Do you have insomnia or another sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep, or stay asleep once you do? Or do you just have trouble winding down your activities and getting to bed at a decent hour? One way to make a healthy change is to set up a relaxing bedtime routine that you can repeat each day to prepare for sleep.
How a Bedtime Routine Helps You Fall Asleep Quickly
A set of bedtime habits and rituals helps you sleep better in two ways. First, there is the physiological effect of consciously taking the time to relax: clearing your brain and slowing your body’s overall pace. Second, there is the psychological aspect of repeating a set of steps each time you get ready to go to bed. It signals your brain that it is time to rest. If you have been experiencing insomnia or other sleep difficulties, you may even feel anxiety build as bedtime approaches, and a conscious routine can counter and offset that anxiety.
Banish Your Electronic Devices from Bedtime
First, turn off the TV and put away your electronic devices. If you can, KEEP ALL OF THEM OUT OF THE BEDROOM! Need an alarm to wake you up? Use a clock! Nothing ruins good sleep habits as much as our modern addiction and heavy reliance on our cell phones.
As day’s end approaches, absolutely avoid: computer games, reading news or blogs, or checking social media. All of these can stir up emotions you do not want around your bedtime: anger, sadness, stress, or excitement. In addition, they all have a tendency to suck you in and make you lose track of time, keeping you awake later than you intended. Plus there is the physiological stimulation of the blue light coming from the screen so that even if you’re reading about an elephant protecting a newborn baby from a lion or watching adorable puppy videos, it can still keep you awake.
Replace your various electronic habits with activities that are calming and focus on preparing for sleep. Everyone’s relaxation cues are different. Think about thoughts or activities that you find most soothing and find ways to incorporate them into your evening routine just before you go to bed. Here are some suggestions:
Prepare for the Next Day
If you find yourself lying awake and worrying about everything you have to do tomorrow, taking some steps to plan your next day prior to bedtime can be extremely helpful. These can include packing a lunch, laying out an outfit to wear, or gathering everything you need to take with you in the morning and placing it in your car. Get a daily planner and list out what you want to accomplish the next day, and as you close your planner, imagine closing a box or a drawer where you put away ALL OF YOUR THOUGHTS about what you have to do the next day. Take a deep breath and relax because you’re done! You don’t have to worry about THAT anymore!
Take a Warm Bath
Warm water physically relaxes your muscles and is a great routine and habit to create to let your body know that you will be sleeping soon. If you normally shower in the morning, you can still indulge in a bath at night. Take a quick shower when you get up, or just wet and style your hair in the morning.
When you’re relaxing in the tub, don’t let your mind wander to things you need to do. Don’t think about what you did earlier in the day or what you should have done or said at work. Be mindful. Consciously focus on loosening your muscles and be aware of the physical sensation of the warm water on your skin. A few drops of an essential oil like lavender in your bath water or in an oil diffuser to will add an aromatic association to your senses with relaxation which will not only relate the warm water to sleep but will also relate the scent of your choosing that it will is bedtime soon.
Add your bath with your normal bedtime routine such as brushing your teeth and washing your face. When you add the step of taking a bath to your normal bedtime routine, this process is called habit stacking. As you go through your routine of taking a bath, brushing your teeth, and washing your face, don’t let your mind wander through random thoughts. Do each step slowly and consciously. If you need help focusing, occupy your mind by giving yourself a narrative of what you’re doing at that moment.
Read Something Fun
If you like reading and usually use a Kindle or other electronic reader, opt for a physical book during your bedtime ritual. Choose only fun, fluffy books — a romance, a book of humorous essays, or some inspirational reading. Avoid current events, heavy topics, or thrillers that will KEEP YOU AWAKE turning more pages or KEEP YOU AWAKE thinking all night!
You could also put magazines on your nightstand that you ONLY read at bedtime. Skip edifying business or professional publications, and food magazines that can make you hungry.
Indulge in a celebrity gossip or entertainment magazine, or one with short inspiring stories like Reader’s Digest or Guideposts. You could also try winding down with a puzzle magazine — there are crossword, word search, or sudoku magazines at all levels of difficulty, and you can find them in any grocery or dollar store.
Does your mind instantly wake up when you try to go to sleep, and nag you about everything you need to do? Try flipping through a fashion, home decor, or gardening magazine just before you turn out the lights, and block out invasive thoughts by visually creating the perfect outfit, room renovation, or backyard landscape.
Sip a Soothing Drink
It’s not a great habit to eat just before bed, but if a few bites of ice cream or a piece of cheese are part of your personal routine and it works for you, you don’t need to change it. However, if you feel that you snack too much in the evenings, a better habit is to set a cut-off time for eating at least two hours before bed.
If you want to get a good night’s rest, you need to avoid alcoholic beverages before bedtime. Although alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it has been proven to affect sleep patterns. You may fall asleep more easily, but your sleep will be of lower quality, and you are more likely to wake up in the middle of the night, or feel fatigued rather than rested in the morning.
A better approach is to a glass of milk (whether cow’s milk or other kinds like soy or almond milk) or a cup of herbal tea. Chamomile tea is an excellent choice. Whatever you drink choose, try to drink it about 30 minutes before you go to bed, to allow time for the chemical properties of the milk or tea to affect your system.
If your idea of meditation is sitting for hours, or if you’ve tried it and your brain just wouldn’t shut up long enough, give it another try. There are so many different approaches, from guided visualization to self-hypnosis, to apps that offer a wide variety of meditation options (although if you go the electronic route, try to do it outside the bedroom and without staring at a screen to avoid the stimulating blue light exposure!)
If you are new to meditation, Insight Timer is an excellent app for both Android and Apple phones. Unlike some of the other popular meditation apps, you DON’T NEED A SUBSCRIPTION to access it, although there is an upgrade option that opens more content. The free level includes hundreds of meditations from a wide variety of spiritual traditions or completely secular options. Many are specifically intended to use to wind down before sleep, or focus on relieving anxiety or insomnia, and can be listened to through a speaker or headphones. They also vary greatly in length, so if you are new to or skeptical of meditation, try a simple five to ten-minute option first and see how you like it.
Listen to Something Relaxing to Drift Off
Listening to sounds, music, or a soft voice can greatly support your nightly bedtime routine. If you find that barking dogs, slamming doors, or traffic noises keep you up, you can drown them out with other sounds. Some people prefer simple droning noises, such as white noise or the sound of a fan. Others like to listen to nature sounds like a calm forest at night, rain on a roof, or waves breaking on the beach, while mentally visualizing being in those locations.
Another option is relaxing music or music mixed with binaural beats that evoke corresponding sleep or relaxation brainwaves. You can find many choices on apps, downloadable recordings, streaming playlists, and even CDs. If you’re afraid of getting sucked into your smartphone, break out your old MP3 player and load it up with albums or playlists specifically for falling asleep.
If your mind wants to ramble when you try to fall asleep, you can distract it by listening to an external voice. You can purchase and play virtually any audiobook through Audible or iTunes, find free public domain recordings with the Librivox app, or check an audiobook out of your local library in a CD or downloadable electronic version. Other options include podcasts or streaming videos (turn off the screen and just listen) of lectures or interviews. Choose a topic that is mildly interesting to you, enough that you can focus on the words and block out intrusive thoughts, but not TOO fascinating that it keeps you up!
If one approach doesn’t work for you, try another, or a combination of activities. For example, you could make a to-do list in your planner while you sip on some chamomile tea, followed by a few pages of light reading. The important thing is to create a routine that you can repeat every night, including activities that physically calm you, and a series of steps that signal your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.