By Glen Lubbert
Do you ever feel like you can’t turn your brain off at night? If so, you’re not alone.
The problem of getting to sleep is not a small one: One in four U.S. adults don’t get enough sleep, getting 6 hours or less a night. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours, although some people may need as few as 6 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.
Besides increasing all-cause mortality, losing sleep is also related to problems in both concentration and memory, which lead you to give in to impulsivity and procrastination.
Researchers have shown that moderate sleep deficiency produces the same cognitive and motor impairments as walking around drunk. Needless to say, getting adequate sleep isn’t everything, but it impacts everything.
But trying to wind down after a long day of work can be hard—especially when you’re dealing with stress. Having a good wind-down routine is an essential part of calming your nervous system and allowing you to get enough rest each night to keep yourself healthy and productive during the day.
To help you get the sleep you need, let’s explore some Tiny Habits to create a successful wind-down routine.
Set A Sleep Schedule and Stick To It
One of the best ways to ensure good quality sleep is to establish—and stick to—a consistent sleep schedule. Your body has its own internal clock that it follows, which means going to bed and waking up around the same time every day helps it adjust and develop a steady rhythm. This makes it easier for your body to recognize when it’s time for sleep, which can make winding down much more efficient and effective.
One major thing that keeps the nervous system in its alert state that is not conducive to winding down is electronic devices such as phones and tablets. The blue light emitted by screens suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, making it harder for you to fall asleep and feel fully rested.
To help stick to a sleep schedule, one of the first Tiny Habits I recommend is to build in a habit to put the phone to “bed” 2-3 hours before your bedtime.
This means plugging it into its charger outside of the bedroom.
Keeping it outside of the bedroom also has the added benefit of giving your brain time to wake up in the morning without immediately grabbing the phone. Scientific research has shown that when you look at your phone first thing in the morning, your brain experiences a sudden surge in cortisol (the stress hormone) which can negatively impact your mood and alertness. Additionally, exposing yourself to social media and news can increase anxiety and stress levels, leading to a less productive and fulfilling day.
Using the clock for a prompt to put the phone to “bed” works well. When you match a new tiny habit with the prompt, this is called a Tiny Habit recipe. For example:
After I notice it’s past 8:30, I will put the phone to bed.
I usually don’t recommend using phone alerts as prompts for a Tiny Habit, but in this case, I like to use an alarm to alert me that it’s 8:30. It’s easy to let time slip away, especially in the evening when our brain is fatigued from a day of decisions. This is a slight variation on the Tiny Habit recipe above:
After I hear my 8:30 alarm, I will put the phone to bed.
Have fun with it, like saying, “goodnight phone. It’s your bedtime.”
Create An Environment That Encourages Relaxation
Creating an environment in your bedroom that promotes relaxation is key. Take some time before bed each night to dim any bright lights, shut off screens, and start turning your attention away from work-related tasks or other stressful activities. Also consider incorporating elements into your room that promote tranquility, like black-out shades, calming music, and a candle. This will help signal to your mind and body that it’s time to unwind and creates a magnetically-attractive cocoon environment.
Temperature is also a very important environmental factor. Our bodies naturally regulate our sleep-wake cycle based on changes in temperature. As bedtime approaches, our body temperature naturally drops, signaling to our brain that it is time to sleep.
A cooler room temperature helps to mimic this natural drop in body temperature and facilitates the onset of sleep. Additionally, when we sleep in a cooler environment, our body works to generate heat, which can help us feel more comfortable and fall asleep faster. Research has shown that the optimal room temperature for sleep is around 65°F (18°C), so it’s recommended to keep your sleeping environment cool and comfortable to help improve the quality of your sleep.
Here are some recommended Tiny Habit recipes for setting your environment for a restful night of sleep:
After I clean the last dish from dinner, I will dim the lights in the house.
After I turn off the lights in the house for the evening, I will set the thermostat to 65 degrees.
After I enter my bedroom for the night, I will close the black out shades on the windows.
With each one, it’s helpful to think of the satisfaction a good night of sleep will be for you after you do the habit. This will help release the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine, helping make the behavior more automatic and less effortful.
Practice Stress-Relieving Rituals Before Bed
Finally, try implementing stress-relieving rituals into your nightly routine as well. This could include things like taking a warm bath or shower, doing some gentle yoga stretches, journaling about what happened during the day or writing down goals for tomorrow, meditating or deep breathing exercises, reading an enjoyable book (preferably one without too much action), or listening to soothing music before bedtime. These activities can help relax both your body and mind so that you can drift off into dreamland more easily.
A warm bath or hot shower before bed can help you sleep better by regulating your body temperature. As you read above about setting up your environment for a cocoon of sleep, temperature is an important and easy way to help your body prepare for sleep.
As you soak in warm water or take a hot shower, your body temperature rises, which then triggers a rapid drop in body temperature when you step out of the bath or shower. This drop in body temperature signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep, making it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
The warm water can also help to relax your muscles and reduce tension to help with the wind down process. However, it’s important to note that taking a hot bath or shower too close to bedtime can interfere with your body’s natural drop in temperature and make it harder to fall asleep, so it’s best to allow some time to pass between your bath or shower and bedtime.
Here are some recommended Tiny Habit recipes for setting your stress-relieving wind down ritual:
After I close the door to the kids room at night for their bedtime, I will turn the shower on (or run the water for a bath).
After I climb into bed, I will open a book to read.
After I brush my teeth and leave the bathroom for the night, I will meditate (or sit calmly with my eyes closed) for one minute.
Make this wind down routine your own. Consider what relaxes you and make space for that. Often I find, once you put the phone to “bed” you naturally begin to design a wind down that works for you.
By following these Tiny Habits on setting a sleep schedule, creating an environment that encourages relaxation, and practicing stress-relieving rituals before bedtime each night, you’ll be well on your way towards getting better quality sleep every single night.