When it comes to getting a better night’s sleep, one particular piece of advice crops up all the time:
Develop a nighttime routine.
If you’ve been searching desperately for ways to address your poor sleep, then you’re almost guaranteed to have seen it countless times before!
Don’t get me wrong; this is great advice.
For instance, one study (1) on the topic found a consistent bedtime routine significantly reduced problematic behaviors among infants. Not only that, they fell asleep quicker, woke up less, and got back to sleep sooner when they did. Oh, and (no surprises here) the mothers’ moods improved too!
My only gripe is that this valuable sleep help tip is rarely followed up with any actual ideas on what a good nighttime routine looks like.
So that’s what I want to address today.
In this article, I’m going to list a few different nighttime routine options and explain why each item’s so helpful for sleep!
Going to bed at the same time every night (and, for that matter, waking up at the same time each morning) is a sensible place to start. Why? Because of something called a sleep-wake cycle (2). Basically, our brains naturally start preparing for sleep a few hours before our bedtime. By sticking to the same routine, we can train ourselves to get tired at the same point each evening!
If step one is committing to a certain bedtime, step two is deciding when to begin your actual nightly routine. Now, there’s a lot of conflicting research and opinions on this topic of exactly how long your body requires to sufficiently “wind down.” And quite frankly, this topic could be a separate article in itself. My best advice is to a) err on the side of “earlier than you might think” simply to not be rushed and give yourself the gift of additional guilt-free relaxation time and b) play around to discover the length of time before bed that lets you wind down best. Top tip: try setting an alarm to remind yourself when to start getting ready.
One thing you definitely shouldn’t do before bed is consume anything caffeinated or alcoholic! Contrary to popular opinion, night-caps of any kind can actually hinder your sleep. This study (4) of 29 adult men, for example, demonstrated that evening alcohol consumption lowers melatonin levels and leads to insomnia. As for caffeine, most of us are familiar with its effects as a stimulant! And science proves what you might assume from personal experience. Even a moderate dose of caffeine delivered 6 hours before bed can significantly disrupt your sleep (5).
Here’s something else to avoid before bedtime: Screens. Trust me, whether it’s your TV, tablet, or smartphone, the blue light they emit means you’d be wise to turn it off long before your newly designated bedtime! Numerous studies, like this one (6), reveal how screen media makes it harder to fall asleep, reduces how much sleep you get, and increases wakeups throughout the night.
As you can probably imagine, the secret to any effective nighttime routine is finding ways to reduce your stress levels and induce a state of relaxation. Enter the role of music! An abundance of research shows how useful it can be for enhancing sleep quality. In this study (7), for instance, students who struggled with sleep had to listen to 45 minutes of classical music each night for 3 weeks. The results were unequivocal: relaxing tunes improve sleep quality!
Do you wake up at night with a head full of racing thoughts? Maybe they even prevent you from falling asleep in the first place?
Either way, one good solution could be to keep a journal next to your bed. Not only is journaling known to reduce anxiety (8), but with all those thoughts down on paper before lights out, there should also be less of them rattling around your mind throughout the night.
Few things in life are more relaxing than soaking in a bathtub full of warm water. So, you won’t be surprised to hear how beneficial it can be for sleep!
In a review (9) of a whopping 5322 studies, researchers from the University of Texas concluded that taking a warm bath (between 104-108°F or 40–42.5°C) between 1 to 2 hours before bedtime improves sleep quality, reduces wakeups, and helps you fall asleep faster. The best part? You can tap into those amazing benefits after a mere 10 minutes in the tub!
The whole point of any nighttime routine is to prepare your mind and body for bed. You’re trying to lower those unhelpful stress levels and enter a soporific state of calmness and relaxation instead! Enter the benefits of including meditation in your nightly routine.
Among a plethora of impressive advantages, this ancient practice is scientifically proven to lower anxiety levels and facilitate sleep. Heck, in one meta-analysis of 16 studies (10), researchers found over 82% of individuals slept better following mindfulness-based interventions!
If you’re lucky enough to have someone in the house who’s willing to give you a massage, then now’s the time to ask! Thanks to its stress-reducing qualities, it’s widely recommended by sleep experts as another effective way to induce a sleepy state in the evening. Indeed, this study (11) found that massage therapy sessions reduce the amount of stress hormone, known as cortisol, in your system.
All told, you should enter a more tranquil state that’s conducive to quality sleep. And if you’re solo, not to worry! A self-massage seems to be a beneficial relaxation technique to bring in as well!
Regular exercise actually improves sleep for many people. For example, research done by Reid and colleagues (12) found that 4 months of aerobic exercise significantly enhanced sleep quality in participants with insomnia.
However, it’s important to take timing and intensity into consideration!
Strenuous workouts in the lead-up to bedtime can have the opposite effect. By increasing your heart rate, temperature, and general level of arousal, you can hinder your ability to get some much-needed shuteye. According to Sleep Foundation (13), it’s best to stop moderate-intensity exercise at least 1.5 hours before bed.
Not all bedrooms are made equal when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Everything from how warm, comfortable, and noisy it is to the colors on your walls and the amount of light coming in makes an almighty difference!
That’s why another top nighttime routine option is to dedicate some of it to prepare your room for, well…bed. Make it your mission to create a veritable sleep haven.
Tidying up, reducing clutter, creating a sense of space, adding splashes of warm color, and dimming the lights are good places to start. Oh, and why not leverage the power of aromatherapy?! The sweet smell of lavender essential oil, for instance, was shown in this study (14) to reduce anxiety and improve sleep among its participants.