All the people in my household struggle with sleep in some form or another. And each is uniquely triggered by things in their environment or body process that can set them up for a poor night of sleep. So, keeping a consistent routine and being aware of our surroundings has been an imperative part of our family life. Especially toward the evening hours.
Below, you’ll find an extensive list of bedtime routines that are supported by research and that members of our family have benefitted from personally. Not everything will be right for you. An activity that sends one person off to dreamland might cause another to become more alert or wound up. So, start out with three bedtime routines to incorporate into your evening. Try them on and see how they feel. Do they help you relax mentally and physically? If so, incorporate them into your life as a steady and positive habit.
Create a Routine
First and foremost, creating a routine signals to your brain that it’s time to wind down. Any culmination of the ideas below can become part of your ritual. My routine is as follows, with some minor variations.
About two hours before bedtime, I put 20 drops of soothing essential oil* into my diffuser and let that permeate the house. Usually a blend of lavender, cedarwood, patchouli, or anything that makes me feel grounded and peaceful.
Next, I tidy up the house by putting stray shoes, dishes, or laundry away.
Overhead lights get turned off and are replaced by a few sporadic lamps at key points in the house. The last person to bed turns them off.
Finally, I take a bath. If it’s been a challenging day, I won’t hesitate to put a few drops of essential oils in my water such as ylang-ylang or lavender. I may also use a handful of Epsom salts. I don’t fill up the tub too much but will soak in the super hot, semi-shallow water for about 10 minutes.
Afterward, I may write until my eyes become heavy. The blue light of my laptop does not seem to bother me so long as it is dimmed considerably. However, I can only engage in a task that does not rev up certain parts of my brain. Writing and reading use slower, creative areas. Whereas spreadsheets or data rev it up. I save the latter for daytime to-dos.
I also make it a point to avoid news and social media within the two hours before bedtime.
Shut Down Electronics
I know I just said that I often write on my laptop before bed, but this will be counterproductive to many. My husband, for instance, has to wind down for about an hour after writing prior to hitting the hay. Again, what works for some won’t work for all.
Many folks are highly sensitive to the electronic devices in their homes. Research shows this is because of the blue and white light emitted from the screens, as well as the potential stimulation of the information. Therefore, it is a good practice for most to shut down computers, tablets, and smartphones roughly one to two hours before bed. Doing so has displayed time and time again that sleep will improve significantly with this simple practice (1).
Prepare Your Bedroom
Clean - For me, the best thing about staying in a hotel is knowing that I will eventually creep into crisp, clean, white sheets at the end of a long day. Your bedroom can provide this same reassurance. The best way to achieve this is to start at the beginning of your day, the moment you make your bed. From there, keep your space tidy by picking up clothing to be washed or put away. Make sure random items get where they need to be and not simply to the nearest surface. This way, by the time you reach the point of the day where cleaning is the last thing you want to do, you won't have to! You'll also want to tend to weekly needs, such as cleaning the bedding and floors, dusting, and minor organizing in order to maximize the comfort level in your bedroom.
Air quality - Individual quality of air will differ depending on where you live. A compact city or living near an industrial plant will require greater attention to air cleanliness. I recommend investing in a good air filtration unit. Research has shown that air quality definitely plays on sleep quality, and subsequently affects problem-solving and overall performance the next day (2).
Aromatherapy - While the abilities of essential oils have indeed been overdramatized in the last two decades, there is no doubt they can play a positive role in our wellbeing. Aromatherapy has been widely studied and is consistently found to benefit wellness, particularly for our mental and emotional states (3).
I recommend researching and experimenting with those that consistently produce feelings of safety and wellbeing (4). These include lavender, marjoram, chamomile, clary sage, ylang-ylang, patchouli, patchouli, and sandalwood, just to name a few. However, you may have your own preference for aroma, so do some research and see what makes you feel most settled and calm.
A good way to use your oils is to diffuse them, make a simple pillow spray, or add them to a carrier oil, such as coconut. This way you can massage them into your arms and neck, supposing your skin type tolerates them topically. Also, it is best to purchase organic essential oils. This confirms they do not carry synthetics and ensures that harmful pesticides were not applied to the plant.
Dim the Lights
About two hours before bed, start dimming the lights. This may be less of an option if it is summer, as it remains bright outside longer. However, if possible, keep lights off or low in the hours leading up to bedtime. For me, once the sun starts setting, all lights are off, aside from table lamps. Plus, in my kids’ rooms, we opt for color-changing bulbs. This allows us to alter the brightness of their lamplight or go for something more soothing altogether, such as blue or purple.
Keeping lights low sends a very important message to your brain: nighttime is coming. Thus, it needs to begin its natural production of melatonin (5). If you start this process too close to bedtime, you won’t get the signal until you’ve been laying there for a period of time. By then, you may already be feeling frustrated that you haven't fallen asleep yet.
Read a Physical Book
Reading a good book before bed can have a positive impact on sleep. Especially if it develops into a trigger that signals 'bedtime' to your brain. Reading also manages to move us outside of our daily woes and into another world. This can be relaxing for many. Though, the type of book might be key for some. A light fantasy or soothing self-help is likely best for drifting off to sleep. Additionally, it is important to note that it should be a physical paper book, not an e-book. This is because the blue light emitted by the electronic device is usually counterproductive to sleep rhythms and can actually suppress the release of melatonin, delay sleep onset, and cause less REM through the night (6).
Keep Your House Cool
Maintaining a moderately low temperature in your home prior to hitting the hay will be important to your comfort throughout the night. I tend to get cold. This means I drive my husband crazy by insisting the temperature of the house remain above 75°F during the day... plus socks, plus a hoodie. And if it's winter, I multiply those layers. However, I have learned that if the temperature is anything above 71°F during the night, I will wake up in a sweat and be tired the next day. Research confirms that environmental temperature while sleeping impacts your quality of sleep and feeling of rejuvenation the next day (7). So, this one is important. Thus, tinker around with your thermostat and see what the magic temperature is for you while seeping. And if you don’t have air conditioning, or you need something extra, consider investing in a portable bedroom fan.
Have a Warm Drink
When I was a kid, I remember every so often, my mom making me a warm glass of milk with a spoonful of molasses stirred in. It was one of those simple yet impactful childhood memories. And this small act of love from my mother reassured my safety and set me up for a state of restfulness.
Having something warm to drink soothes the nerves. It could, of course, be a warm glass of milk, though most will opt for a soothing cup of tea. You can find one that is specifically blended for sleep and contains chamomile, lavender, or valerian root.
Jotting down things you are grateful for has a very powerful impact. Simply taking time to reflect on all that you have can move you from a state of anxiety into a state of calm. There is a truckload of research on the benefits of gratitude journaling, and one of those is improved sleep (8). So, purchase a special journal or keep a simple ruled notebook and pen by your bedside. Choose three days out of the week to focus on the large and small things you are grateful for before you sail off to sleep.
Set Out Tomorrow's Clothes
Setting your clothes out for the next day is an easy way to reduce anxiety before bed. It is one less thing to worry about for the next day and signals to your brain that you are prepped and ready for the moment your alarm goes off. This routine is also helpful to me when I have to wake up super early. It somehow acts as a gentle reminder of my responsibilities or goals for the day. Those clothes patiently hanging in my bathroom reduce the likelihood that I'll hit the snooze button. It's kind of magic.
If you distinctly find it difficult to fall asleep because your mind starts rolling over everything in your head, then you should consider what I call a brain dump. It’s a tremendously therapeutic way to journal and has meditative and therapeutic qualities. During your brain dump, you will set a timer for approximately five minutes and simply write down everything that is in your head, no filter. Moving your jumble of thoughts into a physical, written form allows you to better process them. You can even purchase a special journal to initiate this new practice, though simple lined paper is great too.
Just know that this practice may or may not be right for you. If you find that it stirs up problem-solving, you may want to save it as a morning or afternoon routine. Either way, I highly recommend you incorporate this approach to thought processing somewhere into your day or week.
This is a great way to calm your energy levels, rest your muscles, and get you into a restful state. This practice is widely researched and consistently finds test subjects improve their sleep and overall wellness, including daytime perceptions of stress, anxiety, and depression (9). There’s nothing to lose. You can find a plethora of guided sleep meditations on YouTube. The key will just be finding a voice and style that you like above the others.
Stretch and Self-Massage
Stretching and massaging key muscles before crawling into bed can dramatically help your body prepare for a good night’s sleep. This is because it helps reduce tension that naturally accumulates in parts of the body, particularly your neck and shoulders, feet, back, and temples.
So, before creeping into your covers, dim the lights and find an open space on the floor to sit. You can start with a few simple stretches, focusing on any muscles that feel particularly tight. Hold each pose for approximately 30 seconds before releasing and moving on to another. Consider performing at least five different stretches.
While here, consider grabbing your favorite lotion or body oil. Use generous amounts to slowly and delicately move over tense muscles in your feet, calves, hamstrings, shoulders, neck, temples, and hands. You can also do this while you are comfortably seated up in your bed, before turning out your lamp. And, of course, don't feel bashful about asking your significant other to do this for you if your situation allows. Mutually serving each other builds the relationship. I give my husband back massages a few times a week and he massages my feet. It's a win-win.
It's no secret that we humans need exercise, yet the circumstances of our world make it more difficult to get. The CDC recommends most adults get an average of 22 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each day (10). This could be a hike, spin class, dancing, lifting at the gym, or really any other way you enjoy getting your body moving. And it should come as no surprise that making space for this exercise improves your quality of sleep. This generally includes how quickly you're able to nod off as well as the amount of time you spend in deep sleep and REM sleep. So, making sure you are getting your steps in benefits your whole body throughout the day and night.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
What we eat plays a massive role in everything that goes on within our body. How well we sleep is no exception. Research has found that disruptions in sleep can be linked to a diet that is insufficient in critical micronutrients. Namely, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K (11). Additionally, diets high in carbohydrates can lead to more night wakings and reduced amounts of deep sleep (12).
The ideal diet for optimal health is high in micronutrients—these are your vitamins and minerals. And has a balanced ratio of macronutrients—proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The model diet for healthy sleep and day-to-day living would look something like the Mediterranean Diet, which is dominantly plant-based, high in fiber, and incorporates moderate amounts of lean protein. This diet has been shown to actually improve the quality of sleep in several studies (13)
Substance Can Help
Sometimes you just need a little boost and might find that natural substances are a good way to get that. If so, there are many herbs that have proven benefits to help you sleep—whether it's getting there or staying there.
My word of warning is to do your research and find studies that note both the benefits and side effects experienced by test subjects. Also, what works for some might not be right for you. Keep trying and experimenting, all while looking for the purest forms of whatever you are trying out. And last, usually liquid forms work best. They tend to have a faster and longer-lasting effect, in my experience.
One supplement I suggest is Tulsi, also known as holy basil. This plant encourages a healthy response to stress, calms the nerves, boosts natural energy production—this includes proper sleep patterns—and promotes mental well-being (14).
I personally enjoy Sleepytime Tea. It’s a pleasant blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, tilia flowers, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms, hawthorn, and rosebuds. For just a few dollars, this blend is nice if I’m needing a little assistance getting my body ready for sleep. I’ve spent much more on tinctures from Etsy, but can’t say they do a better job than this simple tea.
Last, is always melatonin. Using this as an occasional supplement can help initiate sleep and restore a productive circadian rhythm, which is imperative to optimal daily function and long-term health (15). This was a staple in our home for years and continues to be something nice to have on hand. Again, I recommend a liquid form of this substance and will link the brand I use and heartily trust below.
So there you have it. Fifteen powerful ways to improve your sleep.
Combining at least three that resonate for you will ensure a better and more restful night, thus, improving your quality of life. I hope these tips are helpful to you and would love to hear what you try or are already doing that you can't live without. Until then, wishing you a good night.
Products mentioned in this article
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*The essential oil company linked is a company that I own and operate. Therefore, I will make a profit off of any sales made.
No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.