Published on May 24, 2020

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We spend a third of our lives asleep—that means our bedroom is the most lived-in space in our homes. It’s the room where we start and end our days, and that’s why the rituals that happen there are extra important. In The Wind Down, we explore the nighttime routines of people we admire to make the most of the moments before bed.

In 2016, Stephanie Danler, then a relatively unknown writer, broke through the literary world. Her novel, Sweetbitter, based on her experience as a waitress in New York City, earned a six-figure advance from Penguin Random House and cemented Danler as an emerging literary talent. 

Now with a memoir (Stray, out May 5) and a new baby (she’s due in July) on the way, and a one-and-a-half-year-old already at home, Danler is used to a busy schedule. That’s why evenings have become a retreat—a time to breathe in some essential oils, meditate, and let the stress of the day fade away. 

Here, she shares how she winds down for the night.

Soak it up: Bedtime starts with my son, Julian, at around 6:30 p.m. After he eats dinner, we take a bath together; I love baths and I’ve been getting in with him from the beginning. I use Babo Botanicals in the tub and on his hair, and add either lavender essential oil or this Young Living blend called Gentle Baby. Afterward, we brush our teeth (we’re successful maybe 5 percent of the time) and do coconut oil massages. He’s been smelling these scents since he was just 1 week old, so I like to think they help him transition from day to night. 

Story time: Julian is really into picking his own books right now, but we usually end the night with You’re Here for a Reason (which makes me cry) and Goodnight Moon. I almost always fall asleep while we’re in the middle of a story. Eventually, my husband will come and get me and remind me that it’s only 7:30 and we need to eat. My own bedtime starts after dinner and the cleanup of the destroyed house. I try to get into my bedroom by 9. I’m pregnant (due in late July), so if I had it my way, I would just stay asleep at 7:30, but alas.

Skin saviors: Though my skin-care routine has gotten simpler since having a child, I’ve compensated with extra rituals around sleep. I wash my face with CeraVe, and every other night switch between Biologique Recherche P50W (the one that’s pregnancy safe) and Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum. Then I use a strong moisturizer. Right now I’m using Crème de la Mer The Moisturizing Soft Cream; my aunt gives me a jar every year for the holidays and it’s lovely, but not something I can afford regularly. A great substitute is Osea Advanced Protection Cream or Avène Hydrance Rich Hydrating Cream. If I’m feeling really dry, I’ll also wear Avène’s Soothing Moisture Mask overnight. Then I finish with a face oil—I’m always rotating, but at the moment I’m using True Botanicals Pure Radiance Oil. Yes, this is a simplified routine.

Best bed: My bed is my favorite place. We have a very thick Tempur-Pedic mattress we inherited and it’s nicer than anything else in the house. On top, it’s an all-white linen mix of Parachute and Matteo bedding. I know it’s risky doing all white with a toddler, but I don’t care. There’s color and mess all over my home, and I cherish my white sleeping space. I’ve gotten really good at laundry.  

Deep breaths: In the bedroom I use a humidifier (Los Angeles living!) and a diffuser with essential oils—usually lots of lavender, but recently I’ve been doing Young Living’s Thieves, an immunity blend, or R.C., a respiratory blend I believe is a miracle worker for congestion.

Full stretch: I get into bed with a poetry book (right now I’m reading Nikky Finney and Ha Jin), drink water with Natural Calm magnesium, and use this back-massager pillow—I have proselytized about this pillow before; it was life-changing for me—for at least 20 minutes. I get leg cramps when I’m pregnant, so I use it on my calves as well as my back. 

So much oil: One of the last steps in this ridiculous but relaxing routine is putting body oil—either Esker Beauty Restorative Oil or coconut oil—on my breasts and stomach. Being pregnant twice in two years is hard on the skin, so I’m obsessive about oil. Any oil. Lots of it.

Unwind your mind: If sleep isn’t coming, I do a Headspace meditation. I used to take melatonin, but it’s off-limits during pregnancy, and these last two years have turned me into a Headspace devotee. Also: earplugs, sleep mask, and a white noise machine. Our house is small and it echoes, and our son is a noisy sleeper, so I do whatever I can to mute him until 6 a.m. the next morning.