Routines, even when not fully followed, provide a guiding structure to the chaos of human life. I shower in the morning right after my cup of coffee. I sit at the same desk every day, even though we technically have unassigned seats. I take long winding walks at lunchtime. I sleep every night. Always.
From bubble baths to pajama time, kids often have a regular bedtime routine fixed by their parents in order to calm the little balls of energy. “We do all of this so well for our children,” says Rebecca Robin, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a sleep scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “And then forget to do it for ourselves, as adults.” She’s right: upon closer examination, so many of the “routines” in my life are just habits unconsciously and unceremoniously formed over time.
Whether you’ve never given much thought to what you do before bed or want to revamp your entire routine, here are seven tips to help you end a hectic day with peace of mind.
Ritualize your time before bed
Robbins recommends ritualizing the entire lead up to bedtime. Maybe you’re drinking hot tea, putting on some face lotion, and talking about the day’s events with your partner in bed. Or maybe do some stretching, followed by a quick bath and a cozy bathrobe. Whatever the routine, repetitiveness is important.
“Your body and your brain then understand what comes after these activities, which is sleep,” she says. “So we can kind of classically condition ourselves to understand that the end of our bedtime routine is time for sleep.” Intentionality can turn what was a thoughtless habit into an impactful routine.
Understand that consistency is king
One of the biggest mistakes adults make when it comes to bedtime routines is lack of consistency. “I would take a page from the playbook we use for our kids when it comes to falling asleep,” says Robbins. “And that includes a consistent bedtime.”
Even if you start a regular ritual at night with the best of intentions, life’s unpredictability is bound to interfere with your plans. It could be a late call from a loved one or your favorite sports team winning a nail biter. Whatever the nature of your schedule, take a moment to reflect on what happened, then try again the next night.
Set a regular wake-up time
Chris Winterdoctor, neurologist and sleep specialist who runs the sleep unplugged podcast, suggests putting more emphasis on when you wake up in the morning than on the exact time you go to bed each night. “I eat breakfast at one o’clock every day,” says Winter. “But if an hour comes and I’m not hungry, I won’t force the food down my throat.”
One caveat is that even if you go to bed an hour or two later than normal, he advises people to still set their morning alarm clock at the usual time. “I think it’s good that your brain has a little penalty there,” he says. A certain drowsiness can reinforce the importance of the structure of your routine.
Banish screens before bed
when should you drop your smartphoneswitch notifications to Do Not Disturb and leave them untouched on the charger?
Robbins suggests doing this at least 30 minutes before bedtime. While lowering your phone’s brightness or switching to a warmer light may be easier on your eyes than regular phone use, forgoing screen use altogether is the best option for a peaceful bedtime routine. .
Don’t rush the process
A pervasive myth about quality sleep is that it happens in an instant. The main characters hidden in the movies huddle under their blankets in a room with half the lights still on, and they’re turned off in a nanosecond. “In fact, even a well-rested person takes about 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep,” says Robbins. Incorrect assumptions about how you should experience your sleep can create unrealistic expectations for your nighttime ritual.
Seriously, stop pressuring yourself.
Be kind to yourself. Although a set of soothing actions before bedtime is beneficial, the reverse is also true. One of the worst things you can do is feel a lot of pressure to get the perfect night’s sleep. “Anxiety starts to cloud how we perceive sleep, which is really problematic,” says Winter.
As in most situations in life, hypercritical emotions only lead to negative spirals. “The secret to good sleep, for me, is to be as happy in bed awake as you are asleep,” he says. So build that routine and stick to it, but don’t beat yourself up for a night when it doesn’t go as planned.
See a professional
Are you looking for the perfect gadget that will help you relax and fall asleep? From duct tape to the mouth to pink noise, Winter criticizes “all those stupid things” people buy to help them sleep. (Although to be fair, at WIRED we have spent a lot of time testing sleep gadgets, and definitely have clear favorites.) He says, “It’s this idea that if you didn’t understand the problem, you just didn’t buy the right solution.”
Instead of buying a $500 piece of equipment or trying TikTok’s latest sleep hack, people who are still having trouble should consider making an appointment with a sleep specialist who has helped patients with sleep disorders before. sleep or conducted sleep studies.