A Bedtime Routine For Adults: 10 Calming Activities

Last updated: 26 September 2019 by Ethan Green

photo of a man and woman in bed both using their mobile phone and not sleeping

How often do you take some quiet time out to unwind before going to bed? Or do you tend to work, do chores, watch television or use your phone right up until bedtime?

You might not feel you have much time to yourself to relax at night. But if you have sleep problems, carving out a little time for a consistent bedtime routine can work wonders.

Taking 30 to 60 minutes to decelerate at the end of a hectic day by switching to an activity which can help calm your mind is one of the most helpful sleep habits to adopt.

What you decide to do in your quiet time is ultimately up to you. But you might like to try some of the ideas in this article as a starting point.


How can a bedtime routine help me sleep?

woman reading a book in the night

There are a few reasons repeating the same quiet routine at night can help:

  • It can calm an overactive mind.
  • You can plan for tomorrow so you don’t worry about it in bed.
  • By repeating a regular pattern, you can slowly but surely train your body and mind to unwind ready for bed.
  • Many activities people do in the evening can be overstimulating. A bedtime routine helps you avoid those choices and relax instead.

How long should my routine be?

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 relax.

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.

But if you do have more free time and suffer from regular sleep problems, maybe 30 to 60 minutes of quiet(er) time would be good.


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.

Here are some ideas to try out:

1. Switch off the electronic devices

Most people love their electronic devices, myself included! Whether it’s television, a computer, tablet, smartphone or games console, they can easily erode our precious sleep time.

However, for many people it’s arguably better not to use them during the hour before going to sleep for several reasons:

  • They stimulate your brain.
  • The light that some devices emit might affect your internal body clock. If you can’t separate yourself from your phone, at least put the blue light filter on and dim the screen brightness.
  • They can be addictive, eating into even more sleep time.
  • Checking emails, the news and even social media at night can create worry and stress.

Now, I don’t want to be the technology police; I know some people feel that funny/cute videos or simple games help them relax, for example. And if that works for you, fine. But if you have sleep problems and also a lot of screen time, perhaps spend a week without it at night to see if you sleep better.

photo of a phone with a quote saying "to switch your brain off at night, turn your phone off"

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, then doing a relaxation exercise before you go to bed, or even when in bed,  can help enormously.

Personally, I try to meditate every night before bed, and sometimes it’s just for five minutes. Even in five minutes, I can squeeze in the following to my meditation:

  • Sit cross-legged on the floor or lie comfortably.
  • Breathe deeply 5 times: in through the nose, out through the mouth.
  • Think of three things you’re grateful for today (this is 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 longer. But I find just five minutes really helps me unwind and feel better before going to sleep.

Have a look at my relaxation techniques page for more exercises you can try.

3. Read

Ideally, it’s best to read in another room; it’s better if your brain only associates your bed with sleep and intimacy.

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.

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.

A book on a bedside table

4. Listen to music

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.

5. Write down worries and reminders for the next day

a list of 5 points to remember the next day

Do you sometimes lie in bed thinking about important tasks you need to remember to do the next day? I bet you do!

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 tomorrow before going to bed.

6. Have a relaxing drink or light snack

It’s a good idea to avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks before bed. But drinking one of the many relaxing herbal teas 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.

a woman drinking tea before bed

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 technique you can try, based on two concepts:

  • According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal bedroom temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 and 19.4 degrees Celsius). Note that it’s higher for babies and toddlers (65 to 70 Fahrenheit).
  • The naturally lower nighttime temperature is one of the signals the body uses to start melatonin production. And melatonin tells your body when it’s time to sleep or wake up.

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 to 30 minutes before bed, preferably a cool shower.
  • 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 hot, try a cooling mattress pad or bed fan.
a thermometer showing a temperature of 22 degrees

9. 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, why not have some playtime or cuddles, or get some fresh air together? I’m sure they’ll appreciate it (unless they are a fish…)

And if you sleep with a partner, there are, of course, other ways you might want to spend your time together before going to sleep.

10. Don’t lie awake for hours

It can take many people up to 30 minutes to fall asleep. So 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. So it’s best to avoid this.

It might help to get up, go into another room, have dim lighting only and repeat some of your routine. After a few minutes, 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.

Your thoughts

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.

45 thoughts on “A Bedtime Routine For Adults: 10 Calming Activities”

  1. Hi Ethan,
    Thanks for such a wonderful site. I typically have no problems beginning to doze off, but as soon as I realize I’m falling asleep, I wake myself up. Usually accompanied by some kind of kick of my legs or muscle twitch. I’ll try and go back to bed and the cycle repeats, usually about 3-4 times before I’m just wide awake. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Pedro
      You’re welcome, I’m glad you liked it! What you describe could be various things, but it sounds to me like hypnic jerks, or sleep starts as they are sometimes called.
      Regards
      Ethan

  2. Someone above mention that they fall asleep in 5 minutes. It seems that this may be hard for you to relate to given your response. I fall asleep in 5 minutes or less almost every night. Maybe learn from us how we did it instead of thinking its from sleep deprivation. I don’t have that condition. I just fall asleep really fast, and I know how I do it.

    1. Hi Kathleen
      Thanks for your comment, and that’s a fair point. I’d love to hear how you do it then!
      Regards
      Ethan

  3. I work long hours at work really busy until 10pm, it’s a physically demanding job. Some nights I go to sleep and sleep right through until morning.
    But sometimes I get home, feel like I’m wide awake, and then I don’t sleep.
    So I jump in the bath to chill and relax, and sometimes rock off to sleep, but not all the time.

    1. Hi Ellie
      Thanks for your comment. Do you know if a bath or shower helps you relax and sleep better before bed? Personally, a shower works wonders, but a bath right before bed makes me too hot and then I can’t sleep because of that, even though I feel mentally relaxed.
      Regards
      Ethan

    1. Hi Brandi
      Thanks for your suggestion. I like self-hypnosis too, and sometimes do a countdown along with progressive muscle relaxation.
      Regards
      Ethan

  4. clair w mcpherson

    Dear Ethan Green,
    Thanks for a well-organized, gently presented, and helpful site.
    You mention spiritual practices. Christians may find the Office of Compline works very well in that category.

    1. Hi Clair
      Thank you fore your kind words – I’m glad you found the site helpful. Thanks also for your suggestion.
      Regards
      Ethan

  5. This was a greatly informative article. I suffered from insomnia for 30+ years (just like my mom) and have found that as I get older and I commit to working out 5d/week (for the past 12 years) and fueling my body with proper nutrition and premium grade supplements my insomnia has gone! There is really something to be said about filling in your nutritional gaps. You talk a lot about external stimulation, and I do agree, but what about the quality of how you are fueling your body? I believe we can heal many things from the inside out. Clearly, if you have a terrible diet and you abuse your body by eating a fully processed diet your sleep is going to suffer due to deficiencies. Do you find this to be true?

    1. Hi Tonya
      Thanks for your comment and compliment. I personally definitely find that to be true. The healthier I feel in general, the better I tend to sleep. And for me, diet is a key part of feeling healthy.
      Regards
      Ethan

  6. It takes most people 20-30 minutes to fall asleep? That’s insane! I do chores right up until bed, and then I pass out in less than 5min. I put my mind to work building an imaginary structure…I can’t take it and I’m out…

    1. Hi there
      I think if you fall asleep that quickly, you’re either a great sleeper or in a state of sleep deprivation. Do you feel very tired most days, or are you fine with the amount of sleep you get?
      Regards
      Ethan

    1. Hi Corey
      Yes, I think it’s fine as long as it has a blue light filter, or you use eyewear like that.
      Regards
      Ethan

  7. Your readers seem to be mostly busy professionals with a range of electronic devices but do you have any advice for older age group? I used to sleep well but find it more and more difficult to drop off. I will be 81 shortly. Drinking anything before retiring is rarely a solution for my age group due to bladder frequency.

    1. Hi Anne
      Thanks for your comment. The majority of readers probably do have lots of devices, but that’s not the only thing that can keep people awake. I think you can still put into action the other tips not related to electronic devices, and also look at the other sections such as the relaxation ideas.
      Regards
      Ethan

    1. Hi Kaely
      Thanks for your comment and compliment. I love the idea of spending a moment on the balcony – it’s great to get some fresh air before bed, and can be very relaxing staring up at the night sky.
      Regards
      Ethan

  8. I love the tips from this article and will definitely make use of the no electronics at bed time. I think sometimes we get so caught up in our busy minds that we don’t take time out to centre ourselves and have a good sleep.

    1. Hi Deshini
      Thanks for your comment – it’s always good to know an article is appreciated:-)
      Giving up electronics in bed is a great step to take – it’s not always easy, but can really help.
      Regards
      Ethan

    1. Hi there
      I’m not sure if you’re offering suggestions, or pointing out the contradiction in my two points! If it’s the second, you don’t have to watch videos online – you can meditate by yourself. But if you do, there’s no harm with using a device for that purpose…
      Regards
      Ethan

  9. Warm milk.
    If you can’t sleep, watch t.v. until you are tired.
    Doctor Oz, from the t.v. show, 2017, said, drink milk with a carb.

  10. What do you suggest if you can go asleep when you go to bed but wake again in early hours and can’t go back to sleep?

    1. Hi Maggie

      Thanks for your comment. It kind of depends on various factors, such as how long you sleep for in total, and whether you eventually go back to sleep or not at all. Can you give me a few more details?
      Regards
      Ethan

      1. I think it’s like me. Say I go to bed at 9 pm.I always have my radio on quietly. I fall asleep before the next news. Then I wake up at around 1 to 3 in the morning, when I actually want to wake up at 6 45. How do we get to sleep once I woke up in the middl eof the night? The same methods?

        1. Hi Louise
          Thanks for your comment. I actually wrote an article specifically about waking in the night a while back. It’s a problems I’ve had for years, so I did a lot of research for that article, finding some interesting ways to deal with it when it happens. Now I’m much calmer when I do wake up in the middle of the night, and am usually able to sleep again quicker afterwards.
          To me the secret is all about staying calm, accepting it as something that won’t ruin your day, and allowing yourself to fall asleep again naturally a bit later. Have a read of the article, and hopefully you’ll cope better with it too.
          Regards
          Ethan

  11. Excellent post – thanks for the useful tips. I think there are a few here which can help me sleep – at least I hope so! L

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.