Stressed out, not sleeping well? Your body and mind are trying to tell you something – they enjoy routine. Listen to them, and enjoy the benefits.
tired man needs stress relief and better sleep Get into a routine for stress relief and better sleep

We all enjoy our free time, but as a retiree it can sometimes be difficult to tell the free time from the “other” time – it’s what might call having too much of a good thing. Without a routine, hours, days and even weeks can blend together and become monotonous and unfulfilling.

Wei-Ching Wang of the I-Shou University in Taiwan, leader of a study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, found that, “Quality of life is not affected as much by the amount of free time that a retiree has, but on how effectively the person manages this time on hand.”

They went on to write, “Individuals who manage their free time well enjoy a higher quality of life, whereas those who gain free time but do not use it properly gain little benefit.”

None of the writers about later-life leisure suggests that you set up a punch clock, but they do recommend setting new goals for your new circumstances. Establishing a routine can help you achieve them.

A goal may as simple as widening your circle of friends. Example: the condo I live in is in a two-building development with a common recreation area. The social committees of the two buildings run regular, inexpensive dinners, often themed to the season or the ethnic groups in the condos. They’ve very welcoming and the seating is at large round tables. It’s like being on a cruise ship – you meet new people.

Sometimes the magic happens and a common interest – playing bridge, say – starts a new friendship. The point is, the dinners are part of a routine, one that makes new residents welcome.

Better sleep needs a routine? Yup, you bet.

The sleep doctors at Harvard Medical School say that sticking to a bedtime routine – even on weekends – can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.

Now, I think of myself as the least routine driven guy you can find. Yet I do have a bedtime routine.

My routine helps me to overcome my sometimes restless mind so that I can nod off in peace. My routine is simple.

I walk my wife and myself through this routine every night

Fortunately, we go to sleep together – albeit very late at night. No TV watching in the bedroom. We settle into our bed and I start whispering four sets of a deep inhalation, breath holding and long exhalation routine:

  • Inhale through your nose as deeply as possible to a count of four to six.
  • Keep your tongue against your upper palate.
  • Hold your breath to a count of four or six.
  • Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight.

Each set of the four comprises three of these routines.

Between the sets, I whisper instructions to clench and release different sets of muscles: curling and spreading out the toes; legs and buttocks; fists, arms, upper body and abdomen; raising eyebrows and relaxing them and yawn-stretching the mouth. These techniques really do work to refocus our minds, and leave the restlessness behind. It’s what Harvard calls “establishing a calming pre-sleep routine.”

I’ve discovered how much more routine oriented our life is than I thought

Many of the things I do turn out to be recommended by researchers who have studied stress relief, general well-being in our free time, and the need for better sleep among the elderly.

Harvard, for example, echoes other sources in recommending exercise as an important part of our routine.

Its doctors advise us to exercise regularly (but not too close to bedtime). My wife and I exercise every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She swims and I hit the gym. We try to do this around noon, but sometimes events force a change in our schedule. Still, we both try to stick to our routine without making ourselves crazy about it.

Not only is the exercise in itself good for your body, heart and brain, it also helps take your mind off of things that may be weighing on you – it’s hard to worry about other stuff when you’re counting lengths in a swimming pool or sets with weights. What’s more, exercise makes you tired, and that pays off at bedtime.

The same goes for the way we eat. We maintain a healthful diet, but pig out on ribs or pizza from time to time. I make sure I’m hydrated before sleep by having a glass of water and I’ve started to avoid caffeine after 8 p.m. No one’s more surprised that I have these simple routines than I.

Some people prefer a written schedule

If you’re new to retirement you may miss the structure of your scheduled former work life. Developing a routine can give you back the sense of structure.

You may find that writing down our routine helps you get your head around it and makes it easier to follow. It also means you’ll have something to refer to, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week. You can break your routine down into daily and weekly routines.

You don’t have to be a slave to your routine; life and Nature don’t work that way. But if it’s written down – maybe on a calendar that you keep on the fridge – you’ll find it easier to get back to it.

Want quick stress relief? Try the easy stuff first

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Decide whether to check emails every day before or after breakfast. Determine whether exercise will be in your schedule before you catch up with the news and family and friends, or after. Visit your barber or hairdresser on the same date every month. Do your shopping at the same time, on the same days every week.

If you enjoy watching a show on TV – great, make a point of scheduling it in, but try not to sit around filling time with television, and definitely don’t watch TV while you’re in bed (the bedroom should be a calm electronic device free zone).

And wile it’s good to bring structure and routine to your day to day activities, remember to leave yourself some wiggle room – there’s such a thing as overdoing it!

You may even find it helpful to maintain your routine of dressing for work every weekday. I did for years after I retired. I was freelancing at the time, so it made some sense. My work as a writer enabled me to avoid a shirt and tie, but I wore dress pants and a business casual shirt back then. Now, the pants are chinos and the shirts are flannel in winter. Sweat suits are not for me. Although I could, I definitely do not sit around in my pajamas and robe all day.

Today’s a good day to start your new routine

Routine can offer you stress relief, better sleep and richer more rewarding use of your free time. Why not get into a new routine today – by, you guessed it – setting up a routine. You’ll be glad you did!

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