6 Bedtime Behaviors for a Good Night's Sleep

Use these techniques to prepare your body for a good night of rest.

Getting a good night's sleep every night is important for various reasons, including having energy and thinking better throughout the day. A consistent wind-down routine can help you fall asleep more quickly and reliably.

You can help your body recognize that bedtime is getting close 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," said 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."

Here's a list of relaxing behaviors that may help your body prepare for a restful night.

Benefits of Getting a Good Night's Sleep

The main positive about sleep is that it helps your mind and body. Although you may not be awake, your body still functions so that you can remain healthy and energized.

Some of the possible benefits of getting the sleep you need every night include:

  • Better mood
  • Clearer thinking
  • Good decision-making
  • Improved social interactions
  • Less time spent being sick
  • Lowered risks for chronic health issues (e.g., diabetes)
  • Reduced stress

But you don't want to only get some shut-eye: You want to go for good, quality sleep. Good sleep means that you get enough sleep—for adults, that is seven to eight hours. You'll also want to make sure that you get uninterrupted sleep and spend fewer nights with less sleep.

How To Get a Good Night's Sleep

There are a lot of good things that can happen when you get a good night's sleep. Here are some ways to help make sure you do.

Take a Hot Bath

Researchers found that warm baths or showers—or water-based passive body heating, as they called it—were associated with better sleep and lower times to fall asleep.

Your temperature naturally dips at night, starting two hours before sleep. This is a good time to soak in the tub for 20 or 30 minutes, said Joyce Walsleben, PhD, associate professor at New York University School of Medicine.

When you soak in a hot tub, your temperature rises, and the rapid cool-down period immediately afterward can help relax you. "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," said Walsleben.

Dim the Lights

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 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. Just remember to make the room dark when you're finally ready to go to sleep.

Avoid Energy Boosters at Night

Skipping your normal cup of coffee—even as early as lunchtime—should help you fall asleep more quickly. "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 Walsleben. After all, the effects of caffeine can take from four to six hours to wear off.

Nicotine in cigarettes and cigars is also a stimulant. People who do not smoke have better sleep quality than those who do smoke. Smoking to relax before bed can actually do the opposite, revving up your heart rate and keeping your brain alert, said Walsleben.

Shut Down Electronics

Before bed, you may find it relaxing to correspond with friends on your phone or computer or watch some TV, but using electronics may increase the amount of time you toss and turn.

A Healthcare (Basel) study revealed that using electronic devices was associated with worse sleep quality, measured by:

  • How long participants slept
  • Interrupted sleep
  • How long it took participants to fall asleep
  • How they functioned during the day
  • How efficient their sleep was
  • The participants' reports on their sleep quality
  • Sleep medication use

Specifically, prolonged use of the devices within two hours of bedtime made for a worse night's sleep. "Before your targeted bedtime, begin slowing down your brain by doing something calming, like reading in a comfy chair—somewhere other than bed," said Walsleben. "Stop watching TV and checking email."

Wear Socks to Bed

If cold feet keep you awake—especially during the winter—warm them up with a soft pair of socks. One study found that the participants slept longer and fell asleep faster when they wore socks to bed.

The extra layer under the covers can help improve blood flow in your extremities, which can help you fall asleep more quickly, according to Phyllis Zee, MD, professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

But if you prefer not to wear socks to bed and haven't taken a full hot bath or shower, a warm foot bath may also be helpful for falling asleep faster. Warm baths increase blood flow to areas around the foot without warming up your body temperature.

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. As a result, you may end up dealing with heartburn or reflux.

Also, alcohol with or without dinner may make you drowsy. But it will disrupt your sleep patterns later in the night and keep you from getting the deep, restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you need to feel refreshed.

And if you drink a lot of any liquid before bed, for that matter, you may be up throughout the night using the bathroom. This is called nocturia, and it causes people to have to urinate more frequently at night than during the day.

If you do get up often, install a dim red bulb in your bathroom. Red light is less stimulating than bright white light and won't disrupt your circadian rhythm (the processes your body goes through on a 24-hour cycle).

A Quick Review

Getting a good night's sleep has a lot of possible benefits, like a better mood and reduced stress. However, having a good bedtime routine is just as important as getting enough sleep each night.

That routine could include limiting what you eat and drink close to bedtime and turning down the lights before going to bed. However, if you find that you are still having issues falling asleep—and staying asleep—talk with a healthcare provider.

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