One of the best ways to improve your quality of sleep is to establish a sleep schedule and a bedtime routine. This regularity helps the body adjust to a daily habit and prepare for sleeping and waking when the time comes.
The Importance of a Regular Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day helps regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle, called the circadian rhythm. This will help you sleep better and feel more energized and refreshed during the day.
Choose a regular sleep schedule based on when you feel tired at night and when you have to be up each morning. Some people are natural night owls, while other people feel sleepy earlier. Figure out which you are and schedule your sleep accordingly.
Follow the same sleep schedule every day, including on weekends and holidays. If you need to change your regular sleep schedule, work incrementally by adjusting your bedtime and morning alarm by 15 minutes each day.
Establishing a Bedtime Routine
Setting up a routine you follow each night before bed further prepares your body for sleep. Eventually, these nightly activities will signal to your brain that it’s time to begin shutting down for the night, making it easier to fall asleep soon after you crawl into bed.
Set aside the hour before bed to begin your before-bed routine. Turn off electronics and turn down the lights in your home to tell your brain that bedtime is nearing. Then find something relaxing that will begin to quiet your mind and body. Here are some examples of calming activities you could do before bed.
- Write in a journal. If you are someone who lies awake with anxious thoughts, try to document these before you go to bed. Or, write down happy memories from the day or a list of things for which you’re grateful.
- Read a book. Pick something that isn’t too intense – graphic crime dramas and heart-pounding thrillers aren’t conducive to good sleep. Choose a lighthearted novel, a poetry collection, or a spiritual or religious text.
- Take up a relaxing hobby. Try knitting, scrapbooking, or painting – something that will help you unwind and take your mind off your busy day.
- Practice meditation to reduce stress. Many books, apps, and videos can guide you through the process of learning to meditate, a practice that research suggests may help with anxiety, sleep problems, and other ailments.
- Take a warm bath. Add calming essential oils, such as lavender or chamomile, to enhance the experience and increase relaxation.
What to Avoid in the Hours before Sleep
Just as you can do some things before bed to promote healthy sleep, you should avoid other things that may make it harder to sleep well. Here are some common things to avoid.
- Caffeine and nicotine. These chemicals send alerting signals to the brain, so cut these out well before your established bedtime.
- Large meals. Feeling too full when you go to bed makes it harder to fall asleep. Similarly, feeling hungry can keep you up. If you want a late evening snack, try something small, like fruit, cereal, or a piece of cheese.
- Exercise. While exercising in general helps you get a better night’s sleep, working out right before bed can energize your body rather than calming it down. If you feel like some light exercise before you sleep, try stretching or gentle yoga.
- White screens. Televisions, computers, and tablets emit bright light that sends signals to the brain telling it to stay awake. Shut these down at least an hour before bed to begin transitioning to sleep.
- Drinking. A glass of water right before bed may mean a sleep-disrupting trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Try to have your last sips at least 30 minutes before bedtime.