Sleeping well is absolutely crucial to all aspects of your well-being. Sadly, many people find themselves having trouble sleeping. One of the best ways to help yourself sleep better is to create a nighttime routine. This helps to put your brain into sleep mode so that when you lay down, you’re able to fall asleep quickly.
If you’d like to create a nighttime routine for yourself, where should you start? How can you begin building this crucial habit?
1. Choose a consistent bedtime
Many of us have wildly different sleep schedules during the week and on the weekends. The problem is that our brains don’t really work this way. The brain’s circadian rhythm, or daily cycle, generally follows the same pattern each day. To create a healthy sleep pattern, you need to have a consistent bedtime every day. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever stay up late for a special event, but it should be rare when this happens. Try not to go to bed later on Saturday night than on Tuesday night.
Think about when you need to wake up during the week, and plan to go to bed eight hours earlier than that, even on the weekends. Once you’ve determined what your bedtime should be, you’ll want to start your nighttime routine about an hour earlier than that.
2. Turn off screens at least an hour before bed
Although many of us are used to relaxing with our phones in hand, this isn’t the ideal way to get the brain ready for sleep. Bright light, particularly in the blue spectrum, cues the brain to believe that it’s morning. It suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that brings on sleep. Instead, it’s best to put away all screens at least an hour before bedtime.
If you can’t avoid looking at your screen closer to bed (for example, to set your alarm), then make sure that the brightness is turned all the way down, to minimize its impact on your sleep.
3. Save the bed for sleep
The purpose of a bedtime routine is to help your brain establish a pattern of going to sleep when certain things happen. This is why it’s best to save your bed just for sleep as much as possible. Try not to hang out in your bed when you’re doing other things, like watching Netflix, scrolling social media, or working on your laptop. Do these things in another space, like on your couch or at your desk.
The more you save your bed just for sleep, the more your brain will associate the bed with sleep, and you’ll more easily fall into sleep mode once you get into bed.
4. Try a warm shower or bath
As part of a healthy circadian rhythm, your body temperature will naturally drop a bit when it’s close to bedtime. Mimicking this cycle can help to stimulate the secretion of melatonin, which helps you to feel sleepy at night.
Try taking a warm shower or bath about an hour before bedtime. The warm water will raise your body temperature a bit and open up the blood vessels in your skin. Afterward, your body will naturally release that heat, leading to a decrease in body temperature as you approach bedtime. This can help you to feel ready for sleep.
5. Make sure you aren’t hungry
Eating a large meal too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. However, being hungry can also disrupt sleep. Your brain will sense the need for food and will wake you up to deal with the problem. If you find that you’re hungry at bedtime, or if you wake up early in the morning and are starving, then it’s a good idea to have a small snack before bed. Choose something easy to digest, such as fruit, crackers, or yogurt. (You can check out more of our advice on eating for good sleep here.)
6. Try including a particular taste or smell
In order to help your brain enter sleep mode, it can be helpful to have a particular taste or smell that’s associated with going to sleep. For example, many people choose to drink a certain type of herbal tea as part of their nighttime routine. Chamomile and lavender are both popular options.
Instead of drinking tea, another option is aromatherapy. You could choose to smell an essential oil, or you could light a scented candle. It’s best if the scent you choose is one that you only smell at bedtime, so it will become strongly associated with sleep in your brain.
7. Choose relaxing activities
In the last hour before bed, it’s a great idea to have a routine that you always follow. Ideally, it should be made up of activities that you enjoy and look forward to, and that also helps to relax you. Following your warm bath and your snack, you could choose to read, write in your journal, make art, or listen to music.
To help your brain enter sleep mode, make sure the activity you choose doesn’t involve any screens. In addition, try to keep the lights in your house as dim as possible.
If you’re interested in meditation, it might be tempting to meditate as part of your nighttime routine. However, this isn’t recommended by meditation experts. The purpose of your nighttime routine is to help prepare your brain for sleep, while the purpose of meditation is to become more awake and aware of your experience. If you always meditate at bedtime, then your brain will start to associate meditation with sleep, and you’ll likely find yourself feeling sleepy every time you meditate. Try adding in meditation at another time of the day, rather than at night.