Establishing a bedtime routine might be one of the most boring things you think about today. It might also be the one new thing you add to your life this year that provides you with a lifetime of benefits.
We often think of a bedtime routine as being necessary for kids, but not for adults. That just isn’t true. Humans are creatures of routine, finding comfort and relaxation in familiarity. When you can follow a healthy bedtime routine nightly, then you can prepare yourself for a good night of rest.
If you had a mother that was a little overprotective, your bedtime routine probably involved a good book, some warm milk, and maybe a little classical music on in the background. That can work, but a routine doesn’t need to be complicated. As long as you can stop worrying about your daytime responsibilities, you’ll be able to build the foundation of healthy sleep.
Before following these steps, it is important to segregate your bedroom. If you have your home office in your bedroom, then move it. Your bedroom should be the place where you go to sleep, wake up, and have intimate moments with your partner. Once you can separate your bedroom from the rest of your routine, here’s what you’re going to want to do to establish a healthy bedtime routine.
#1. Stop consuming caffeine early in the afternoon. You will want to avoid any caffeinated foods or beverages at least 6 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine can have a half-life of 12 hours or more in some people, so you may wish to avoid having a cup of coffee with lunch. Keep in mind that some medications, like migraine pain relievers, tend to have caffeine in them as well.
#2. Avoid consuming alcohol before going to bed. Alcohol can sabotage your sleep and leave you feeling groggy. Try to stop drinking any alcoholic beverages at least 3 hours before your regular bedtime routine. You can still use products that contain alcohol, like a mouthwash. Some medications contain alcohol and an anti-histamine to promote sleep. These should only be used if you have unwanted symptoms that are keeping you up at night.
#3. Be smart about when you eat dinner. You will usually need at least 2 hours to digest your dinner before going to bed if you want to sleep well. Some people need 3-4 hours after a meal in order to sleep well. This depends on your metabolism. Although eating carbohydrates before bed can make you feel sleepy because of an insulin spike, large meals right before bed increase the risks of obesity. If you do get hungry, a light snack is fine to eat since a growling stomach can also make it difficult to get to bed.
Here’s a Pro Tip: At night, when you feel hungry, there is a good chance that this is a misinterpretation of your body’s thirst mechanism. Before grabbing something to eat, try drinking about 8 ounces of water, then wait 15-30 minutes. If you still feel hungry, then grab a light snack.
#4. Finish your exercise routines. You also need a couple of hours to transition from exercise to going to bed. This includes moderate exercises, like taking a walk around the block. If you tend to eat a late dinner, try taking a walk right away after you finish eating. Then give yourself about 2 hours after you’ve finished walking before getting into your regular bedtime routine.
#5. Call it a day. For your bedtime routine to work, you must consciously choose to be finished with your day. A good bedtime routine needs about 60 minutes for winding down and relaxing. Stop studying, stop working, and stop worrying about what has happened during the day. If your mind won’t settle down, make a list of your concerns so you can address them the next morning.
#6. Incorporate a relaxation exercise. Sometimes a busy mind makes it difficult to establish a healthy bedtime routine. In that circumstance, using meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing can be helpful. Don’t use a formal meditation practice, since that can stimulate the mind. Focus on one thing as you begin to relax. It may be a noise, a candle, or your breathing. Give yourself 15-20 minutes and see how your mind is doing. For many, this is the one step that is often missing in their routine.
#7. Turn off your electronics. There are some people who do fall asleep better with noise on in the background. A familiar TV show or movie can encourage sleep for those who have minds that are constantly busy, even after trying meditation and other recommended practices. The blue light from the modern screen still interferes with sleep, however, so if you do need some noise, consider putting on some music. If you need dialogue, consider using old-time radio shows instead of running Netflix on your tablet.
#8. Give yourself 10 minutes of worry time. For those who still can’t get the mind to shut down, it may be helpful to include some “worry time” during the bedtime routine. Spend about 10 minutes with a journal, listing all the things that you’re worried about right now. Maybe you forgot to do something at work and you need to make sure it gets done. Or maybe your anniversary is tomorrow and you don’t want to forget to pick up a gift. This will help you to relax. The key to this step is to shut down your worries after 10 minutes. Train the brain to worry then and not during the rest of your routine.
Establishing a healthy bedtime routine will help you sleep better and longer. In return, you can lower the risks of experiencing a seasonal affective disorder or lessen the signs and symptoms of one. All it takes is about 1 hour before you intend to go to sleep to experience these benefits. Get started today and let us know if these steps have helped you begin to sleep better.