With simple changes to your bedtime environment and routine, you could be resting better as soon as tonight.
Do nights of drifting off and dreaming deeply feel like a distant memory? If so, you're in good company. Millions of adults have at least occasional trouble with sleep. This not only causes suffering at night, it increases the risk of a number of problems that could affect your waking hours, including depression and issues with attention and memory.
Changes that improve your sleep may be right at your fingertips. Learn how to relax before bed with simple changes to your bedtime environment and routine.
Set the Stage for Good Sleep
Unfortunately, just being tired when you tuck in each night isn't enough to guarantee a good night's sleep. However, some key changes to your environment can set you up for success:
- Commit to a regular sleep schedule. The National Institute on Aging recommends going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on days when you don't have work or other commitments.
- Make your bedroom a haven. The room you sleep in should be temperate, even cool. You should be able to make this room completely dark and quiet. If you find it hard to create a dark environment, you could use a sleep mask.
- Drown out noise. If your partner snores, try using an ambient noise generator (and, yes, there's an app for that) or a good pair of earplugs. If these don't help, consider sleeping in a different room.
Once you've made your bed—and bedroom—ready to lie in, add restful rituals to your nightly routine. Read on for specific ideas for how to relax before bed.
It's common these days to feel too busy to make time for relaxation in the hours before bed. Work and household tasks may keep us on high alert all the way to bedtime. Additionally, the challenge of preparing our brains for sleep is made more difficult by the amount of time we now typically spend in front of screens. The light emitted by our computers, phones, and tablets confuses our natural sleep-wake cycle, which is built to take its cues from the rising and setting sun.
To minimize the sleep-damage done by screens, the National Sleep Foundation recommends stopping screen time at least 30 minutes before bed. This raises the question of what to do with that extra time—and how to relax before bed. The answers are surprisingly simple and appealing.
Breathe. Relax. Repeat.
The most calming bedtime rituals help you tune out the noise and demands of the world and return to your center. Here are a few suggestions for you to try:
Mindful meditation. The calm, rhythmic breathing of meditation produces measurable changes in your body—changes that mimic the early phases of sleep. As your heart rate and blood pressure drop, so do your stress levels. Learning to meditate is like building muscle: the more you work at it, the stronger it becomes. Meditating daily can make it easier to tap into that relaxation "muscle" at night. Try starting with a few minutes of meditation at bedtime and build up to 15 to 20 minutes a day.
Reading. Settling into a good story can take your mind off the stresses of the day, helping you unwind and prepare for a good night's sleep. Remember the way bedtime stories soothed you as a child? They can be every bit as powerful for adults.
Enjoying a warm bath. A warm bath is among the most soothing bedtime rituals. Try adding a drop of lavender oil to your bath to boost the impact. Some studies suggest that the scent of lavender may send messages to your brain to relax and prepare for sleep.
Swapping out wine for herbal tea. While a glass of wine can make you feel drowsy, alcohol actually disrupts your sleep cycle. Try a glass of warm milk or herbal tea, instead. Chamomile tea may help you relax, which, in turn, may help you sleep more easily.
If these at-home solutions don't help you sleep better, seek your doctor's or pharmacist's guidance.
Smokefree.gov, Are You Sleepy? 6 Tips for Getting Good Sleep
Womenshealth.gov, Insomnia Fact Sheet
Mayo Clinic, What Are the Benefits of Aromatherapy?
American Academy of Sleep Medicine, How to Sleep Well As You Age
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Sleep Disorders: In Depth
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Chamomile
National Institute on Aging, A Good Night's Sleep
National Sleep Foundation, How to Meditate Before Bed
The Economist, To Sleep, Perchance
National Sleep Foundation, Scary Ways Technology Affects Your Sleep
National Sleep Foundation, How to Unwind Without Technology
Helpguide.org, Sleep Disorders and Sleeping Problems