Health

My Bedtime Routine: Sierra Teller Ornelas, TV Comedy Writer

In our Sleeping With… series, we ask people from different career paths, backgrounds, and stages of life how they make sleep magic happen.

You might not recognize Sierra Teller Ornelas by name, but chances are she’s made you laugh before. The Navajo and Mexican-American TV writer has helped craft some of the wittiest and most beloved comedies in recent years, like Superstore, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Happy Endings. Ornelas’ newest show, Rutherford Falls, may be the fullest expression of her voice yet. She is co-creator, showrunner, writer, and executive producer of the fresh and funny sitcom—which grapples with serious themes, and is a revelation for Indigenous representation in TV.

Rutherford Falls, which premiered on Peacock in April, features Indigenous actors (like co-lead Jana Schmieding) playing well-drawn characters, thanks to Ornelas and the several other Native voices she made sure were in the (virtual) writers room. Set in a small town that borders a Native American reservation, the smart series takes on the legacy of colonialism and the modern-day injustices that Indigenous peoples face—as well as the largely fictional stories that nice, white Americans (represented here by star and co-creator Ed Helms) like to tell themselves about those travesties.

Working on a TV show is an incredibly fun and creative job, Ornelas tells SELF, but can be high-stress and involve long hours, especially during the on-season. When she hops on a Zoom, Ornelas is sitting in her home office surrounded by the scented candles and beauty products that help her cultivate a peaceful work environment, from at home to on set. “I’m very big on making your space feel relaxing as much as you can, so I try to bring those elements to wherever I’m working,” Ornelas explains. “I even used to garden in my office. When I was on staff on a very stressful show, I would propagate succulents in my window.”

The nature of Ornelas’ work makes keeping up a consistent daily routine year-round pretty tricky. “TV is seasonal, so the weeks that we’re in editing or there’s rewrites from the table read, the routine goes out the window and you’re just trying to get it done,” Ornelas explains. But with season one of Rutherford Falls on air, Ornelas is indulging in a long break from the show by taking it a little easier, working on other projects, and enjoying the consistency of her schedule.

Ornelas walked SELF through her current bedtime routine, which involves creating calming vibes in her bathroom and bedroom, indulging in some self-care with the help of her favorite Native-made products, and taking a little time for herself and her husband after they put their son to bed. “And then, god willing, if we get a season two my work schedule will ramp up again,” Ornelas says. “So it just depends.”

My son is going to be 5, and my night doesn’t really start until he goes to sleep.

They say that kids need consistency, so by giving our son that consistency, we can kind of gauge what we’ll do in the evening. I struggle with self-care, and I struggle with working too much, so we always make sure we’re there for his bedtime. It’s actually pretty therapeutic. I’ll have to wash his face and brush his teeth and get him ready—so I’ll at least always wash my face and brush my teeth at night when he’s doing that, so I coincide with that little bit of self-care. And then we’ll lay with him.

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