s not with the same level of non-stop intensity. Sleep used to be a have to, squeezed in like every other task. There was the decade I set my alarm for anywhere between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning to get up and complete yesterday’s tasks before going into the office. Sometimes, if lucky, I’d get them done faster than anticipated and sneak a pre-dawn nap in before officially arising to start the day.
Naps were for old people, sick people, mothers with babies or hangovers. If my body insisted on a nap, it mean laying down with an afghan throw on a sofa or on top of the bed. Who were these people who crawled into bed, under the covers to take a nap during sunlight hours? My body had a way of telling me when it was tired of my abuse and pushing it beyond its capacity. It would completely shut me down, force me into bed for two to three days, too exhausted to move until I had slept out all my toxins and refueled to take off again. No rest for the wicked as the cliché goes.
I was that girl who went through menopause in my early forties oblivious to it, assuming night sweats and the inability to sleep were simply job-related stress. Today, I recognize that good sleep hygiene is a wellness practice as important as healthy nutrition, exercise, annual exams, holistic practices, quiet spiritual time and creative expression outlets. No longer do I view someone’s “I only got x hours of sleep last night (read fewer than six) as a badge of honor, an ability to steamroll through life as a multi-tasking super-power. Now, I honor those people who speak considerately of their own commitment to well-being, which includes a consistent healthy routine of appropriate sleeping hours.
Mostly I honor my own ability to invite evenings of dreams, if remembered, consisting of sailing amongst icebergs of epic colorful crystals, ancestors making me laugh in my sleep and awaking with emotions of anticipation vs. trepidation. Fresh sheets and intentional day-end commemoration and closure contribute mightily to those REM inspirational dreams. Long gone are the days of middle-of-the-night childhood nightmares, fever induced hallucinogenic dreams or asthma attacks awakening me. Clean sheets eradicate dust mites feeding off my dead skin cells, not a pretty thought, but we all shed skin cells onto our sheets — I’m told about a million cells a day, many of which come off onto our sheets while we sleep. Couple that with body fluids that find their way onto our sheets and with enough thought anyone could pull off an all-nighter!
Let the scientists and their sleep studies do the work to tell us how our brain functions during sleep time, our bodies recover and rejuvenate through rest, our dreams impact or reflect our consciousness and the importance of the correct mask to combat sleep apnea. I might suggest doing the laundry, 10 minutes worth of ironing, slipping into anticipated clean, fresh sheets, laying your head onto smooth pillowcases is the best, simplest remedy for sleeping through the night. Awaken refreshed and ready for a joyful day, ready to face any minor nightmares or restlessness that might surface throughout the day.
Originally published at medium.com