Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do to help you have a great day when you wake up. If you wake up feeling exhausted or find yourself dragging through your day, you’re exhibiting signs of sleep deprivation. But there’s good news. Changing your sleep hygiene, especially the things you do before bed, can make a world of difference.
By establishing good sleep habits, you set the stage for getting a good night’s sleep. Here are four things you can do before bed to help you get the sleep you need:
1. Stick to a Bedtime
Following a regular sleep schedule is key to getting a good night’s sleep. Figure out how many hours of sleep you need each night, and then count backward to set your bedtime. Make sure you include enough time to brush your teeth, take a shower, set out your clothes and go through your bedtime routine. Then set your alarm clock, so you can get up at the same time each morning — another important part of sleep hygiene.
Stick to your sleep schedule and regular bedtime, even on the weekends or when on vacation, to ensure a good night’s sleep.
2. Develop Your Bedtime Routine
Doing the same things in the same order before you go to bed is one of the keys to getting the sleep you deserve (and need). Focus on activities that let your mind and body relax, allotting about 30 minutes for your routine. Don’t forget to include time for your bedtime routine when you decide what time you’re going to bed!
Some of the relaxing things you can do before bed include:
- Listening to music. Keep your choices soft and gentle. Some people also like to listen to audiobooks before bed — again, choose material that will help you relax.
- Wind down with your bed partner. Good sleep hygiene calls for your bed to be used for nothing except sleep and sexual activity — so maybe this is time for a little of both. You can also cuddle with your bed partner and chat quietly before turning out the lights.
- Take a warm bath or shower. The warm water helps your muscles relax, which in turn gets your mind ready for bed.
- Do some journaling. Some people wind down by thinking over the day they’ve just finished or jotting down any insights or inspirations they’ve received throughout the day.
- Read a book. Make sure it’s an actual book (not an e-book), and use soft lighting to illuminate your reading. You’ll probably feel your eyes getting heavy very quickly.
- Plan for tomorrow. Lay out your work clothes, set the coffeemaker to brew that first cup for the morning, plan what you’re going to have for breakfast, write yourself any reminder notes and make any other simple preparations for the next day. When you know your morning is going to flow easily, you’re less likely to feel stressed as you go to sleep.
- Pet your cat or dog. The act of petting an animal calms them down, and you’re likely to unwind as well when you spend a little quality time with your pet.
- Do breathing exercises or meditate. Calming your breathing helps your whole body, including your heart rate, adjust to nighttime and tells your body and brain alike that it’s time to sleep.
- Stretch your body. One thing that can keep you from sleeping well is physical tension in your body. Doing a simple stretching routine before bed can help your body relax — and your brain is sure to follow.
- Spend a few minutes on a favorite hobby. Give yourself permission to do a little knitting or embroidery, use the time to do some drawing or sketching or fill out a crossword puzzle while you wind down for bedtime.
The things that you’ll choose to do before bed are unique to you, but all of these will help you unwind. However, there’s one whole category of pre-bedtime activities to stay away from. (Hint: it’s coming up next.)
3. Avoid All Electronics
When you’re planning your bedtime routine, there are some specifics things to avoid so you don’t have trouble sleeping. The no-nos include watching TV, scrolling through your cellphone, reading on a tablet and playing games (or, really, doing anything at all) on your laptop.
Electronic devices can cause significant disruptions to your sleep if you use them before bedtime. The blue light emanating from the screens sends a signal to your brain to stay awake, and you’re likely to find your brain humming at full speed when you finally turn off the lights. Yes, you can take advantage of things like Apple’s Night Shift to change your screen light to a more soothing yellow — but you’re far better off avoiding electronics altogether before bed.
4. Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol Before Bed
You already know that caffeine promotes wakefulness — that’s why you brew your coffee every morning, after all. But did you know that caffeine can affect your sleep for more than six hours? That means you need to stop drinking it long before you head to bed. Stop all caffeinated coffee, tea and soda at least six hours ahead of bedtime — and remember that even decaf contains some caffeine. (So does chocolate, we’re sorry to say.)
Alcohol use before bedtime also disrupts your sleep cycle. Yes, you may feel sleepy after you’ve had a couple of drinks, but it’s likely to affect you later in the night, and it reduces your body’s ability to recuperate during sleep. So don’t count on it as a sleep aid, and try to minimize your alcohol use as you approach bedtime.