Do you ever take some quiet ‘me time’ at the end of a long day to relax and unwind before going to bed?
“Yeah, right!” I hear you say.
“By the time I finish work, look after the kids, sort the house out, and get ready for tomorrow, I barely have enough energy to drag myself to bed.”
It might feel like you’d have to magic a 25th hour in the day out of thin air to have some quality me time. Perhaps you could make time if you wanted to, but just love to binge watch Netflix series, get lost on Instagram, or watch funny cat videos on your phone late into the night.
However you currently spend most nights, if you have problems with your sleep, it might help to set aside a little time for a calming activity before jumping into bed. This is a good sleep hygiene technique, and one that works well alongside keeping to a regular sleep schedule.
Personally, I try to spend the last 30 to 60 minutes of the day doing something relaxing; I know from experience that I sleep better when I do. If that seems excessive to you, even focusing on a calming activity for a few minutes is better than trying to instantly transition from racing mind to fast asleep with the flick of a light switch.
How can a bedtime routine help me sleep?
There are a few reasons why repeating the same, or similar, quiet routine at night can help:
- It might help calm an overactive mind if you’re the kind of person who lies awake in bed thinking.
- You can plan for tomorrow so you don’t worry about it in bed.
- By repeating a regular pattern, you can train your body and mind to recognize when it’s time to unwind and prepare for sleep.
- Many activities people do in the evening can be overstimulating. A bedtime routine helps you avoid activities that aren’t so conducive for sleep.
How long should my bedtime routine last?
It’s up to you to decide how long your bedtime routine will last, based on the amount of time you feel it takes you to relax, and how much time you realistically have available.
Your life circumstances will understandably shape the way your routine goes. It may be that by the time you’ve put the kids to bed and collected all the Lego and dinosaurs, or got in from work and wolfed down a late dinner, that 15 minutes is all you feel you have left to yourself.
If you do have more free time and suffer from regular sleep problems, I suggest trying out 30 to 60 minutes of
What to do in your bedtime routine
The key is that this should be a quiet, relaxing, and enjoyable time, so the routine will differ from person to person. For some people, just one activity is enough, while others might like to combine two or more.
Let’s take a look at some ideas you could try. What you choose to do is ultimately up to you, but it might be worth experimenting with different ones, or combining them, to see what works for you.
1. Switch off your electronic devices
This first idea is more about what not to do rather than what to do, but I think it’s an important one to consider, no matter how hard giving up your screen time might seem!
Most people love their electronic devices, myself included. Whether it’s television, a computer, tablet, smartphone or games console, they have a way of eroding our precious sleep time though.
It might be best not to stare into a screen during the 30 to 60 minutes before going to sleep for several reasons:
- The content can be mentally, and sometimes emotionally, stimulating.
- The light that some devices emit might affect your internal body clock. If you have to use your phone, at least put the blue light filter or night mode on, and dim the screen brightness.
- They can be addictive, eating into even more sleep time.
- Checking emails, the news and social media at night can create worry and stress. There’s a reason the word ‘doomscrolling’ was invented…
Now, I don’t want to come across as being some kind of party pooper technology police. I know some people feel that watching cute cat videos or playing simple games helps them relax in bed. If doing that genuinely helps you relax and fall asleep, then perhaps that’s okay in small doses (you didn’t hear that from me though).
However, if you have sleep problems and also engage in a lot of screen time, perhaps spend a week without it at night as an experiment and see what happens to your sleep.
2. Do a simple relaxation exercise or meditation before bed
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 that keeps them up.
If you struggle with this too, try doing a relaxation exercise before you go to bed, or even when you’re already in bed.
Personally, I try to meditate every night before bed, even if it’s just for five or ten minutes. Here’s a little routine I’ve developed that I find relaxing and you can easily squeeze into just a few minutes:
- Dim the lights or light a candle to create some atmosphere.
- Sit cross legged on the floor or lie comfortably.
- Breathe slowly and deeply into your belly five times: in through the nose, out through the mouth.
- Think of three things you’re grateful for today (this is also a great technique to improve your mood).
- Tell yourself that the day is over now. Forgive yourself for any mistakes, bad thoughts or ‘failings’. Forgive others too. Then tell yourself that it’s all in the past.
- Breathe deeply a few more times, mentally following your breath out of your mouth, into the room and beyond (this helps get yourself out of your busy head).
Ideally, I’ll do this routine for the full ten minutes, but I find that even five minutes helps me unwind and feel better before going to sleep. The gratitude and forgiveness practice is particularly good for clearing your head and ending the day on a positive note.
If you’d like some more ideas for relaxation exercises, take a look at the relaxation techniques page.
3. Meditating not your thing? Go for a walk or spend time outside
Meditation and deep breathing aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine. If the previous ideas didn’t appeal to you and you can’t see yourself doing any relaxation exercises, perhaps try going for a little walk outside before you go to bed. Walking in itself can be very relaxing, and it offers an opportunity to clear your mind before going to bed.
If you don’t fancy walking, but have a garden, balcony, or community space, just sitting outside and breathing in some fresh air before going to bed can be relaxing too.
4. Read a book
This is probably my personal favorite of all the techniques as I often fall asleep with the book in my hand. That tells me that either reading works or I have a habit of choosing incredibly boring books. Whatever the case, it’s much more likely to send me to sleep than staring into my phone.
If you have a quiet space to read in the house before going to bed, perhaps with a relaxing drink to accompany it, I’d recommend that too. This is a good idea in the summer or if you’re a hot sleeper – your mattress will feel cooler than if you lie on it for ages while reading before trying to sleep.
I don’t think it really matters whether you read in the living room, bed or garden though. It’s the slowing down and getting lost in the pages that’s the main thing.
I love old-fashioned paper books myself, but Kindles or other screen readers are fine if that’s how you like to read.
5. Listen to music, a relaxation app or podcast
While it’s good to reduce screen time, 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 it? For some ideas of calming music across a range of genres, have a listen to my relaxing playlists.
Another idea to try is to listen to a relaxation app or bedtime story podcast. There are many apps to choose from nowadays, so I’ll leave it to you to explore. Just search the app store using phrases like ‘meditation’ or ‘calm stories’.
One suggestion I have though is to search for ‘bedtime stories for adults’ in the Spotify podcasts, YouTube, or whatever player you use. There are a couple of very good ones that are read slowly by calm voices. For example, the Calm sleep story read by Stephen Fry on YouTube currently has 16 million views!
Just remember not to get sucked into using your device if you need to use it to listen to something!
6. Write down your worries and reminders for the next day
Do you sometimes lose sleep because you can’t stop thinking about important tasks you need to remember to do the next day? Sometimes thoughts like these can buzz around in 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 points you need to remember for
Here’s one I just did for tomorrow while updating this article. Feel free to analyze my spidery writing!
7. Have a relaxing drink or light snack
In my experience, it’s better to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks before bed. But drinking a herbal tea or other decaffeinated drink is a good way to spend some quiet time, perhaps whilst reading or listening to music.
If you feel hungry at night, it’s okay to have a light snack before bed. Just try to keep it healthy and light – a banana, yogurt, cottage cheese on toast, some nuts or berries are good examples.
8. Spiritual practice, prayer or yoga
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.
9. Keep your bedroom temperature comfortable
It would be great if there was a perfect bedroom temperature that’s guaranteed to help everyone sleep better. The reality, however, is that people have different needs. Some like the bedroom to be cool, while others prefer a warmer temperature.
Some sleep experts recommend that a cooler or moderate bedroom temperature is better for sleep, ideally somewhere between 66° Fahrenheit (19° Celsius) and 70° Fahrenheit (21° Celsius).
While I think this range is a useful starting guideline, it’s perhaps more important to be mindful of the temperature and keep a mental note of whether you sleep better in cooler or warmer conditions.
Personally, temperature is very important to me, so I go out of my way to ensure the temperature is just right in my bedroom. I also do a kind of comfort check when I first get into bed. If I’m uncomfortable because it’s too hot, or the bedding isn’t right, I get up and do something about it rather than lying there hoping I’ll fall asleep anyway.
Here are a few steps you can take to keep the temperature comfortable:
- Set your home and/or bedroom thermostat to the temperature you sleep best in.
- Open windows to clear out any hot, stuffy air.
- Have a shower 15 to 30 minutes before bed, preferably not a very hot one.
- If you have a hot bath, make sure it’s at least an hour 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 very hot, try a cooling mattress pad, bed cooling system, or fan.
If you have difficulty sleeping because you feel too warm, take a look at my article about keeping cool in bed for even more tips.
10. Spend time with family, friends, your partner or pet
If you live with others, 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 talking to one another.
If you have a pet, you could have some playtime or cuddles, or get some fresh air together. I’m sure they’ll also appreciate going out for a bedtime walk (unless your pet is a fish).
If you sleep with a partner, there are other ways you might want to spend your time together before going to sleep. Just remember to keep an eye on the temperature if you decide on some horizontal exercise.
Still can’t sleep? Don’t lie awake for hours
Even if you do your bedtime routine, there may still be nights when you just can’t fall asleep easily.
It’s normal to take 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep, but if you’re still awake after half an hour, it could be that you’re just not ready to sleep yet.
Lying awake, trying to somehow fall asleep by willpower alone, can be very frustrating and make it even harder to relax.
Instead, it might help to get up, go into another room, have dim lighting only and repeat some of your
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? Do you repeat the same activities every night, or just once in a while?
Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.