7 Bedtime Rituals for a Better Night's Sleep
Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood.
Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can improve your concentration, memory, and energy levels. It can also help with weight control, immunity, heart health, and even increase your life span.
Today is the kick-off for National Sleep Awareness Week.
Here are 7 ideas you can include in your bedtime routine to help you relax and get a better night’s sleep.
A consistent sleep routine that includes regular bedtimes and wake times reinforce our internal body clock and will help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
Our body has an internal clock made up of two physiological systems that help drive our sleep cycle. The first is our homeostatic system. It works to maintain balance between sleep and wakefulness and takes its cues primarily from how long it’s been since you last slept. The longer you’ve been awake, the stronger your body’s homeostatic urge to sleep. The second is our circadian system. This helps regulate the timing of sleep and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. Our circadian rhythm is powerfully influenced by exposure to both darkness and light. These rhythms help spur alertness in the morning and help bring about drowsiness at night. A consistent sleep routine that includes regular bedtimes and wake times reinforce our internal body clock and will help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
As it gets dark, our bodies create something called melatonin. The creation of this chemical signals our brains that it’s nighttime and we start to become sleepy. But when we stare at a bright screen, the melatonin production is delayed. The light from the screen of your computer, tablet or phone is blue spectrum light, and it tells the brain to stop secreting melatonin. Scientific studies have identified blue light in triggering sleeplessness. Blue light suppresses melatonin production for more than twice as long as other light wavelengths and alters circadian rhythms (body clock) by twice the degree. Research also shows that young adults exposed to blue light from computer screens between the hours of 9-11 pm shortened their total sleep time; significantly suppressed melatonin production; and diminished sleep quality.
Scientific studies have identified blue light in triggering sleeplessness.
A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime can help separate your sleep time from activities that cause excitement, stress or anxiety making it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound sleep or remain asleep. One of the most common relaxing bedtime rituals is a warm bath. You can literally soak your worries away while loosening up any tight muscles, which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay that way throughout the night. But it’s not just the warm water that helps lull you into bedtime bliss. Adding scents to the water can help speed up the process.
Research suggests that lavender essential oils may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, and promote relaxation.
If you have trouble sleeping at night, avoid naps. Napping is like hitting the reset on the timer that controls your ability to return to sleep, making it more difficult to get back to sleep later. You may get less sleep overnight because your body may not require the additional sleep your nap provided. Your sleep will become more fragmented with more frequent awakenings and prolonged periods awake in the night.
Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading or meditation. When you’re using meditation to create a sleep ritual, find a quiet room or space away from distraction. If needed, use a sleep mask to block light and earplugs to block sound. Lie on your back or rest easy in a reclined chair; breathe deeply through your nose; hold it for a few seconds before breathing out your mouth. Repeat this breathing process several times. Clear your mind and let the darkness allow your body to produce melatonin, which places your body into a restful state.
Design your sleep environment to establish the ideal conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. A gradually lowering body temperature is one key element of the body’s progression into sleep. Your bedroom should also be free from noise and light. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices to block out sleep interrupting noise and light. Neatening up your bed covers and decluttering your bedroom has the weird effect of also de-cluttering your brain, helping get rid of the anxiety and stress swirling in your mind that can keep you up when it’s time to sleep.
In the Evening.
Generally, caffeine lasts for 5-6 hours in the body before wearing off. So, cut out the coffee early afternoon so that you can start to wind down in time for bedtime. Drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime helps you nod off in the short run – but once the alcohol is metabolized hours later, you’re more likely to wake up or start tossing and turning; disrupting REM sleep, the later sleep stage that encourages learning and memory formation. And finally, finish dinner no later than three hours before bedtime as well, so you give your stomach time to digest. You won’t be kept awake by heartburn, gas or a sugar-fueled energy surge.
How you approach bedtime can make an enormous difference to the quality of your sleep. Incorporating these pre-sleep rituals into your nightly routine will help prime you for the deep, restorative sleep your brain and body need to feel energized and alert.