In our Sleeping With… series, we ask people from different career paths, backgrounds, and stages of life how they make sleep magic happen.
Aly Raisman calls me from her hometown of Boston. When we speak, she has just returned from shooting From Darkness to Light, a Lifetime documentary event wherein Raisman helps guide survivors of sexual assault through their healing journeys. “It’s about helping them see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Raisman tells SELF. “And hopefully providing the viewers and the survivors with hope that if something happens to you, no matter what it is, any type of trauma or any type of hard time, we really want to show people that there is a light. If you’re struggling, you won’t feel like this forever and there’s hope.”
Raisman rose to fame as one of the Fierce Five, or the Fab Five, both viral nicknames for the 2012 United States artistic gymnast team that went on to win big at that year’s Summer Olympics in London. That summer, Raisman came home with three medals: a bronze for her beam routine; a gold for the powerful floor exercise she dedicated to the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinians at the 1972 Munich Olympics (also making her the first U.S. woman to win gold in this event); and a gold team medal that she shared with fellow gymnasts Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber. Raisman represented the U.S. again in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where she won gold for team and two silver medals: one for all-around and the other for floor exercise.
In early 2020, Raisman announced her retirement from competitive gymnastics in a moving open letter. “As a little girl, I thought what mattered most was making it to the Olympics, but I’ve learned that my love for gymnastics is more important,” she wrote. “It is this love that fueled my Olympic dreams, and it is this love that now inspires me to do everything I can to make it safer for the many wonderful people in the sport and all the little 8-year-olds out there who will be watching the gymnasts in Tokyo.”
Since then, Raisman has been catching up on rest—and learning how to do so for the first time. “I used to feel like if I wasn’t training seven hours a day, I didn’t have a right to be tired,” she says. “Now I’m kinder to myself.” For Raisman, figuring out how to rest—how to just be—is all part of a larger self-discovery process: Who is she when you take away all of the medals, all of the titles, and all of the gymnastics? For a walk through Raisman’s anxiety-quelling bedtime routine, along with the rest techniques that she’s learning to adapt, read on below.
When it comes to my routine, I am still in the process of figuring out exactly what feels good for me.
I’ve been taking the last year or so to really try to get to know myself outside of being the gymnast, and just focusing on who I am. I would say one of the first things I do to wind down is dim the lights and just make sure it’s not too bright. I also will wear, oftentimes, blue light-blocking glasses if I’m watching TV, or even if I’m on my phone. But I just find not having a superbright room just helps me feel more relaxed.
I normally like to shower at night.
Showering, for me, is very relaxing. And having that moment of brushing my teeth and brushing my hair, and putting body lotion or skin care on, is very relaxing. I think it’s great to just have that moment for yourself. For skin care, I keep it pretty simple. I’ve actually found that less is more for me for applying skin care.