How to Build a Great Nighttime Routine

Cultivating a nighttime routine isn’t just about having a consistent ritual for peace of mind. For many people, sleep does not come easily, and avoiding or eliminating certain habits in the hours preceding sleep can make a dramatic impact on the quality of their rest. After all, it’s estimated that one in three adults don’t get more than seven hours of sleep per night — a startling number that researchers say costs the United States around 411 billion dollars per year.

For many people, relaxing enough to doze off takes considerable effort after a creative, high-energy workday. In fact, an entire industry has evolved to sell consumers every possible method for avoiding insomnia and achieving a good night’s rest. Milder methods, such as sipping chamomile or valerian tea prior to bedtime, or taking melatonin — an over-the-counter hormone sleep regulation aid — don’t always help. On the flip side, Ambien and other prescription sleep medications don’t often yield pretty results.

Ultimately, you’ll need to experiment (consistently) with different methods to determine what works best for you and gets you feeling refreshed and recharged the next morning. That said, here are some science-backed ways to help you build a nighttime routine that may help you catch more Zs.

Determine a Wind-Down Time

Though the brain is two percent of a person’s weight, it uses twenty percent of the oxygen a person breathes. In short, it consumes a great deal of the body’s energy, and is active during waking hours and even while you sleep. As Rebecca Scott, research assistant professor of neurology at the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, says, “The brain is preparing for sleep about two hours before our actual bedtime. We literally go from billions of neurons firing up all day to keep us alert, active and engaged, and that waking system has to slowly come down to allow the sleep system to take over.”

Working backwards from the time you need to wake up in the morning, determine when you need to be in bed. A healthy amount of sleep is at least seven or seven-and-a-half hours. Estimating that it will take you 10 to 15 minutes to fall asleep, extrapolate and find out your bedtime. Once you determine it, set an alarm one or two hours before to kick off “wind-down time.” During your wind-down hour(s), refrain from eating heavy meals, using your laptop, tablet or phone, and doing vigorous exercise.

Discover What Soothes and Relaxes You

Up to 80 percent of Americans experience insomnia at least once a week, according to Consumer Reports. Milder forms of restlessness and the general day-to-day anxieties that most individuals (particularly in urban environments) experience can also compromise sleep quality. During your two-hour wind-down window before you go to sleep, it’s important to do activities that soothe you and help you decompress from the stressors of the day.

Some examples of great activities before bed?

  • Take a warm bath or shower two hours before bed. If you’re taking a bath, add a few drops of essential oil for aromatherapeutic benefits.
  • Reading a book (but maybe not a horror novel that keeps you awake).
  • Stretching or meditation.

Conversely, it’s best to avoid the following activities:

  • Eating a heavy meal or drinking alcohol. (Though, if you’re still hungry an hour before bedtime, it’s a good idea to eat a light snack — hunger can keep you from falling asleep.)
  • Playing video-games, watching TV on a tablet or laptop, or being in a room with bright lights. Artificial lighting can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm. And using technology in general can be the antithesis of “vegging out” — instead, it can actually be quite exhausting and flood your brain with a deluge of information.

Getting Into Bed

When it’s time to get into bed, make sure you’re ready to fall sleep — don’t get into bed before you actually want to signal to your brain that it’s time to slip into slumber. Make sure that you’re wearing comfortable, loose clothing that allows your body to stay cool (your body temperature actually drops and needs to stay below a certain threshold for effective rest). Be sure, too, that all your lights are off and that you’re in as dark of an environment as possible.

Refining and practicing a sleep routine can be a critical part of your productivity and day-to-day mood and happiness. By following a few simple principles, you can wake up refreshed and ready to start the day.


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