As much as you might have dreaded bedtime as a kid, you can't argue with the fact that your parents had a way of knowing when you were tired before you even did. Fast forward to adulthood and plenty of us are still staying up way too late, fighting our own self-imposed bedtimes, or just plain trying to fall asleep.
One solution we can borrow from childhood is the bedtime routine. Reading a book, singing a song, turning on a night light—all of it is essentially a routine that helped prepare your kid body and brain for bed. Turns out, adults can do the same thing if we want to sleep better. Below, Jennifer Kanady, PhD, Senior Clinical Development Lead for Sleep at Big Health (aka a sleep doc) shares her nighttime routine below and how you can create your own snooze-inducing routine.
Why create a bedtime routine?
According to Dr. Kanady, sleep loves routine since our bodies are programmed to respond to them. "Our circadian rhythms—an important process for regulating sleep—love regularity," she says. "Establishing a consistent routine helps our brains learn when it is time to sleep."
For this reason, creating a routine around bedtime can be helpful for promoting better-quality rest overall. "I aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends," says Dr. Kanady. She also notes the importance of finding a way to properly wind down at night since: "Going to bed stressed and with an overactive mind can make it difficult to fall asleep."
3 ways a sleep doc preps for a solid night's sleep
Do something relaxing or enjoyable
One way to avoid stress before bed is by avoiding anything stimulating or potentially stressful. Think work emails, news headlines, and social media. "As part of my wind-down routine, I incorporate things I find relaxing and enjoyable such as mindfulness, reading, or listening to music," Dr. Kanady says. You can do anything that relaxes you, but the key is to make sure it's something that won't potentially cause stress.
Avoid screens, phones, and tablets
Every sleep expert preaches about avoiding screens from your devices at night because, well, the blue light can keep you from sleeping well. "I do my best to avoid looking at tablets, smartphones, or other devices before bed as the content is often stimulating and may make it more difficult to sleep," Dr. Kanady says. "The light emitted from these devices is often bright enough to inhibit the release of melatonin, an important hormone for preparing the brain and body for sleep."
Create the right environment
Your environment is key when it comes to sleeping well. Take some time to make your bedroom a slumber cave and you'll have the setup for a better night's sleep. "Bedrooms that are too warm, noisy, and bright prevent us from having good sleep, so I aim to ensure my bedroom is well ventilated, quiet, and dark," Dr. Kanady says.
How to create your own ideal sleep routine
A good night's sleep doesn't always start right before bed. What you do all day leading up to bedtime counts, too. The steps below can help you not only create an ideal night routine but help you identify some common pitfalls from your day that could be interrupting your zzzs later at night.
1. Identify your ideal amount of sleep
"Most adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep," Dr. Kanady says. Howeer, she notes, this is just an average, and sleep needs can differ among people (and change over their lifespan). "Some people can manage on less sleep, whereas others need more," she says. "Experiment to find the amount of sleep that would allow you to wake up feeling refreshed and alert, ready to start the day and function without being tired." Find your sleep sweet spot, and stick to it as much as possible.
2. Get regular
"Our circadian rhythms love regularity and our brains are very good at making associations," Dr. Kanady says. "Creating a routine that you follow daily can help teach your brain when you are supposed to be awake and when you are supposed to be asleep." Routines outside of nighttime help, too, since the body loves predictability. Try to eat meals, exercise, and wake up at consistent times each day.
3. Pay attention to your energizing actions
"Be mindful of your caffeine and alcohol consumption throughout the day," says Dr. Kanady. Keep tabs on when you exercise, too, and take note if later workouts keep you awake too late into the night. "While regular exercise can help your sleep and mental health, be wary of engaging in vigorous exercise before bed," she says. "All of these actions can have an alerting effect, keeping you awake rather than encouraging sound sleep."
4. Prioritize sleep as a part of your overall health
If good sleep isn't already part of your overall approach to wellness, now is the time. "Getting too little or poor quality sleep doesn’t just leave us feeling sleepy and irritable the next day," Dr. Kanady says. "Research suggests that if we experience poor sleep over a longer period of time, it can increase our risk of developing a range of mental and physical illnesses."
5. Seek additional support
Okay, so what if you're already doing these things and still not sleeping well? "You may need some additional support," says Dr. Kanady. If you think you may have insomnia or another sleep disorder, know that a doctor can help you seek additional treatment and resources so you can sleep like a baby sooner rather than later.
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