Wait. Didn’t we leave bedtime routines behind when we were ten? You might have, but it’s time to rethink this age old tradition.
Bedtime routines serve two main purposes 1) to tell the brain what happens next and 2) to relax.
But, mom isn’t ushering you through a routine anymore. You get to decide when and what it includes.
Choose wisely because it can make the difference between being on the top of your game or shuffling through the next day in a haze.
Your brain needs routine. In fact, it thrives on it. The human body takes advantage of the most predictable routine on Earth, the light/dark pattern of the Earth’s revolution around the sun.
It uses sunlight to time many of the processes and behaviors that repeat throughout a regular 24-hour cycle, including your sleep cycle. Sunlight suppresses sleep hormones. As light starts to fade, those hormones come out in full force.
However, electricity has made rising and setting with the sun a thing of the past. While the brain will continue to respond to your environment and light levels, it also adapts and responds to your habits. A bedtime routine acts as a sleep cue in lieu of traditional light.
Given enough time, the brain will recognize when to start gearing up for the sleep cycle based on your bedtime routine. To be successful, you need to perform each activity in the same order and start them at the same time every day.
However, first you have to decide what you’re going to include. Our biggest tip—choose activities that relax you, which is, of course, the second purpose of the bedtime routine.
Start active: Turning out lights, checking windows and doors, or peaking in on children might be where you start. If you’ve already done those things, head straight to the basic tasks of getting ready for bed—changing into pajamas, brushing your teeth, and using the bathroom.
The transition: Transition activities take you from active to calm because they bring down your heart rate and blood pressure. They can really be anything you want as long as they relax you.
Reading a book, listening to quiet music, and journaling are common transition activities. Gentle yoga has been shown to reduce stress-related inflammatory proteins in the bloodstream and can even be done while in bed. If cutting coupons or crocheting makes you sleepy, make it part of your routine. However, try to avoid televisions, laptops, and other electronic devices that emit bright light. Bright light, especially that on the blue spectrum, suppresses sleep hormones.
The finale: If you’re not already in bed by this time, you should be. This really isn’t a necessity, but if your eyes are still open, you can go through a final exercise for sleep. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or a final yogic resting pose should smoothly transition you to sleep.
Build your routine on other healthy sleep habits. Like a bedroom that’s dark, cool, and quiet and a mattress that supports your weight and preferred sleep style. Keep your bedtime (and wake up time) consistent, and avoid high-fat meals and caffeine before going to bed.
Once you’ve established a routine, it can help you fall asleep no matter where you are. Give it time. Be consistent. You may even wonder how you ever fell asleep without it.