It’s no secret that our days are busy, and our nights often seem too short. Getting enough sleep (and good sleep) can be challenging, but it’s central to overall health and well-being. Fortunately, it’s easy to adjust your pre-bedtime routine and unwind to improve your sleep habits almost immediately.
Sleep Hygiene is Important
Commentary in the Canadian Journal of Public Health notes that “healthy sleep… is one of the three pillars of sustainable health.” Just as healthy habits around diet and exercise are essential for your well-being, good sleep habits are crucial, too. A growing body of research points to a reciprocal connection between sleep and your immune system, indicating that healthy sleep allows your immune response to function at optimal levels. Research also shows that sleep helps regulate emotions and mental wellness.
Unfortunately, many Americans are not getting optimal amounts of sleep. One part of the solution? Establishing a pre-bedtime routine to unwind. You may have heard the term “sleep hygiene.” This phrase refers to the routines and environment surrounding your sleep habits, and it’s a vital part of getting those 7-9 hours each night. If you’re like the majority of Americans who need a revamp to their pre-bedtime routine, here are the best places to start.
Create a Cozy Environment
Your unwinding routine starts by choosing your environment. Try to reserve the bedroom for sleep and other intimate activities so that the room doesn’t feel stressful from one too many work calls. Make sure that the ambiance of your bedroom supports peace and relaxation. Invest in cozy bedding, a comfortable mattress and pillow, and some soothing décor (think plants and soft lighting). Part of your evening routine to unwind can be taking off the throw pillows, switching off the harsh overhead light in favor of the bedside lamp, and admiring any artwork you’ve chosen around the room. Soothing scents are also a great bedtime cue, so add a diffuser with essential oils like lavender.
Being dehydrated can lead to sleep difficulties, but drinking too much water close to bedtime isn’t ideal either. Structure your routine, so you drink consistently throughout the day and have a final large glass two hours before bedtime. Your last trip to the bathroom should be about 15-20 minutes before bed as a cue to your body that it’s time for sleep.
Turn Off Screens
You’ve likely heard that screen time before bed is an obstacle to good sleep, and it’s true. Your circadian clock responds to light cues at various times of day, and research shows that bright light within two hours of bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep. The closer you are to bedtime, the more detrimental light can be. If two hours without screens isn’t possible, aim for a minimum of 30 minutes. And if watching TV before bed is soothing, try to use a television rather than a phone or tablet. Having the light source farther away from your eyes will reduce the interference it has with restful sleep.
Turning off devices also brings another benefit—quiet. Growing evidence shows that silence can promote brain growth and lower stress levels. It’s much easier to fall asleep quickly when you’re feeling relaxed.
Move Your Body – Gently
One often-overlooked element of a pre-bedtime routine is gentle movement. Getting moderately intense exercise during the day is essential for good physical health, but evening stretching or gentle yoga can cue your body that it’s time to settle for sleep. Choose stretches that counteract your daytime routine. For example, stretch your hips, glutes, and upper back if you sit for long hours. You can even use this stretching time to close your eyes and enjoy the silence.
Choose a Regular, Calming Ritual
When you’re in the cozy space and have finished any gentle movement, adding a final calming ritual is an excellent way to help signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. For some, this might be reciting prayers or reading motivational passages. For others, this might be a warm bath or soothing music. Journaling, reading (a physical book!), and drawing can also be rituals that help complete the transition between day and night. Whatever you choose, spend 10-15 minutes on it right before bed and ideally not in bed. When you’re sleepy, head to the mattress and fall asleep quickly.
You should rapidly notice improvements in your sleep quality and duration by making minor changes to your pre-bedtime routine.