One-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the CDC. If you’re one of them, creating a bedtime routine is one of the easiest steps you can take to enjoy better sleep. Bedtime routines are a simple lifestyle change that can help your mind and body relax before bed.
A bedtime routine is a set of activities you perform in the same order, every night, in the 30 to 60 minutes before you go to bed. Bedtime routines can vary, but often include calming activities like taking a warm bath, reading, journaling, or meditation.
Humans are creatures of habit. Like any other routine, bedtime routines establish habits that help our brains recognize when it’s time to sleep. By performing the same activities in the same order every night, your brain comes to see those activities as a precursor to sleep.
Bedtime routines also play an important role in reducing late-night stress and anxiety — the kind of worrisome thoughts that keep you up at night. Anxious thoughts and rumination activate your mind and sympathetic nervous system. Left unchecked, these thoughts can intensify and develop into insomnia. By following a bedtime routine, you can keep your mind focused on other tasks and encourage yourself to relax instead.
The importance of bedtime routines stems back as far as childhood. All on its own, a consistent bedtime routine has shown to relieve cranky infants and their parents, helping children fall asleep faster and wake up less frequently during the night.
Bedtime routines help children connect with their natural circadian rhythms, learn how to calm themselves down, and practice healthy habits that promote good sleep. Bedtime routines have also been found to have profoundly positive impacts in other areas of children’s lives, including better memory, mental health, and attention.
But bedtime routines for adults are just as important. Bedtime routines help your brain separate the day from the night, clear your mind and body of the day’s stresses, and relax into sleep.
Ready to dream up your ideal bedtime routine? Try these ten ideas.
As part of your natural sleep-wake cycle, your brain starts winding down for sleep a few hours before bedtime. You can use your bedtime routine to make that process more effective. First, decide on your bed- and wake-up times, and stick to them every day. Following a consistent sleep routine helps train your brain to naturally feel tired when it’s bedtime.
Next, schedule a time to begin your bedtime routine every night, anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours before bed. Set an alarm if you need to.
Despite what you may think, your favorite Netflix show does not help you relax, nor does scrolling on Instagram. Electronic devices, including computers, televisions, smartphones, and tablets, all emit strong blue light. When you use these devices, that blue light floods your brain, tricking it into thinking it’s daytime. As a result, your brain suppresses melatonin production and works to stay awake.
Don’t play tricks on your brain. Say goodnight to your electronics at the beginning of your bedtime routine. If you can, avoid using electronics in the evening as much as possible. Be sure to turn on your phone’s red-light filter well before your bedtime routine even begins, so if you accidentally look at it, it won’t be as disruptive.
Heavy meals and drinking before bed can lead to indigestion, acid reflux, and middle-of-the-night restroom trips that disrupt your sleep. However, going to bed hungry can also upset your stomach and make it hard to fall asleep.
Find a healthy middle ground by calming your stomach with a light snack, like a piece of fruit or yogurt. Cherries, grapes, strawberries, nuts, and oats all have high melatonin content. Non-caffeinated herbal teas, especially ones with chamomile or lavender, are another nice way to calm the mind and induce sleep. Just make sure to use the restroom before bed!
As part of your sleep-wake cycle, your body experiences various hormonal changes throughout the day. One of these is melatonin production, which begins in the evening to prepare you for sleep. At the same time, your core body temperature drops.
Scientists have found that mimicking that nighttime drop in body temperature via a warm bath can trigger a similarly sleepy reaction. Consider taking a warm bath about an hour before you go to sleep. Your body will heat up from the water, and cool down quickly as the water evaporates, creating a sensation that makes you feel tired and relaxed.
62 percent of people listen to music to help them sleep. The genre isn’t important, so long as the music relaxes you. Close your eyes, listen to the music, and let it distract you from your worries and calm you down.
Other types of audio can be good for sleep too, like ambient sounds and white or pink noise. Pink noise, like rain or waves, has been shown to improve sleep quality, while white noise may help you fall asleep faster by masking other sounds. You can find playlists for different types of white noise on Spotify and smart home devices like Alexa.
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can allow you to let go of physical and mental tension, by instead focusing on your body and mindfully relaxing. A daily yoga routine has been shown to improve sleep quality, and a few simple stretches or massage before bed can prevent cramping.
Some light yoga, stretching, and breathing exercises can go a long way toward relaxing you into sleep. See what works for you and add it to your bedtime routine.
Like yoga, a regular meditation practice can improve your sleep quality. Mindfulness meditation teaches people to allow their thoughts and manage emotions, enabling sleep onset, rather than stressing about not falling asleep.
You can practice mindfulness meditation by simply closing your eyes and allowing yourself to focus on your thoughts and feelings. Observe your thoughts, but don’t judge them. Deep breathing and visualization are other forms of meditation. You can find many guided meditation exercises for free on smartphone apps or YouTube.
Reading is a common bedtime routine that begins in childhood. Parents often read to their children as part of a bedtime routine.
When incorporating reading into your bedtime routine as an adult, stay away from exciting genres like suspense and action. A book with a plot that’s drama-free, even boring, can be best.
Many people find it restorative to journal, and doing so in the evening lets them sort out their thoughts and feelings before going to bed.
If the idea of journaling overwhelms you, consider starting with a simple to-do list. One study found that taking 5 minutes before bed to jot down a quick to-do list of tasks that needed to be done in the following days significantly sped up sleep onset.
Dedicate part of your bedtime routine to transforming your bedroom into a sleep oasis. Make a ritual out of making things as cool, dark, and quiet as possible.
Set the thermostat to somewhere between 60 to 71 Fahrenheit. Turn off any noisy electronics. Dim the lights and pull down your blackout curtains. Put things away and remove clutter. Enjoy your favorite scent with an aromatherapy diffuser.
Now, for the final piece of your bedtime routine: getting into bed. Make this the very last thing you do, and once your head hits the pillow, don’t do anything else other than try to fall asleep. You want your brain to see your bed as a place of slumber, and that’s all.