How often do you take some quiet time out to unwind before going to bed? Do you end up doing chores, working or watching television right up until bedtime?
Understandably, if you have responsibilities such as childcare, you might not have a lot of time to yourself to relax at night.
If you have sleep problems such as insomnia though, making at least a little time for a bedtime routine can work wonders. It can also help you fix your sleep schedule if you’re currently struggling to fall sleep when you want to.
Taking 30-60 minutes to mark an end to a hectic day and do things which will help calm your mind is a cornerstone of good sleep hygiene. In this article I’ll be looking at some of the activities you can do as part of an adult bedtime routine.
What you decide to do in this quiet time is up to you, but hopefully you’ll find here some suggestions which will help you fall asleep more easily, as well as things to avoid.
In 2016 I polled 310 readers to find out what they most commonly do in bed before going to sleep. The results are interesting as they show that many people are doing things which are likely to stop them from sleeping well.
For example, 108 people said they surf the internet and 74 that they watch TV. These are two things best left outside the bedroom.
How will a bedtime routine help me sleep?
A bedtime routine can help you deal with insomnia in several ways:
- If your mind is very active when you go to bed, a routine can help calm it down before you get into bed.
- The time in bed is sometimes the only quiet thinking time we allow ourselves. Thinking can keep you awake though, so it’s better to do it beforehand.
- By repeating a regular pattern, you condition your body and mind to realise that it’s time to go to sleep.
- Many activities people do in the evening can be overstimulating. So a bedtime routine helps you avoid doing those things and relax instead.
How long should my routine be?
Realistically, it’s up to you to decide how long your routine will be based on the amount of time you feel it takes you to unwind.
Your life circumstances will also help shape the way your routine goes. It may be, for example, that by the time you’ve put kids to bed and tidied up, 15 minutes is plenty enough time.
If you have several hours in the evening to spend how you choose though, and are suffering from serious sleep problems, maybe an hour is a better amount of time.
And if you regularly spend a lot of time watching TV or using other electronic devices, then at least an hour without looking at screens is advisable as you’ll see in the next section.
What to do in your bedtime routine
The key is that this should be a quiet, relaxing and enjoyable time. So the routine will of course differ from person to person. And maybe you’ll want to try more than one of the suggestions here in that time.
Here are some ideas to help you decide what to do during this time:
1) Switch off the electronic devices
Before looking at activities you can do as part of your bedtime routine, you may find it beneficial to change the way you use electronic devices.
In the modern age, most people love their electronic equipment. Whether it’s a TV, computer, tablet, mobile phone or games console, they take up a lot of our time.
However, it’s a good idea not to use them during the hour before going to sleep for 4 reasons:
- They stimulate your brain.
- The light some devices emit can interfere with your internal body clock.
- They can be addictive, eating into even more sleep time.
- Checking work emails at night can create worry and stress.
2) Relaxation exercises: meditation, breathing & mindfulness
In a survey of 2000 readers of this website, 58% said they couldn’t fall asleep because of their busy mind. Another 24% similarly said it was worry, stress or anxiety keeping them up.
If you struggle with this too, then doing some relaxation exercises before you go to bed, or when in bed, can help enormously. There are many different techniques you can try, and you can find step by step descriptions below:
When it comes to reading, you have two options: Read before going to bed or read once you’re in bed. Ideally it’s best to read in another room for an important reason: it’s good if your brain only associates your bed with sleep and intimacy with your partner.
Having said that, realistically it’s fine to relax with a good book in bed. Many people find that this in itself helps them sleep, myself included.
The alternative is to read in another room for a while, perhaps with a relaxing drink, and then continue in bed once you start feeling sleepy.
4) Listen to music
Whilst it’s important to avoid screens, listening to music before bed is a great idea. Preferably not music which is too exciting or emotional though.
Everyone loves music, but how often do you take time to do literally nothing but listen to some music? For some ideas of calming music across a range of genres, have a look at this list of the best music to sleep to.
5) Write down worries and reminders for the next day
Do you remember the last time you lay in bed thinking something like this:
“Oh, I forgot to send that email. I must remember to do it tomorrow. Must remember. Must remember”?
Sometimes thoughts like these can buzz around your head, joined by other worries and reminders from your mental to-do list.
A simple and effective trick is to write down your worries and make a to-do list before going to bed.
That way you know you won’t forget anything important and you can relax.
6) Have a relaxing drink or light snack
It’s a good idea to avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks before bed. But drinking a relaxing cup of tea is a nice way to spend some quiet time, perhaps whilst reading or listening to music.
If you find yourself hungry at night it’s ok to have a light snack before bed. Some food is of course better than others late at night. For more about this, have a read of the article discussing food that helps you sleep.
7) Spiritual practice: prayer, yoga, meditation
If you find that engaging in spiritual activity brings you peace and clarity of mind, then doing it before getting into bed is an ideal time.
Whether you enjoy reading spiritual literature, praying, doing light yoga or meditating, it can be incorporated into your bedtime routine.
8) Bring your temperature down
Temperature is often overlooked as a factor in sleeping well. Not only is it important to have the right bedroom temperature, there’s another clever trick you can try.
It’s based on the following two facts:
- The ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 and 22.2 degrees Celsius).
- The body associates a lowering temperature with a signal for sleeping.
In the winter months this might happen at night anyway. But if the air temperature is above this range, you can try to lower your bedroom and body temperature by doing the following:
- Set your bedroom thermostat to be inside the above temperature range.
- Open windows to clear out any hot, stuffy air.
- Have a shower 15-30 minutes before bed, preferably a cool shower.
- If you have a hot bath, make sure it’s between 1 and 2 hours before bed. It takes a long time for the body to cool down after a bath.
- Go for a short walk outside to get some fresh air.
- If you live somewhere really hot, try a cooling mattress pad or bed fan.
9) Spend time with family, friends or your partner
If you live with others, then why not spend some time before bed talking or playing a quiet game? If you can, try to resist the temptation to all be using a phone or electronic device in the same room without really talking to one another.
And if you sleep with a partner, there may of course be other ways you might want to spend your time together before going to sleep.
10) Essential: don’t lie awake for hours – get up and repeat
This is one of the most important points to take away from this article. It takes most people between 20 and 30 minutes to fall asleep. So if you’re still awake after half an hour, it could be that you’re not quite ready to sleep yet.
Most people then lie in bed, getting more and more frustrated. And in the worst case scenario you can end up tossing and turning all night and getting very little sleep.
So the key is to get up, go into another room, have dim lighting only and repeat some of your routine. After 15 minutes you can then go back to bed and try to fall asleep again.
However, if you feel that you’re wide awake, it might be better to stay up longer until you notice yourself feeling sleepy.
Just don’t lie in bed suffering in silence.
Do you have a bedtime routine at the moment? Do you repeat the same ritual every night, or just once in a while?
Are there any activities here which you think you might like to try? Are there any ideas missing which you think other readers might like to hear about?
Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.