How to create a nighttime routine for better sleep

A good night’s sleep is vital for your health, as well as your mental and physical performance the following day. However, for a lot of people, getting enough sleep is a real challenge.

While you could just let your body fall asleep naturally, the best way to get more sleep is to create a nighttime routine. This prepares and primes your body for deep, good quality sleep. The earlier you can go to sleep, the more sleep you’ll get.

Nighttime routines help to “train” your body to become a better sleeper so that it knows what to do when the time to sleep rolls around.

Here is a seven-step nighttime routine that will help you unwind and get you ready to head off to dreamland.  

1. Switch off electronic devices

Your sleep/wake cycles are controlled by your exposure to light. This is called your circadian rhythm. Your body is programmed to be awake during daylight hours and sleep when it’s dark. Using electronic devices like tablets, phones, and laptops disrupts this natural rhythm and can stop you from sleeping soundly. They emit a type of light called blue light, which is especially stimulating.

Messages and emails can also arouse your brain and could even cause worry or stress. This is especially true if you have one of those jobs where you are continually receiving communications or updates from colleagues, clients, or customers. Even friendly Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter “pings” can stimulate your brain when it should be powering down for the night.

Avoid this problem by switching off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before you are due to go to bed, and definitely do not use them while you are under the covers. If you must entertain yourself before going to bed, try reading a book – a real book and not an app on your e-device.  

2. Write down all the things you need to do tomorrow

Nothing disrupts sleep like suddenly remembering a job you need to do tomorrow. Once remembered, that thought can end up rattling around your brain at the exact time you should be relaxing and drifting off to sleep.

Before heading off to bed, take a moment to write down all the things you need to do tomorrow. That way, you won’t have to try and remember them through the night.

3. Take a warm shower or bath

Warm water relaxes tense muscles and helps relieve stress. It also leaves you feeling clean and comfortable, which is vital for a good night’s sleep. Consider using shower gel or shampoo infused with lavender, which is a natural sleep enhancer.

Don’t set the temperature too high. As nice as a scorching shower or bath can be, if you get too hot, you may not be able to sleep until your body temperature returns to normal. If you live somewhere warm, a cool shower can have a similarly pleasant effect. Don’t set the temperature too cold, though; that will just wake you up.

4. Dim the lights

Low lights help set the scene for relaxation and sleep. Either light your house with low-wattage bulbs, use low-level lamps instead of overhead lights, or reduce brightness with a dimmer. Alternatively, you can use candles instead. Start dimming the lights an hour or so before bedtime to simulate sunset, kickstart your circadian rhythm, and get your body ready to sleep.

5. Try a relaxing drink or light snack

While you should avoid caffeine, sugary drinks, and alcohol before bed, a cup of warm herbal tea, a fruit infusion, or some other naturally caffeine-free beverage can help you unwind and sleep. Warm milk is a good option and is popular because it really works.

A light snack can also help. Just stick to foods that don’t have a strong aftertaste, and that are easy to digest. Good options include a piece of fruit, a small pot of natural yogurt, a bowl of oatmeal, or a slice of toast.

Have your drink or snack 30 minutes or so before heading off to bed to signal your brain that it’s time to start winding down. Avoid overeating or drinking too much too close to bedtime, as this can lead to a full stomach and discomfort.

6. Relax

Modern life is hectic, and relaxation doesn’t always come easily. You rush from one task to the next, barely pausing for breath. This does not create a good mindset for sleep. Before trying to sleep, take a few minutes to calm your mind and body so that sleep comes more easily.

Good options include:

  • Gentle yoga stretches
  • Mediation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Spiritual practices such as being thankful or prayer
  • Visualization exercises
  • Listen to music

While exercise can help tire you out, it can also be too mentally stimulating, making sleep harder to come by. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime. 

7. Turn off the lights

Once you are in bed, it’s important that you don’t undo your nighttime routine by exposing your brain to bright lights. Bright light exposure at this crucial time will wake you up at precisely the time you should be going to sleep.

Your bedroom should already be dimly lit, but you’ll fall asleep faster in complete darkness. If you must have a light in your bedroom, make sure the source is not directly in your eye-line. For example, if you have a lamp or nightlight, make sure it is at the end of your bed, and not next to your head on your bedside table. This goes for light-emitting alarm clocks too.

Developing your own nighttime routine

You don’t need to include all these items in your pre-sleep nighttime routine; you may want to add additional items based on your preferences and requirements. However, the key to creating a successful nighttime routine is that it is relaxing, enjoyable, and repeatable.

For some people, such as those who fall asleep quickly, a short nighttime routine will get the job done. In contrast, people who find it hard to unwind and struggle to get to sleep may need a longer routine. Experiment to see what works best for you. Ideally, your nighttime routine should start 30-60 minutes before you intend to go to bed. That way, you’ll be pleasantly relaxed when it’s time to go to sleep.

Once you have developed your nighttime routine, do your best to stick to it and use it every night. Going to sleep is a skill, and, like all skills, practice makes perfect.

Summary

Sleep is vital for your health and wellbeing, and yet a lot of people don’t or can’t get enough. One way to improve sleep quality and duration is to follow a relaxing nighttime routine before going to bed. This will help prime your body for sleep.

The length and contents of your nighttime routine depend on your needs and preferences, but things like dimming the lights, taking a warm bath or shower, having a warm drink, and avoiding electronic devices can all help.

Once you have perfected your nighttime routine, use it every night to train your body and mind to sleep more soundly.

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