Trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. About
In the midst of the pandemic, you might have more time for sleep, but sleep quality might still take a hit, thanks to added anxiety and stress from loneliness, health worries, financial concerns, and other issues.
Nighttime routines also commonly factor into sleep quality, regardless of anything else happening in the world. Your activities during the evening hours can have a big impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep each night.
Poor sleep can have plenty of health consequences, many of which you might worry about while lying awake. If you have trouble getting enough restful sleep on a regular basis, try exploring your pre-bedtime habits to identify potential problem areas and create a new routine that promotes better sleep.
Here are some tips to get you started.
A bedtime routine that includes a few steps toward preparing for the next day can have several advantages.
First, getting a head start on tomorrow’s to-do list gives you one (or two or three) fewer things to stress over as you try to fall asleep.
Take care of morning chores
If you struggle to get started in the morning, ask yourself what usually holds you up.
Maybe you spend a lot of time deciding on an outfit or never know where to find your keys. Perhaps you need a hearty breakfast to begin your morning but have to clear the sink of last night’s dishes first.
Setting aside 15 to 30 minutes every evening to prepare for the next day can help prevent hectic mornings and promote peace of mind as you get into bed.
To reduce bedtime stress and feel more relaxed in the morning, try taking care of these chores in the evening:
- Make your lunch for work or school.
- Gather your essentials — think keys, wallet, sunglasses — in one spot.
- Wash the dishes.
- Set out your clothes for tomorrow.
Make a to-do list
There’s only so much you can do in preparation for tomorrow. But for everything else, there’s a list.
Spending just 5 minutes writing a to-do list each night can help you avoid the sleep-disrupting habit of thinking about everything you need to do as you’re trying to fall asleep.
A paper to-do list can free you from the urge to constantly run through a mental version. It can also help you feel more in control of tomorrow before it even begins.
Try journaling to relieve stress
A journal provides a space to express any concerns weighing on your mind, reducing the need to unpack them mentally in bed.
While journaling may not be enough to relieve severe anxiety or chronic stress, it can help reduce anxious thoughts. Physically writing about things stressing you out can help you visualize them leaving your mind and reinforce your sense of relief.
Writing about stress-provoking upcoming events (and noting a potential solution or two) may also help you feel more prepared to face them, which can ease anxiety.
You don’t have to wait until it’s lights-out to start winding down. Filling your evening hours with calming activities helps you avoid overstimulating your mind and body as the day draws to a close.
Cut off caffeine early
A regular post-lunch cold brew might help you make it through the day, but this caffeine boost can have consequences later.
Having caffeine even 6 hours before bedtime can disrupt your rest. If you often have trouble sleeping, try sticking to beverages without caffeine after lunch.
Avoid strenuous exercise
Yes, regular exercise can improve sleep, but you’re better off saving intense workouts for morning or afternoon.
Vigorous exercise shortly before bedtime raises your body temperature and heart rate, making it harder to fall asleep and potentially reducing the amount of sleep you get.
It’s perfectly fine to do light or moderate intensity exercise in the evening, though.
Instead of a run or heavy weightlifting session, try:
Just keep in mind that even with light exercise, it’s still best to wrap up an hour to 90 minutes before bedtime.
A regular meditation practice can help you relax physically and mentally. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, may help improve your ability to release the day’s stress and tension in preparation for a good night’s sleep.
Focusing your awareness and sitting mindfully with your thoughts gives your body a chance to rest and relax. All those slow, deep breaths you’re taking? They cue your body to slow down at the same time.
Meditation can also help reduce behaviors that keep you up, like cycling through anxious thoughts.
Can’t meditate in the evening? Try these tips to make it a habit any time of day.
Put on some calming music
While music may help you fall asleep faster and get better sleep, make sure you stick with calming tunes. Energizing, upbeat music probably won’t have quite the effect you’re hoping for. For best results, try slow music without lyrics.
Change up your hobbies
Catching up on a favorite show at the end of a long day can feel relaxing, but try to avoid doing this within an hour or so of bedtime.
The blue light produced by electronic devices can confuse your brain, which links this light to daytime. If your brain thinks it’s time for you to be awake, it won’t tell your body to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps prepare you for sleep.
Using devices to scroll through social media, play games, watch videos, or chat with friends can also keep your brain active when you need it to start calming down.
Consider adding these activities to your nighttime routine instead:
- assembling jigsaw puzzles
- building models
- reading (but stick to paper books or an e-reader that gives off minimal light)
- drawing or coloring
- doing word or number puzzles
Create a family bedtime ritual
Connecting with loved ones — whether that’s your partner, children, or (good) roommates — can increase feelings of love, trust, and happiness.
Generating these positive emotions just before bed can put you in a better mood, helping you feel more at ease when it’s time for bed.
Regardless of any other benefits, spending quality time with people you love can strengthen your bond and help lower stress.
- reading aloud to each other
- trading massages with your partner
- sharing highlights from your day
- cuddling or playing with pets
Make time for sex
In one 2017 research survey, over 60 percent of the 282 adults who replied to the survey said their sleep improved after having an orgasm with a partner.
Oxytocin release during sex may be one explanation. The release of this “love hormone” can promote relaxation and a sense of well-being. Kissing and cuddling can also trigger oxytocin release, so any type of intimate contact before bed has benefit.
You don’t need a partner to add sex to your nighttime routine. Solo orgasms are a perfectly natural way to relax and get off to sleep more easily.
Make hygiene a ritual
It’s pretty normal for basic bedtime hygiene to happen on autopilot. But performing cleansing routines with more mindfulness than absentmindedness can help your brain and body tune in to your approaching bedtime.
Washing your face and showering can feel like boring chores you’d rather skip, but it’s possible to make these mundane tasks more pleasant and relaxing.
Build a ritural
- Instead of a quickly scrubbing your face, practice the 60-second rule. Gently wash your face for a full minute. Imagine washing away the stress of the long day as you cleanse your skin, or use a mantra or focused breathing to slow down.
- Take a hot bath. Research suggests that an hour or two before bed is ideal for a nighttime bath. If you’re sensitive to bubble bath or bath salts, create a relaxing atmosphere with scented candles.
- Avoid bright lights. That bright overhead lighting in your bathroom? Not a great vibe for getting sleepy. Consider bringing some candles into the bathroom and doing your nightly routine with the lights off. For an added benefit, choose one with a calming scent, like lavender.
Don’t forget your teeth
Every nighttime routine should include 2 minutes for toothbrushing. Practicing mindfulness during this essential ritual can make it even more beneficial.
Set a timer for 2 minutes, then focus on your motions as you brush. Notice the sensation of the bristles on your teeth and the taste of the toothpaste.
Remind yourself of everything your teeth do for you. You might even try a mantra, such as “I’m grateful for my teeth.”
It’s also never a bad idea to revisit the basics of proper brushing.
Instead of simply switching off the lights at bedtime, try preparing your environment for sleep earlier in the evening. This gives your body time to adjust to the idea of sleep.
Dim the lights
Like electronics and the sun, electric lighting also produces blue light. Avoiding bright lights in the evening can help signal to your body that it should start preparing for sleep.
- Switch off bright overhead lights and turn on dimmer table lamps an hour or two before bed.
- Consider replacing lamp bulbs with ones that produce amber light.
Calming fragrances, like lavender and cedarwood, can promote restful sleep.
To benefit from aromatherapy:
- Scent your bath with a few drops of essential oil.
- Place a diffuser containing essential oil in your bedroom.
- Use a few drops of essential oil on your pillow before bed.
Check your bedding
Clean sheets and fluffed pillows can make bed seem more inviting, and a comfortable bed can help you get better sleep.
Use season-appropriate sheets and blankets. Flannel sheets in the summer can make you too warm, and you might wake up sweaty and itchy.
For year-round bedding, go for easily removable, light layers so you can make quick adjustments if you feel or cold during the night.
Update your pajamas
Changing into sleepwear can help your body feel more ready for bed, but choose your pajamas with care. How they feel on your body is more important than how they look.
Comfortable pajamas can make bedtime something to look forward to, while tight or uncomfortable sleepwear can keep you fidgeting under the covers.
Switch on a fan
A fan can play two important roles in your bedtime routine.
First, it cools off your bedroom. Keeping your room on the cooler side can help you stay comfortable despite normal body temperature changes that happen during sleep.
Fans also produce white noise, which can block out noises that might keep you up. Hearing that low hum can help increase your confidence that you’ll sleep well, even if your roommate ends up arguing with their partner in the middle of the night.
Now that you’ve wound down and hopped into bed, how to drift off to sleep?
Think peaceful thoughts
Fixating on worrisome thoughts can keep you awake and stressed. Instead, try focusing on positive things that happened that day or events you’re looking forward to.
Some people also find listing a few things they’re grateful for promotes positive feelings and inner calm.
It may also help to repeat a soothing mantra, such as “I feel relaxed” or “I’m drifting off to sleep.”
You can use visualization (guided imagery) to create restful scenes in your mind and distract yourself from any worries creeping into your thoughts.
You might imagine a quiet beach with waves brushing against the shore, a sunlit forest, or a hammock under the stars.
Picture this landscape in vivid detail, imagining how relaxed and calm you feel. You can even put yourself into the image, breathing slowly and peacefully as you relax in your chosen environment.
Relax your muscles
Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation often help improve sleep. Beyond its potential sleep benefits, progressive muscle relaxation can also help relieve pain.
Here’s how to give it a try:
- Slowly tense one group of muscles.
- Hold the tension for 5 seconds, releasing on a slow exhale.
- Relax for 10 seconds.
- Move to the next muscle group.
Find more detailed steps for muscle relaxation here.
Accept wakefulness instead of fighting it
Not getting enough sleep can make you miserable, but fretting over your exhaustion and the precious sleep you’re missing won’t do you any favors.
Instead, try to accept that it’s just one of those nights and focus on reframing your thoughts.
You might tell yourself, for example:
- “I’m still awake now, but I’ll drift off eventually. I always do.”
- “Maybe I’ll be a little tired in the morning, but I’ll probably fall asleep right away tomorrow night.”
- “I’m going to need an extra pick-me-up tomorrow, so I’ll treat myself to a good lunch.”
There’s not really a right or wrong answer when it comes to building a nighttime routine, but there are a couple things you’ll want to avoid if you can.
If you feel wide awake after about 20 minutes — whether you’re trying to fall asleep or just woke up in the middle of the night — get up and do a quiet activity, like reading.
Avoid turning on bright lights or doing anything too stimulating. Once you start feeling sleepy again, go back to bed.
Sleeping too long
You should stick to the same sleep routine, even on vacations and weekends, since sleeping late some days can throw off your internal clock.
Any adjustments should stay within an hour of your usual sleep and wake times.
Good sleep is a key factor in mind and body wellness, but it can be hard to come by. A personalized nighttime routine can help you get better sleep, allowing you to wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day.
If a new nighttime routine doesn’t have much effect on sleep quality, talking to your healthcare provider is a good next step to make sure there isn’t an underlying health issue contributing to your sleep issues.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.