Last updated: 24 June 2018 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 and do things which will 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 will a bedtime routine help me sleep?

woman reading a book in the night with a cup of tea in her hand

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

  • It can calm an overactive mind.
  • You can think, plan and prepare for tomorrow, so you don’t lie awake worrying about details when you go to bed.
  • By repeating a regular pattern, you can train your body and mind to unwind ready for bed.
  • 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?

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 also shape the way your routine goes. It may be, for example, that by the time you’ve put the kids to bed and tidied up, 15 minutes is enough time.

But if you do have more free time and suffer from regular sleep problems, maybe 30 to 60 minutes of quite time would be better.


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:

1. Switch off the electronic devices

Most people love their electronic devices, myself included! Whether it’s a TV, computer, tablet, mobile phone or games console, they can 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 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.
photo of a phone with a quote saying "to switch your brain off at night, turn your phone off"

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.

Discover some relaxation exercises to do in bed >>

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

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 my article where I discuss my Spotify relaxing music 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 repeating to yourself something important 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 tomorrow 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 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 find yourself hungry at night it’s ok to have a light snack before bed. Have a read of my article about bedtime food for more about this.

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 trick you can try, based on two concepts:

  • According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 and 19.4 degrees Celsius). Note that it’s higher for babies and toddlers.
  • The naturally lower nighttime temperature is one of the signals the body uses to start melatonin production and head towards sleep.

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 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 hot, try a cooling mattress pad or bed fan.
a thermometer showing a temperature of 22 degrees

9. Spend time with family, friends or your partner

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.

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. Don’t lie awake for hours

It takes many 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 just not ready to sleep yet.

Lying awake, trying to make yourself fall asleep, 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 15 minutes, you can 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.

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

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

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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

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