The hour or two before bedtime is often the most important factor that determines sleep quality. Routines help prepare the mind and body for a night of relaxing sleep. A good daily bedtime routine may help trigger metabolic processes that lead to a quick drift into dreamland and a longer sleep period. Recent studies show that a sleep routine consistently improves patients’ outcomes in a clinical setting, which may mean that it has equal potential as an at-home sleep aid — and it doesn’t require reading a label for possible side effects.
Recommendations for Your Daily Bedtime Routine
As parents, we quickly learn that children behave best when they have structure in their lives. Pre-bedtime activities — reading a story, brushing teeth and taking a bath — all help your child slow down from the day’s events and get them ready to sleep.
As adults, we’re not much different from children. We need time to unwind, clear our minds and prepare for sleep. Follow these tips to create a customized bedtime routine of your own.
- Stop working or doing activities that require a high level of concentration at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Consider a warm bath or shower to help your muscles relax
- Read a book, preferably an actual book, so you’re not using an electronic device. Too much exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin.
- If you must have a snack, stay away from greasy foods and those that contribute to heartburn, like tomatoes and onions.
- Perform some light exercises, such as yoga, stretching and deep breathing
- Set a time for pre-bedtime activities and stick with it.
Put Sleep on the Schedule
One of the best ways to help manage sleep problems is establishing and sticking to a sleep schedule. Circadian rhythms in your body determine when certain processes occur. For example, melatonin, the hormone responsible for making you feel tired, is produced in the evening, when there is no more daylight to stimulate the brain into wakefulness. When morning arrives, increasing amounts of light trigger the body into wakefulness regardless of the number of hours spent sleeping.
Disruptions to the circadian rhythm have been linked to various negative health effects, and it’s unfortunately easy to disrupt this delicate system. Throughout the day, your body temperature tends to fluctuate along with your feelings of wakefulness and tiredness. These fluctuations are linked to your circadian rhythm, and sudden changes to your sleep schedule can confuse your body about when to release different hormones.
By implementing a consistent schedule, you help your body stay on track and avoid unnecessary shocks. Start your bedtime routine at the same time each day for maximum effectiveness. When sleep happens on a regular schedule, it’s often easier to fall asleep, and you’re more likely to stay asleep for long enough to feel well-rested in the morning.
If you can’t always go to sleep at the same time or you have sleep disorders related to nighttime shift work, there are ways to mitigate the problem. You may need to work with a sleep doctor to learn how to adapt your schedule to your body’s rhythms.
Improving Sleep Hygiene
Much like when talking about physical hygiene, there are some common themes when discussing hygiene and sleep. Some of the most important guidelines include:
- Avoiding stimulants, including caffeine and nicotine
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Exercising regularly
- Developing effective stress management tools
- Limiting daytime napping
Restrict Stimulant Use
Caffeine can remain in the bloodstream for many hours. Taking caffeine entirely out of your diet is often a first step in improving sleep and turning a daily bedtime routine into the start of an uninterrupted night.
Nicotine is another stimulant that can wake you up and set your heart to pounding. A cigarette before bed can increase your heart rate, leaving you feeling wide awake. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, and that includes improving your sleep routines.
Exercise Your Way to a Good Night’s Rest
Studies show that exercise can be a solid choice for first-line treatment of insomnia. When falling asleep is a challenge, a short but intense workout may help make you feel tired and help you fall asleep. Exercise is free, available to all and something your doctor is likely to recommend for general health and better sleep. Even those diagnosed with chronic sleep conditions such as sleep apnea may see improvements to their condition with the addition of regular exercise to their lives.
Avoid the Temptation of a Nap
In the late afternoon, as the sun starts to go down, you may feel your energy levels drop and start thinking about a quick nap to help wake up. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, a nap might not be the best choice. Falling asleep for a few minutes can lead to an extended period of napping, which may then inhibit sleep when it’s time for bed. Try to avoid napping whenever possible, and if you do need to take one, aim for early afternoon and keep it short.
When to Seek Help With Your Sleep Habits
Insomnia and other sleep disorders are linked to a wide array of health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure. Bad sleep quality translates to poor health in the long term. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up still feeling tired, talk to your doctor. There may be a physical cause impacting your sleep quality, and it’s a good idea to rule out any treatable conditions as the first step to better sleep.