A Good Night Routine Is the Secret to Great Sleep

You’ve probably heard about daily morning rituals to help set you up for success, but what about daily night routines? When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, the various habits that we engage in before bedtime — otherwise known as sleep hygiene — can have a significant impact on both the quality and quantity of your rest. In fact, our sleep is more like a dimmer knob and not a light switch you can flip on or off, notes Britney Blair, PsyD, CBSM, AASECT, a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist. (Dr. Blair is also the co-founder and Chief Science Officer of a leading sexual wellness app called Lover.) For this reason, it’s important to have a consistent nighttime routine in which you allow yourself at least an hour before bedtime to begin winding down. “In an hour to hour and a half prior to bedtime, the golden rule is do something that’s relaxing for the body and calming for the mind,” says Dr. Blair.

Set Your Alarm

Setting your alarm might be the one thing that’s already in your daily bedtime routine, but what’s most important is that you’re setting it to the same time every day — even on weekends when you might be tempted to sleep in. “The single best thing anyone can do for healthy sleep, is choose a time in the morning and get up at that time every single day,” says Dr. Blair. Not only does this help make the timing of you getting sleepy consistent, it’ll also help you sleep better in the long run, too.

Put Away the Screens

There’s a reason why we hear again and again to put away the screens at bedtime: Blue light emitted from screens negatively impacts our production of melatonin, the body’s natural sleep-inducing hormone, thereby disrupting our sleep. “In the evening, we don’t want light that interferes with our body’s secretion of melatonin,” explains Dr. Winter.

If you absolutely have to use your phone or tablet at night, Dr. Winter recommends turning on “night shift” or a similar dimming feature — or even trying some glasses designed to block blue light.

Dim Your Lights

Since light affects our melatonin production, it can be especially difficult in modern times for our bodies to get the natural cues to go to sleep. That’s why Dr. Winter recommends installing light dimmer switches to create a kind of “artificial sunset” in your home, mimicking the level of natural light outside as it gets darker. “The best thing you can do to increase melatonin production is get as much light as you can during the day, and then after dusk, keeping your lights as dim as possible,” adds Dr. Blair.

Drink a Cup of Tea

Craving something to sip on before bed? Skip the alcoholic nightcap — which can actually disrupt your sleep — and go for a relaxing cup of un-caffeinated tea instead. Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian at the Good Housekeeping Institute, recommends chamomile tea in particular, which has been found to help with symptoms of anxiety. “A soothing cup of warm, chamomile tea may be just the thing you need to relax after a long day,” she says.

Meditate

When it comes to simple rituals to do before bed, putting aside a few minutes to meditate each night can be immensely beneficial to help calm your mind in preparation for sleep. If you don’t exactly know where to start, try out some guided meditations or a meditation app — or if meditation isn’t really your thing, try any sort of quiet activity such as prayer or devotions reading, as Dr. Winter recommends. “It’ll help you kind of settle your mind and quiet your thinking — and all of those things are fantastic for right before you go to bed,” he says.

Take a Warm Bath

A warm bath or shower about an hour or two before bedtime can do wonders to help you relax in time for bed — especially since it lowers your body temperature to help facilitate the body’s natural flow into sleep. “Heating up your body and then letting it cool naturally is a real good trigger for sleep,” says Dr. Winter.

However, you should avoid taking a hot bath or shower, as Dr. Blair notes, as this can actually make your body take longer to go into deep sleep. “If we think about evolution, the core body temperature being elevated was a sign of two things in the wild — one, you have an infection, or two, you’re laying too close to the fire,” she explains.

Listen to Music

Since the key to preparing for sleep is to do something that’s “relaxing for the body and calming for the mind,” spending some time listening to music is a great activity to add to your daily bedtime ritual — provided that the music you’re listening to is personally relaxing for you. If you find that music amps you up too much, try listening to some calming nature sounds — or even some white noise to help you drift off to peaceful sleep.

Read a Book

Prefer a more engaging activity to do before bed? Try unwinding each night by curling up with a good book — but try to avoid any exciting page-turners that might keep you up. You should also go for a traditional paper book instead of a digital one, as light-emitting e-readers have been shown to negatively affect your sleep (though those that don’t emit light should be fine). Or if you prefer to listen to a story instead, try out an audiobook.

Eat a Light Snack

It’s best to avoid heavy meals or sugary snacks in the two to three hours before bed (certainly avoid caffeine and alcohol), as indigestion can disrupt your sleep — but it also doesn’t help to go to bed hungry, says Dr. Winter, as a rumbling stomach can keep you up, too. If you’re craving a nighttime nibble, go for a healthy, light snack like a handful of nuts, which Sassos notes as having high levels of melatonin (especially pistachios!) to help you get to sleep.

Watch TV

Watching TV can be another relaxing activity prior to bedtime — and though you should avoid using screens at night because of exposure to blue light, television screens are okay as it isn’t typically bright enough to affect your body’s melatonin production. In terms of the content you’re watching, both Dr. Blair and Dr. Winter recommend avoiding anything activating to the mind (that means no horror movies or action-packed thrillers!) and instead opting for something calming and light.

Do Your Skincare Routine

Turns out there’s an actual reason it’s called beauty sleep! If you don’t already have a nighttime skincare routine, consider making it a part of your daily ritual before bed — it’ll not only lead to healthier skin, but will help you feel more relaxed (and pampered!) in time for sleep. A soothing night cream will help nourish your skin overnight — as will an ultra-hydrating facial or sheet mask that will provide the best nutrients to help the skin repair itself throughout the night.

Write in a Journal

Before trying to get some shut eye, take a few minutes each day to reflect on your day and write down your thoughts (and things you’re grateful for) in a journal — it’ll allow you to mentally wrap up your day, and will help you get in a better frame of mind for sleep. Daily journaling, in fact, has been shown to not only improve your sleep, but also reduce stress, boost your immune system, and generally improve your overall emotional well-being!

Make Sure to Hydrate

“Hydration plays a very crucial role in sleep quality and energy levels,” says Sassos. Since we lose moisture when we sleep (and going to bed dehydrated can disrupt your sleep as well), it’s important to hydrate well throughout the day — but make sure not to guzzle too much water right before bed, as this may lead to nighttime bathroom trips. Generally, if you’re pretty consistent at drinking water throughout the day, it’s best to back off a little in the hours before bed, says Dr. Winter.

Make a to Do List for Tomorrow

Beyond just writing down your thoughts in a journal each night, try making a list of tasks you want to tackle the next day — especially if you find that worrying often keeps you awake. Physically writing down a to-do list can not only help you be more productive the next day, but can help establish peace of mind for you to sleep better. In fact, a recent study found that those who jotted down a to-do list fell asleep significantly faster than those who wrote about tasks they had already completed!

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