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7 Bedtime Routines to Help You Sleep Tight

We all know the feeling of hearing the alarm go off in the morning and wanting 3 more hours in bed before we’ll be ready to tackle the day ahead. Or those days where no amount of coffee will take away the dull headache that keeps nagging all morning. But how can we avoid the poor nights’ sleep that causes these things? It starts before our head hits the pillow the night before.

“Our bodies operate on an internal 24-hour clock known as our circadian rhythm, so when we do the same things every night, we signal our brains to wind down and get ready for a good night’s rest ahead.”

Sleep is a critical element in our overall health and wellbeing. Sleep plays a key role in everything from our mood, to immune function, and even recovering from our workouts.

Related: Intensity – The Key to Improving Your Physical Fitness

As great as sleep is, it can feel like the quality of our sleep is out of our control entirely. However, we can take command of our sleeping habits. Let’s look at some simple changes we can make to our bedtime routines that could make a big difference in how we sleep.

1) SET A CONSISTENT BEDTIME

Our bodies operate on an internal 24-hour clock known as our circadian rhythm, so when we do the same things every night, we signal our brains to wind down and get ready for a good night’s rest ahead. Therefore, the most important thing we can do to improve our sleeping pattern is to have a set time we go to bed every night. This simple solution might just be the key to saying goodbye to those nights spent tossing and turning just hoping we’ll fall asleep eventually, even though we don’t feel the slightest bit tired. Try to keep your bedtime consistent on the weekends, too. This will make it easier to fall asleep Sunday night and make Monday feel a little less like Monday.

2) CUT OUT SCREEN TIME

Do you fall victim to the nighttime Instagram or Facebook scroll after hopping into bed? Yeah, me too. But the main thing that late night screen time is doing to us is making it harder to fall asleep. Screens emit blue light, which inhibits production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone, disrupting our sleep patterns. In studies, people who used light-emitting devices before bed took longer to fall asleep, spent less time in REM sleep, and took longer to wake up the next morning even after receiving the same amount of sleep. It’s also been shown that the “Night Shift” feature on many phones may not help much. Even just having our phone near us during the night has been shown to raise our alertness levels and leave us with less restful sleep. So cut out all screen time for at least 30 minutes before you plan on going to sleep. Use this time for any other bedtime routine, breakfast prep, or read a printed book to settle down the mind and give the eyes a break before bed.

3) TAKE A DEEP BREATH

Slowing down our breath is one of the most effective methods we have to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that calms us down. When we focus on our breath for even a short amount of time, all those other thoughts we have running through our mind after a busy day tend to float away, leaving us ready to get some serious shuteye. Try this: when you get into bed, lay down on your back and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a big breath in through your nose while counting to 5, trying to push the belly as far upwards as possible. Pause for 1 second after the inhale, then open the mouth and slowly breath out, also on the count of 5, letting the belly fall as we do so. Repeat 10-15 times, or, what I find usually happens, as many times as you can until you lose count and realize you’re too sleepy to continue.

4) REFLECT

Now that our phones are out of the picture to distract us before bed, we can focus inward and reflect on the day we’re about to finish. There’s no right or wrong way to reflect. If you like writing stuff down, maybe journal about your day to get thoughts on paper. But if that’s hard for you to do every night, just take a couple moments while sitting or lying down to think of things like the highs and lows of the day, the things you’re proud of, and whether or not you got closer to achieving your goals in the last 24 hours. Have a particularly rough or stressful day? Maybe use this time to remind yourself of some things you’re grateful for. You might find that this reflection, however you go about it, goes a long way in releasing any tension from the day, leaving you free to get some peaceful sleep.

5) STRETCH IT OUT

Recent research indicates that some forms of exercise done before bed may actually help us sleep better. While I wouldn’t recommend sprinting laps around your house, light exercise – and stretching and mobility work in particular – can help us settle down, release any tension built up from the day, and send blood to our muscles and joints to aid in recovery. If you’ve been sitting most of the day, some hip openers or thoracic spine mobility exercises before bed might be just the thing you need.

Related: The 4 Best Hip Openers to Improve Your Mobility

6) THINK AHEAD

If you find yourself about to get into bed and not even remotely tired yet, don’t! Use that energy to prep for your morning. Some great options include: getting your gym gear ready to go, preparing tomorrow’s breakfast or lunch, and setting the timer on your coffee maker. Not only will you use your energy productively, but you’ll save valuable time in the morning, and feel more at ease about the day to come once you do crawl into bed, putting yourself in a better frame of mind to fall asleep quickly.

7) HAVE AN (ALTERNATIVE) NIGHTCAP

While a drink before bed might help you fall asleep faster, you’ve probably heard by now that the sleep you do get after that nightcap isn’t quite as restorative as we’d hope. However, if you do need to quench your thirst late at night, try tea instead. Certain teas can calm the nerves, settle the gut, and help us sleep. Stomach growling before bed? Try having a snack that contains protein like cottage cheese or your favorite nut butter. These snacks keep you satisfied through the night, helping you sleep.

Related: Protein Intake for Best Results

It’s important to note that if any of these ideas feel like a burden or don’t seem like they’re helping you sleep soundly at night after about a week of trying them, don’t feel obligated to stick with them. Try any of these suggestions for a week. If it doesn’t feel like it’s helping, or if it’s too burdensome, try something else. Everyone will have a unique bedtime routine that works for them, so experiment to find what works best for you. Through finding a bedtime routine that creates better sleep, the hours we’re awake are nearly guaranteed to be happier and healthier. So get to work and get some sleep!

–Jay Alexander

Coach/Trainer

jay@crossfitslipstream.com