A Bedtime Routine for Better Rest

A consistent bedtime routine can help you fall asleep quickly and reliably.

No one likes to toss and turn all night, or even worse, struggle with outright insomnia.

But there are measures you can take to help get a better night's rest. A consistent wind-down routine can help you fall asleep quickly and reliably.

Try the following relaxing behaviors just before bedtime to ensure that you have a restful night.

01 of 07

Take a Hot Bath

Soaking in hot water before bed improves the quality of sleep. This is the known as the "Warm Bath Effect," according to a 2019 Frontiers in Neuroscience study.

When you soak in a hot tub, your temperature rises, and the rapid cool-down period immediately afterward relaxes you. The lowest core temperature is observed about two hours after a bath, according to the study. So, two hours before bed, soak in the tub for 20 or 30 minutes, said Joyce Walsleben, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center 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." A shower is less effective but can work, as well.

02 of 07

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," said Dr. Walsleben. "You want to transition to dark as early as 9 or 10 p.m." Sitting in a dimly lit room before getting ready for bed can put you in the right mind-set for sleep.

03 of 07

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," Gary Zammit, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute in New York, told Health. "Laying out your pajamas, brushing your hair or your teeth—these habits can be very sleep-conducive."

04 of 07

Avoid Nighttime Stimulants

Skipping your normal cup of joe should help you fall asleep because 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," said Dr. Walsleben.

Even decaf drinkers should beware. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), decaf coffees and teas have less caffeine than their regular counterparts, but they still contain some. For example, decaf coffee typically has 2-15 milligrams of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup.

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

05 of 07

Shut Down Electronics

You may find it relaxing to catch up on social media or with friends just before turning in for the night, but the practice could increase the amount of time you toss and turn. Lit screens (that includes televisions, too) are stimulating, said Dr. Walsleben, so it's best to avoid them.

"Before your targeted bedtime, begin slowing down your brain by doing something calming, like reading in a comfy chair—somewhere other than bed," said Dr. Walsleben. "Stop watching TV and checking email."

06 of 07

Wear Socks to Bed

If cold feet are keeping you awake, especially during the winter, warm them up with a soft pair of socks. The extra layer under the covers can help improve circulation in your extremities, which can help you fall asleep more quickly, said Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

07 of 07

Limit Evening Food and Drinks

A large meal or spicy snack too close to bedtime can leave your digestive system working overtime while the rest of your body lies awake. Also, alcohol may make you drowsy, but it will disrupt your sleep patterns later in the night and keep you from getting the deep, restorative REM sleep you need to feel refreshed. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding large meals and alcohol before bedtime.

If you drink a lot of any liquid before bed, for that matter, you may be up throughout the night using the bathroom. "Most adults middle-age and older have to get up at night for this reason," said the late William C. Dement, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and author of The Promise of Sleep, "but restricting fluids before bed can help."

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