Bedtime routine helps condition body and mind to expect sleepA cardinal rule of sleep hygiene involves establishing a bedtime routine and in this, I’m a believer. Even if I’m out till midnight, leapfrogging from a meeting or a party straight into bed is a setup for insomnia. I’ve got to have at least 45 minutes—better yet, an hour or more—to shift myself out of overdrive and into idling mode.

Here are some things to do in the run-up to bedtime to ease the transition between wakefulness and sleep.

Create a Healthy Sleep Environment

  1. Turn off devices with screens. The light they emit (and your proximity to it) may delay secretion of melatonin, a sleep-friendly hormone whose levels normally start to rise a couple hours before bedtime.
  2. Set the bedroom up for comfort in advance. Adjust thermostats, windows, or fans so that by the time you go to bed, the room temperature will be a little cooler than is comfortable during the daytime. Turn down the covers and set the alarm clock. Your sleep environment should be set up so that at bedtime, the only thing you have to do is slip between the sheets.
  3. Turn clocks to the wall. If you’re a sleep onset insomniac like me, clock watching at night will make you anxious—and anxiety is incompatible with sleep. Stay away from rooms with wall clocks.

Dial Down Stress

  1. Take an evening walk. High levels of circulating stress hormones prepare your body for action—not to slow down. Work the stress out with physical activity, even if it’s only walking around the house.
  2. Relieve tension with the help of a shiatsu massage pillow for 15 or 20 minutes.
  3. Do 20 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga. All these activities help to reduce stress.
  4. Take a bath or a shower. Warmth relieves muscle tension. Warming the skin also increases your core body temperature, triggering an internal cooling mechanism conducive to sleep. In the summer months, lower your body temperature more quickly by taking a cool shower instead.

Immerse Yourself in a Relaxing Pastime

  1. Read an engaging book (but steer clear of books that are scary or upsetting), and keep a stash of them by your favorite chair. Or listen to a book on CD. If reading’s not your thing, stream movies on the TV (but not on the computer screen).
  2. Listen to mellow music or make music yourself (if you can do it without disturbing others).
  3. Page through photo albums, coffee table books, old National Geographics and Life magazines, or catalogs. Arresting images capture the attention quickly: they’re a good way to refocus your attention outside yourself.
  4. Do crafts: beading, needlework, scrapbooking, knitting, woodworking, leatherworking, macramé, or any other sedentary activity involving use of the hands.
  5. Keep a sketchpad and pencil next to your favorite chair and draw.
  6. Do crossword puzzles or play Sudoku or any other word game.
  7. Play Solitaire (with cards, not online).
  8. Work on jigsaw puzzles.

Once you’ve got a comfortable bedtime routine, stick with it. Going through the same routine night after night will condition your mind and body to expect sleep when it’s finally time to turn the lights out.

What type of activity helps you fall asleep at night?

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

4 Comments

  1. For about 15 minutes before going to sleep we start to watch a re-run of any favourite comedy programme. It has to be something we have seen at least a couple of times before, so it’s not too interesting but we can still enjoy it despite that. There’s something extremely calming and soothing about it, plus boring enough to help us nod off. It’s rare for me to last any longer than 15 minutes. Trouble is I’d probably now struggle to doze off without it!

    I quite agree about still needing that wind down bedtime routine, even if bedtime is much later than usual. Trying to come home late and go straight to sleep has proved impossible for me too, it’s a surefire way to make me much too uptight and tense to be able to sleep.

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    1. Comedy show reruns sound like a great idea, Lesley! Again, thanks for taking time to share it.

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  2. In addition to the very Good suggestions here for winding down/preparing for sleep without getting to hung up with fears about not preparing well enough etc,
    I would recommend, if you can find a good cd or teacher,
    Autogenic Training (self hypnosis to induce sensations of heaviness and warmth throughout the body). It takes a number of months to learn and it must be practiced nightly, but it Does help you relax. (I am a hard case: it never put me to sleep, but it is reported to do so for many others). British Autogenics Society is a good source for accurate info. There are some CD’s online. It is best to have a autogenics knowledgeable therapist make a custom tape/cd for you, hopefully he or she has a calm voice, walking through feeling heavy and warm from bottom to top of the body. Hope this gives a help to someone. gjt

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    1. Hi Gerard,

      Relaxation therapies like autogenic training are helpful for many people with insomnia, especially insomnia that occurs at the beginning of the night. Thanks for mentioning this one.

      About calm voices: I’ve found that certain people’s voices, if they’re soothing and fairly monotonous, can help me fall asleep, regardless of what these people are saying. Tapes of Marty Stouffer’s Wild America (half-hour animal documentaries broadcast on PBS) used to be part of my bedtime routine. If I fell asleep before the French horns came in announcing the end of the program, I was out for the night!

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