6 Bedtime Behaviors That Prepare You for Sleep

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

Getting enough 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 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," 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 and avoid insomnia.

Take a Hot Bath

Your temperature naturally dips at night starting two hours before sleep, according to a 2019 Frontiers in Neuroscience study. 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," she said. A shower is less effective but can work as well.

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 Dr. 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.

Avoid Nighttime Stimulants

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," she said.

Nicotine in cigarettes and cigars is also a stimulant. People who do not smoke have better sleep quality than those who do smoke, according to a 2019 study published in BMC Public Health. Smoking to relax before bed can actually do the opposite, revving up your heart rate and keeping your brain alert, said Dr. 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 2021 study published in Healthcare (Basel) revealed that using electronic devices was associated with worse sleep quality, measured by "sleep duration, sleep disturbance, sleep latency, daytime dysfunction, sleep efficiency, subjective sleep quality, and use of sleeping medication." 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 Dr. 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. The extra layer under the covers can help improve circulation 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.

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. And 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 REM sleep you need to feel refreshed.

If you drink a lot of any liquid before bed, for that matter, you may be up throughout the night using the bathroom. Called nocturia, this condition causes people to have to urinate more frequently at night than during the day. It tends to affect people as they get older. (A side note: If you do get up often, install a dim red bulb in your bathroom; it's less stimulating than bright white light and won't disrupt the flow of melatonin in your brain.)

Having a good bedtime routine is just as important as getting enough sleep each night. However, if you find that you are still having issues falling asleep—and staying asleep—talk with your healthcare provider.

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