A 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Relieve tension with the help of a shiatsu massage pillow for 15 or 20 minutes.
- Do 20 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga. All these activities help to reduce stress.
- 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
- 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).
- Listen to mellow music or make music yourself (if you can do it without disturbing others).
- 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.
- Do crafts: beading, needlework, scrapbooking, knitting, woodworking, leatherworking, macramé, or any other sedentary activity involving use of the hands.
- Keep a sketchpad and pencil next to your favorite chair and draw.
- Do crossword puzzles or play Sudoku or any other word game.
- Play Solitaire (with cards, not online).
- 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?