Last updated: 30 March 2018 by Ethan Green
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 feel you have much time to yourself to relax at night.
But if you regularly have sleep problems, making at least 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 practice.
What you decide to do in your quiet time is ultimately up to you. But you’ll find some suggestions below which might help you fall asleep more easily, as well as things to avoid.
How will a bedtime routine help me sleep?
There are a few reasons repeating the same quiet routine at night can help:
- It can calm an overactive mind.
- Any thinking or planning you need to do can be done in this quiet time – and stop ruminating from keeping you awake.
- 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?
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 free 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, at least an hour without looking at screens is advisable.
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 try:
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 some devices emit can interfere with your internal body clock.
- They can be addictive, eating into even more sleep time.
- Checking 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.
Ideally it’s best to read in another room for an important reason: it’s better 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.
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 my playlists of relaxing music for sleep.
5) Write down worries and reminders for 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 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 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. Some food is of course better than others late at night – find out about the right food to eat 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.
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 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.
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 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
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.
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 activities every night, or just once in a while?
Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.