Bedtime routines: They’re not just for kids. Just as parents lull their children to sleep with an established bedtime routine, a regular pre-bed process helps grown-ups get better rest, too.
“Bedtime routines signal your body and brain that it is time to transition to sleep,” says Brook Packard, author of The Bedtime Blueprint. “And when sleep goes right, everything goes right.”
Your routine doesn’t need to be elaborate to be effective. “A good bedtime routine is one you look forward to,” Packard says, so that you’ll actually do it regularly and make it, well, routine.
We’ve outlined the basic components below so that you can create a wind-down ritual that helps you get the sleep you need to feel, look, and perform your best.
When you think of going to sleep, you probably think of that moment when, lying in bed, your eyes finally close—but a great night’s sleep starts well before you hit the sheets. Here’s how to start shifting into sleep-mode earlier in the evening:
- Choose a Bedtime (and Stick With It!)
“Having an official bedtime forces you to make a conscious decision about how you spend those pre-bed minutes or hours,” says Laura Vanderkam, productivity expert and author of Off the Clock. “Often, we stay up late because it takes effort to get ready for bed, so it feels easier to keep puttering around the house, watching TV, or cruising Instagram. But with an official bedtime, you have to decide if you’re staying up for a good reason or not.” Once you know what bedtime you’re aiming for, you’ll also know what time your bedtime routine needs to start.
- Dim the Lights
The blue light emitted from the screens of electronic devices such as phones, tablets, computers, and even TVs can negatively impact your production of melatonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep (among other essential functions). Use your device’s “night shift” setting to reduce levels of blue light, or download a free app such as f.lux. Better yet, make it a habit to turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before you get in bed.
The same goes for bright indoor lights: One study found that exposure to even normal levels of indoor lighting reduces melatonin production. Turn off unnecessary lights and dim the ones you need to see—the sooner, the better.
- Quiet the Mind
Jason Womack, executive coach and author of Your Best Just Got Better, is mindful about avoiding anything that might activate his brain before bed. “I’m very careful about what I talk about with my wife, watch on screen, or read because I don’t want to give my brain a reason to switch into high gear just as it’s time to start slowing down.” That means no page-turner books, work email, or scary movies.
You can also use the time before bed to do something you’ve wanted to find more time for: reading, writing letters, or finally starting that gratitude journal, for example. “Think of your bedtime routine as a kind of ‘delivery system’ for the things you value,” Packard says.
Once you’re in bed…
When you’re actually in bed, it can be helpful to give your mind something to focus on so that your thoughts don’t race through your mind. One option is listening to a podcast specifically designed to help you drift off, such as Sleep with Me: The Podcast that Puts You to Sleep, in which host Drew Ackerman tells long, “boring” stories in a low, gravelly voice to help take people’s minds off their worries while drifting to sleep. You could also try a guided meditation designed specifically for sleep, like meQuilibrium’s Deep Sleep Meditation.
If you’d rather keep your bedroom tech-free, you could try belly breathing: Place one hand on your stomach and take deep, focused breaths through your nose, filling your belly while keeping your chest as still as possible. Exhale slowly through your mouth, releasing any tension in your body. Repeat at least five times or until you feel calm enough to fall asleep. For an extra dose of zen, try pairing your breathing with aromatherapy—a study from Wesleyan University found that when people sniffed a vial containing lavender oil, they slept more deeply and felt more refreshed in the morning.
There’s no one-size-fits-all bedtime routine. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques until you find the combination that helps you get the rest you need and deserve.
Kate Hanley is the author of How to Be a Better Person and Stress Less and a personal development coach. She writes regularly on how to manage stress and take care of the many important parts of life. Visit her at katehanley.com.