In our Sleeping With… series, we speak to people from different career paths, backgrounds, and stages of life to find out how they make sleep magic happen.
Lilly Singh started out as a Youtube comedy sensation, amassing a platform with over 36 million followers. Now, she’s the only female late-night host on broadcast television—making her one of few across history, as well as the first openly bisexual person and the first person of Indian and South Asian descent to host a major network late-night show. The second season of her NBC show, A Little Late With Lilly Singh, airs in 2021.
Singh lives in Los Angeles with her dog, Scarbro. “I moved at the beginning of lockdown because, you know, that’s a cosmic joke,” she tells SELF. “I am sitting on the one piece of furniture that I’ve had in my home for the past six months. That is what I am doing.” While gearing up for production of her talk show to resume, Singh executive-produced Sketchy Times, a sketch comedy special about the pure chaos that is 2020, currently streaming on Peacock TV. Most recently, she partnered with plant-based protein brand Lightlife to offer up advice directly to her fans on Instagram.
Here, Singh walks us through her bedtime routine, including how she gets pumped up while shooting two shows a day; the myth of putting hustling over sleep; and her advice for getting creative at any time of day. “Really, if I had to describe my sleep schedule, it’s adaptable,” she says. “I never feel guilty about sleeping in when I can because I can definitely recollect all the times I could not.”
Every time we get to the point in the day where I’m like, okay, it’s time for me to go to bed, I am probably watching a movie, probably on the one piece of furniture I have.
I start my internal dialogue of, “Why don’t I just sleep on the sofa? Do I really have to walk upstairs? It’s so hard to do…” So that lasts about five minutes—my convincing myself to not be a sloth of a human being and walk upstairs.
I try to wash my face every single day. God knows I try. But I wash my face.
I think it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan and user of Olay products—they’ve changed my life and my skin. [Ed. note: Singh is an Olay spokesperson.] I use Olay Daily Facials to cleanse my face first—I am always shocked at how soft my skin is. Then I use my nighttime moisturizer, which is Olay Retinol 24, on my face. Around my eyes I use Olay Ultimate Eye Cream, and it’s done wonders for my skin over the past year.
I brush my teeth with Hello toothpaste, and it has activated charcoal. I love the way it makes my teeth and mouth feel, but I also despise it because it makes my sink so messy. No matter how many times I clean my sink, it is full of charcoal. That is the evil that I have agreed to, and that is what I have committed to in life.
If anyone asks me the one thing I can’t live without, I just constantly need moisture on my lips.
I’m one of those people who is constantly putting something on my lips. So before I sleep, I typically use the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask. It’s this berry favor, and so I eat half of it because I have no self-control, and then the rest of it stays on my lips. It makes my lips feel awesome at night.
I have trouble sleeping sometimes, especially in the year 2020, so when I lie down, I usually take a sniff of lavender or some sort of essential oil.
I put a little bit on my pillow, and that’s kind of how I get ready for bed. And then I become a slave to my dog, because he takes up the entire bed.
A lot of the conversation about my partnership with Lightlife is about making a clean break, and one of the things I need a clean break from is scrolling before bed and when I wake up. I’m not perfect at it yet, I still fall to that vice sometimes, but I have made it a point. I don’t have social media on my phone, I have it on a separate device, and I don’t keep it near my bed when I sleep. I don’t even have the option to scroll. I just feel like it’s too much uncontrollable energy into my world before I sleep and when I wake up. So although I am an Internet-y person, I have avoided doing that during almost the entire pandemic.
I go to bed whenever my schedule allows me to go to bed.
I’m the type of person where if I’m traveling, and my schedule says hey, you’re going to go to bed today at 2 a.m. because your shoot is going to end late, but then you’re going to have to wake up at 5 a.m. because you’ve got to go to the airport, I will do that. I will do that because that’s what it requires. Having said that, if my schedule is like hey, you don’t have any early meetings, I will sleep in an absurd amount. I always try to do what’s possible in my schedule and I roll with the punches. Really, if I had to describe my sleep schedule, it’s adaptable. It’s adapting to what I need to do. I never feel guilty about sleeping in when I can because I can definitely recollect all the times I could not.
I don’t do this daily, but previously when I’ve had trouble sleeping I try to use white noise.
There’s a lot of great white noise apps. I think essential oils really help me, and if I’m really struggling and I’ve had a very anxious day, I also just take bubble baths and I put some pink sea salt and lavender oil in. Last night I was having a really hard time falling asleep, and it’s because no matter how tired I am, my mind is saying to me, “Oh, this would be a really great video idea!” And then in the background it’s playing seven songs that I’m really liking at the time.
I get my creative ideas all the time, to be honest, and I think that’s why I have a hard time going to sleep.
I never turn that part of my brain off, except when I’m meditating. If I’m in a conversation with someone and I get an idea I’ll be like oh, that’s a great idea, hold on, pause, and I’ll start writing it on my phone. I’m just a big believer that inspiration is any time, anywhere, so I try to not turn that part of me off, because I do feel that inspiration should be taken whenever it arrives.
I have IG video ideas, and Youtube video ideas, and “Oh, this would be great for season two of my show,” so I have all these different lists on my phone. Sometimes it’s a curdle of an idea, sometimes it’s one joke, sometimes it’s a much more thoroughly thought-out thing, but I love it because then any time I’m in a brainstorm session I go into that Notes section and there’s things that I had completely forgotten about, and very often a single sentence or a kernel of an idea is what I base an entire episode or an entire video off of.
I am a big believer of scheduling inspiration. I think we always think about inspiration as, “When it hits, it hits, and when it doesn’t hit, it doesn’t hit.”
That’s fine, I understand it, but I also think there’s something to be said of, “I’m feeling stuck, so let me watch interviews with someone I think is really inspiring.” Or let me watch a new genre of film I’ve never watched before. Or let me go to a Broadway musical. Every single time I’ve gone to a Broadway musical, I have come home with 15 ideas for videos. Scheduling moments like that, of seeing new things, hearing new things, it’s really important.
I feel like I’m supposed to lie and tell you I’m wired [after shooting my show], but the real answer is…no.
Season one shot two episodes a day. We shot 96 episodes in three months. The days were pretty long and exhausting. I have this ritual to pump myself up before I go out on stage, and so once I commit to turning on, I’m on. It doesn’t matter how tired I am. I am on, I will perform, I will get into a different mindset.
So I will leave my greenroom, I will go to show one. After show one, I’m wired. I go back to my room, I change my wardrobe, I get pumped up again, I go out, and do show two. As soon as show two is done, I say to myself, “Lilly, you will now turn off.” When you’re shooting that much stuff in such a small amount of time, you really have to conserve every bit of energy you can. I’m really good at turning on and off and knowing when I need to be on and off. And so after the second show, I feel like, now I am off, and now I will conserve my energy. I’d go home and I’d be tired and I would go right the hell to bed.
I will never nap between shows because once I start the first show, like I said, I turn on. I’m also not a good napper.
I’m the type of person where I’m like, I’m going to take a 20-minute nap! And then I wake up four days later. That is me. I cannot nap. And I also definitely take a pretty long time to fall asleep. So if I had 20 minutes to nap, 19 of those minutes would be me stressed about the fact that I only have 20 minutes to sleep, and one minute of those 20 minutes would be sleep.
A lot of people look at me and think, oh, she’s all about hustling, and she doesn’t sleep. Sometimes my sleep gets sacrificed, but the one thing that I’m not willing to sacrifice is my mental health.
If there ever was a time where I really needed sleep, I will make the time to sleep. And I think this is not something that we teach kids to prioritize, which we should. Anyone reading this who wants to take away one thing—it’s that you should really value self-care.