The Ultimate 10-Step Nighttime Routine for Better Sleep
You spent the entire night tossing and turning, worried about something that happened or something that could happen. You tried counting ceiling tiles, backwards from 100, and your problems, yet sleep remained elusive. And once it finally came, it felt like morning arrived too soon.
Your body and brain now feel the effects of the lack of sleep. You woke up feeling like crap, wondering how you can make it any better tonight. (If, that is, you are able to make it through the day despite feeling so exhausted, grouchy, and perhaps headachy!) I’m pretty sure almost everyone can relate from time to time. And the solution to this living nightmare may just be a good nighttime routine!
Yet, other than changing into PJs, brushing teeth, one more stop in the bathroom, and then jumping into bed (often with phone or tablet in hand), many people don’t have anything close to resembling a bedtime routine—at least one that respects the importance of healthy sleep hygiene. Perhaps you read a book or scroll through your phone for a while before flicking off the lights. Or, you make sure you have water by the bed. For a truly rejuvenating night between the sheets, you may need to step up your nighttime game.
Even when you do, you may still struggle for the first few days—or even weeks—as your body eases into a new nighttime routine until it becomes predictable, calming, and even boring.
Where to start? Here are 10 steps to create your ultimate nighttime routine. (You’ll also, however, want to personalize your bedtime routine, so it feels easy and provides a healthy dose of self-care.)
The Ultimate 10-Step Nighttime Routine
1. Prep for Tomorrow
Got a lot on your list for tomorrow? To ensure you don’t go to bed thinking about all you have to do, take a couple of minutes to write down your top goals for the next day. That way, you can more easily let them go as you sleep.
While you’re at it, you may want to schedule your workout, plan and prep your meals, set out your clothes, and load up the coffee maker (if you’re a coffee drinker) to streamline your morning. If you’re leaving for the day, you can also set aside what you need to leave the house (e.g., wallet, keys, shoes, and mask), so you can start tomorrow ahead of the game.
Then, take a couple of minutes to tidy up. Chores may not be your favorite thing to do at the end of a long day, but developing a cleaning routine can prevent things from piling up and becoming overwhelming. Even taking the dishes from the kitchen, dining room, and/or living room, putting them in the dishwasher, and hitting start can make the next morning so much easier. A nightly 10-minute tidy can save hours of cleaning and organizing for “future you,” not to mention help clear out unnecessary, distracting mental clutter.
2. Allow Yourself Time to Decompress
We can’t go from 100 down to 0 instantly. In other words, after a busy day, we need to unwind, relax, and decompress. That may take more than the 5 to 10 minutes many folks give themselves. It takes the brain an hour to two before we close our eyes to prepare to allow the sleep system to take over, according to sleep expert Dr. Peter A. Fotinakes of the St. Joseph Hospital Sleep Center.
To ensure you have enough time to ease into your nighttime routine, use the “reverse alarm.” That is, set an alarm at least an hour before you plan on getting snug in your bed. Use that time to do something that’s super relaxing for you. That could be reading, gentle yoga, stretching, meditation, or foam rolling, conversing with a friend or partner, doing a puzzle, drawing or painting, or listening to an audiobook, podcast, or relaxing playlist. (Just choose something that helps you relax.)
For some, this can also be a wonderful time to connect with loved ones. You could trade massages, share highlights from the day, cuddle, or read aloud to each other. If you have a pet, you could also cuddle up or have a low-key play session.
If you live alone, you can use this time to reach out to connect with friends and loved ones. Call a family member, text a friend, or email someone you have been missing; remember, you aren’t alone. There are others on this planet who care about you too.
While many people enjoy watching a favorite TV program to unwind, if sleep is elusive, turn off the TV at least an hour before it’s time to hit the sack. The high-energy artificial blue light can stimulate wakefulness, making it that much harder to get a good night’s sleep.
Computers, tablets, and phones are even worse due to the blue light they emit. As tempting as these devices can be, even a few seconds of looking at screens can interfere with melatonin levels, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Keeping a phone or tablet by the bed can also keep your mind stimulated and engaged with the day, preventing you from relaxing as well as delaying REM sleep, which is the phase of sleep when you do your best learning and forming of memories. 1
So, if reading is your favorite way to wind down, you may want to trade in the eReader for a good, old-fashioned paper book. Reading, by the way, is a great way to unwind. Research reports, for example, that reading for a mere 6 minutes can help you cut stress levels by up to 68%, 2 a dramatic effect that can make it easier to drift off to dreamland.
3. Schedule Your Sleep Time
Consistent bedtime schedules aren’t just important for children. Adults, too, have an internal 24-hour clock that cycles through sleep and wake cycles. 3 When you go to sleep (as long as it’s before midnight) may not be as important as keeping that sleep time consistent as much as possible, even on weekends and through work deadlines, to prevent insomnia and sleep issues. An occasional late night of celebration won’t do long-lasting damage (although you may feel the “social hangover” the next day or so). But if your sleep patterns are regularly erratic, to improve your sleep, you’ll want to rein it in.
This is another reason to set that “reverse alarm” to remind you it’s time to start easing toward bedtime.
4. Sip Something Soothing
Pouring yourself a warm cup of something soothing can help get you in the mood for sleep. Chamomile tea is a bedtime go-to for millions as it’s been shown to help alleviate insomnia. 4 Golden milk, made with turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger, is another common nighttime beverage. Just choose something you enjoy, while watching the calories and sugar. And, it should go without saying that you’ll want to avoid anything caffeinated.
You’ll also want to avoid drinking alcohol during this time; while a nightcap may help you feel sleepy initially, it quickly wears off, lowers melatonin, and disrupts your circadian rhythm, ultimately promoting less restful and restorative sleep. 5, 6
5. Add a Nighttime Snack if You’re Hungry
A heavy, late-evening or nighttime dinner can disrupt sleep but so can going to bed hungry. If you find that nighttime hunger is keeping you awake, enjoy a light snack, like yogurt, casein-containing protein, fruit (such as cherries, pineapples, or bananas), or some nuts (which may promote the body’s production of melatonin). 7 Just keep it light and familiar, so it doesn’t lead to digestive issues, such as acid reflux (which can also keep you up).
6. Settle Into Some Self-Care
While many people rely on a cold shower for a morning wake-up, to help yourself go to sleep more easily, you can also slide into a hot bath or shower an hour or two before slipping between the sheets. This can help your body temperature drop by dilating your blood vessels and sending the blood flow toward the skin, which can then help you both fall and stay asleep.
If you want your bath time to be even more relaxing, add some soothing scents like lavender, vanilla, valerian, sandalwood, juniper, roman chamomile, ylang ylang, or frankincense. You can add essential oils directly to the bath or add to your lotion, which you can put on your body when you get out.
You can also just skip the bath time and enjoy some aromatherapy if you prefer. Or, you can forgo the full-on bath, opting instead for a cleansing ritual where you gently wash your face, hands, and perhaps feet as you imagine washing away the stress of the day and allow your breath to slow and deepen. Feel free to use this time for a self-massage as you thank your beautiful body for all it’s done for you today.
And as always, don’t forget to brush and floss your teeth as part of your bedtime routine before (or after) popping on your PJs.
7. Create the Right Environment for Sleep
Before settling down and getting comfy and cozy, prepare your environment for sleep. If possible, drop the temp to between 60 and 67°F, as the body adjusts to this lower temp by getting sleepy (i.e., a drop in core temperature is a primary driver of sleep). Change your bedding to fit the season; for example, in the winter, you can pull out the cozy flannel sheets if you find them warm and comforting. Meanwhile, in the summer, you’ll likely want something soft and light.
Speaking of sheets, some research indicates that fresh sheets can improve your sleeping experience, with one study reporting that 71% of folks claim they sleep better on clean sheets. 8
Then, start to lower the lights as you get closer to bedtime, ensuring your bedroom is completely dark. You may even want to banish any lights from clocks (and especially those that flash or burn brightly during the night) from the room. You may also want to replace bright daytime lights with soothing amber bulbs an hour or two before you go to sleep. If your home is equipped with dimmer switches, start lowering the lights as it gets later in the evening. If you tend to wake up after the sun rises, then you may want to give room-darkening shades a try.
While music, particularly classical music (though others swear by R&B, jazz, or bossa nova), has been shown to help with sleep, 9, 10 “color noise” like white noise (which sounds a bit like static or TV screen snow) and pink noise (which sounds like softer rain or snowfall) and brown noise (which sounds deep and soothing like the ocean) can also promote sleep. 11 If your room is warm, a fan can play dual roles by cooling things down while also offering a background of white noise.
8. Save Your Bed Only For Sleeping and Sex
If you spend your hours in bed watching TV, working, or even reading, you can simply get used to not sleeping in your bed. To help your brain mentally prepare for sleep, avoid climbing into bed more than 20 minutes before you actually want to sleep.
Some intimate time can also help improve sleep. In one survey, 60% of those who enjoyed an orgasm with their partner found they were able to sleep more easily. 12 It’s not just about sex, though. Just cuddling with your loved one can release oxytocin (i.e., the “love hormone”) to help you relax. 13 If you don’t have a partner, solo orgasms are also a natural, healthy way to help relax and drift off more easily.
If you find that you’re just staring at the ceiling for more than 20 minutes after getting into bed, wishing for sleep, don’t stay there. Get out of bed and find something relaxing to do (like meditation, reading, or journaling) until you begin to feel drowsy. Watching the clock, unable to fall asleep, can lead you to feel anxious, making it even more difficult to drop off. 14 Ten minutes of meditation could save the night!
9. Consider Supplementing for Sleep
While there are many factors affecting sleep, one of the most prominent is stress, which can leave more than 40% of adults struggling to get the sleep they need. Of course, lack of sleep also leads to increased stress, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Yes, a good nighttime routine can do wonders for helping you fall and stay asleep, but sometimes, you could use a little bit of help.
Instead of reaching for a hardcore sleep aid, which can potentially lead to dependence with long-term use, a gentle, natural sleep aid may provide the help you need without negative side effects.
Zen-Zzz™ is a non-habit-forming sleep-support supplement that contains a unique combination of research-backed nutrients and relaxing botanicals that can help put your mind and body at ease, so you can sleep more soundly and wake up feeling more refreshed and energized—without side effects, drowsiness, or a sleep-hangover.†
This unique supplement provides:
- Lemon Balm Extract
- Chamomile Extract
- Passion Flower Extract
- Vitamin B6
When combined with your new and improved nighttime sleep routine, you just might start sleeping better than ever before.
10. Time to Drift Away…
You’ve created the perfect environment for sleep, you’ve got on your most comfortable pajamas, and you’re all tucked in. As you close your eyes, think about what you have to be grateful for, repeat a positive mantra, or visualize a calm, peaceful environment. To relax the body fully, starting with your feet and working your way up your body, allow a group of muscles to tense for 5 seconds and then relax them for 10 seconds before moving onto the next group.
You can also use a guided meditation to help you get out of your head, relax, and go the F to sleep. There are several free guided meditations available on YouTube, as well as numerous apps like Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace, and Buddhify.
Your Personal Nighttime Routine
Personalize your nighttime routine to suit your preferences and what helps you relax the most. A quality nighttime routine can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as two hours. Just make sure it’s long enough to help you unwind without feeling like you’re rushing through a routine (which can actually stimulate you rather than relax you and help you sleep).
A quality bedtime routine may sound easy. It’s not—at least not at first. Lots of things are pulling for your attention, so rather than focusing on perfection, work toward progress. Start by creating your clear plan. Then, set reminders. (A Google Nest or Home or an Amazon Alexa or Echo can be very helpful, and you can also use your phone to set reminders.)
Remember to start small and build momentum as you enjoy the rewards of your bedtime routine. After some time, effort, and experimentation, your nighttime routine will become, well, routine and virtually automatic.
Once you have a consistent routine, you’ll have trained your body to sleep better. You’ll not only be rewarded with a more relaxing night but a more focused, energized, and productive day! Plus, better sleep leads to an improved mental and emotional state.