Bedtime Behaviors That Work: 7 Habits That Will Prepare Your Body for Sleep


woman-bath-before-bed
Boosting your body temperature will help you get to sleep faster.
(MASTERFILE)
A consistent wind-down routine every day can help you fall asleep more quickly and reliably. Try any or all of the following relaxing behaviors for a restful night.

Take a hot bath
Your temperature naturally dips at night, starting two hours before sleep and bottoming out at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., according to a 1997 study conducted by New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. When you soak in a hot tub, your temperature rises—and the rapid cool-down period immediately afterward relaxes you.

Two hours before bed, soak in the tub for 20 or 30 minutes, recommends Joyce Walsleben, PhD, associate professor at New York University School of Medicine. "If you raise your temperature a degree or two with a bath, the steeper drop at bedtime is more likely to put you in a deep sleep," she says. A shower is less effective but can work, as well.

Install a dimmer switch
Late in the evening, your body releases the chemical melatonin, which makes you sleepy—but only if it receives the right cues from your environment. "Melatonin is your hormone of darkness—it won't flow with the lights on," says Walsleben. "You want to transition to dark as early as 9 or 10 o'clock." Sitting in a dimly lit room before getting ready for bed can put you in the right mindset for sleep.

Lay out your clothes
You can help your body recognize that bedtime is imminent by setting routines and repeating them every night. "We suggest that people establish regular nightly routines before they get into bed, to help their brain shift into sleep mode," says Gary Zammit, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute in New York City. "Laying out your pajamas, brushing your hair or your teeth—these habits can be very sleep-conducive."

Shun p.m. stimulants
Skipping your normal cup of joe—even as early as lunchtime—should help you fall asleep quicker, since caffeine is a stimulant. "I don't like people having caffeine after noontime if they have poor sleep, because it can hang out in the system for a long time," says Walsleben.

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Even decaf drinkers should beware: A 2007 Consumer Reports study found that "decaffeinated" coffees sold at several chain restaurants varied widely, containing up to 32 milligrams of caffeine per cup—about the same amount in 12 ounces of cola. For most people, this much caffeine won't keep you up, but if you're particularly sensitive, two or three cups might.

Nicotine is also a stimulant; smoking to relax before bed can actually do the opposite, revving up your heart rate and keeping your brain alert, says Walsleben.


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Last Updated: April 12, 2008

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