Sleep-related issues affect between 50 and 70 million Americans. Whether it’s trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, many people don’t get enough good, deep shuteye, which takes its toll on their mental and physical health. One thing you can do to help improve your sleep is to create a restful routine that helps you relax in the evening. Here are 10 small ways you can unwind before bed:
Block off time to unwind.
Many people do stimulating activities right up to the minute they go to sleep–watching TV shows, playing video games, answering emails and texting friends–in an effort to milk every second out of the day. While this may make you feel productive, it can also keep you awake at night if you don’t give yourself enough time to wind down. Set an alarm for 30-60 minutes before you want to go to sleep—the more time, the better—to give yourself a buffer period you can use to clear your head and wind down.
Put away screens.
Light makes your circadian rhythm (aka your body’s internal clock) think that it’s earlier in the day than it actually is. Put away light–producing screens—TVs, tablets, computers and smartphones—and dim the overhead lights, too. If you like to read before bed, it’s better to use a physical book rather than an e-reader or tablet that emits light. If you like to watch TV at night, turn it off at least 30 minutes before going to sleep so your body can wind down.
Meditate or connect with a higher power.
Meditation can help you calm anxious thoughts and recenter yourself before bed. There are many different meditations to try, including mindfulness, concentration and lovingkindness. If you’d like a little help, you can use a guided meditation recording to lead you through mantras and help you relax. If you’re religious or spiritual, praying or other reflections can also serve a similar purpose.
Try some breathing exercises.
If meditation isn’t for you, you can still calm your mind and your body with some deep breathing exercises. Lie flat on your bed, close your eyes and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Pay attention to the way the air passes through your body. If you notice any tension in your body, try to release it as you exhale, letting your body go slack. If your mind wanders, let the thought go and return your awareness to your body.
Take a hot bath or shower.
As you fall asleep, your body temperature lowers. The artificial temperature spike caused by a hot bath or shower, followed by the return to normal, can help your body fall asleep faster. However, other people find that taking a shower wakes them up instead (this is why so many people shower in the morning). If showering tends to wake you up, but you prefer to do at night, do it several hours before bed so you have enough time to get sleepy again.
Make a cup of decaf tea.
Similar to the concept of a hot shower, having a hot beverage raises your body temperature, causing it to fall once you’re done drinking and making you feel sleepy. Be sure to avoid caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and black tea, as they will have the opposite effect and wake you up instead. Even decaf beverages have trace amounts of caffeine, so your best bet is a completely caffeine-free herbal tea. Chamomile is perhaps the most popular pre-bed drink, but there are plenty of other herbal teas out there to suit all tastes.
Engage in aromatherapy.
Tea isn’t the only nice-smelling thing you can add to your pre-bedtime routine. Many people find aromatherapy to be very soothing. While it sounds fancy, aromatherapy can be as simple as lighting a soy or coconut wax candle or plugging in an ultrasonic aroma diffuser. (Just make sure to extinguish any candles or unplug any electronics before going to bed.) You can also harness the power of diluted essential oils by rubbing it on your skin or smelling it before you climb under your sheets.
Work out earlier in the day.
Working out tires you out physically and mentally, helping you to fall asleep faster and sleep longer and more deeply. However, exercise does give you a temporary burst of adrenaline, waking you up for a few hours, so it’s best not to work out right before bed. At the latest, you should work out early or mid-evening (depending on when you fall asleep) so that you’ll have enough time to come down off your post-workout high and start to feel truly tired.
Put on some white noise.
If you have noisy neighbors or live in a city with a lot of ambient noise, having something to block distracting sounds can help you fall and stay asleep. A fan will work in a pinch, and you can also buy an official white noise machine or download an app to play on your phone. If that won’t block the sound enough on its own, consider investing in some earplugs to further reduce the noise and help you fall asleep. These measures can also help boost your focus during meditation or deep breathing exercises.
Stick with a routine.
Once you’ve perfected the ideal way to wind down in the morning, create a little ritual for yourself and stick with it. Performing the same routine each night, whether it’s taking a hot bath or lighting a scented candle, will tell your body and mind that it’s time to wind down and prepare for bed. Over time, you’ll start to associate this ritual with sleep, making it easier to go to bed and catch the ZZZs you need.
It can take a few weeks or months to build a new habit, depending how big of a change it is for you, so don’t get discouraged after only a few nights. Follow these 10 steps to wind down at night and prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep.