People who don’t keep a consistent bedtime routine are the ones who tend to have the most difficulty with sleep, says Neomi Shah, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. Sound familiar? Use this pre-bed plan to hit reset and start getting five-star snoozes.
Week 1: Lay down sleep ground rules
To kick off, focus on just three essential changes. "You’d be surprised how hard it can be to put down your phone at a decent time, for example, if you’re not used to it," says Dr. Shah.
Put sleep on the calendar. Pencil in your bedtime every day so you view sleep as being just as important as any other appointment in your planner. Set a reminder alert on your phone for an hour before bedtime.
Get out of bed. "The only two things allowed in bed are sleep and sex," says Dr. Shah. "You don’t want to associate your bedroom with anything wakefulness-promoting." From now on, take all other activities to a different room.
Power down. "It’s tough to unplug, but it’s ideal to stop using any gadgets or screens a half hour before bed at the very least," says Dr. Shah. The blue light emitted by screens is particularly sleep-disrupting.
Week 2: Set up your sleep sanctuary
You’re now ready to add these sleep-hygiene strategies to your routine every night. "Following a bedtime routine is like setting the table," explains W. Chris Winter, MD, a sleep specialist and neurologist and the author of The Sleep Solution. "You can’t sit down and have a lovely dinner without putting out the dishes, the utensils—you need to have a setup for sleep, too.”
Start to go dim. Avoid using bright lights in the hour or so before bed—light signals the body that it should be in an alert state, explains Dr. Winter. Instead, turn on a dim lamp.
Tidy up. Put away laundry piles and nix the clutter on the bedside table. Maintaining an organized, clean bedroom helps relax the mind in preparation for sleep, explains Dr. Shah.
Lower the temp. Your bedroom should be on the cool side (between 60 and 67 degrees) for optimal sleep, per the National Sleep Foundation.
Week 3: Add snooze-inducing moves
Now that your space is set up for better sleep, you need to be, too. "The brain can be trained to recognize cues to the body that it’s almost time to enter sleep mode," says Dr. Shah.
Go through the motions. Have consistent before-bed "choreography." You might change into pajamas, brush your teeth, and meditate briefly. Or maybe you take a bath, have a cup of tea, and do a few relaxing stretches. Whatever they are, follow the same steps in order every night. This may seem rigid, but over time, having a ritual will help signal sleepiness to both mind and body.
Pick the right bedtime story. Test out different reading material (in the living room, don’t forget) to see what makes you sleepiest. Swap the suspenseful thriller for a light magazine, or leave the hard news for the morning and read a feel-good novel instead.
Do this to drift off. Dr. Winter warns that trying to force your mind to turn off can end up making you feel more awake. Instead, he suggests, run through a task you love to perform and think about each step, almost like counting sheep. "One patient of mine imagines baking banana bread," he says. "She never stays awake long enough to get it in the oven."