If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results, then add my picture next to this definition. Every day, usually while fighting with my children to get ready for bed, I tell myself I’m going to get to bed at a reasonable hour too. I know I need more sleep. I tell myself I want more sleep. I feel the impact of exhaustion behind my eyes, in my bones, and with every short remark I give when I have lost all of my energy for summoning patience. I’m usually snuggled into by bed by 11:00 p.m. each night and have the opportunity to just shut my eyes and sleep. Instead, time magically disappears while watching YouTube or TikTok videos or listening to an audiobook. I stay up too late, drag myself out of bed, and tell myself tonight will be different.
I have pre-sleep habits, but not ones that are helping me get the rest I need and crave. These habits will help you improve or fix the reasons you’re not sleeping as well or as much as you would like each night.
1. Turn Off The Electronics
I know! You know it too, but it’s hard. Whether you are catching up on work, watching Netflix, or scrolling through your phone to stay informed or dead inside, it feels impossible to turn off our electronics. But Cathy Anne Goldstein, M.D., a clinical associate professor of sleep medicine at University of Michigan Medicine says we should turn off close-range screens within two hours of bedtime. This is because LED light exposure within four hours of sleep can shift your internal clock and make it harder to fall asleep and then get up in the morning.
While this is great in theory, I know myself too well to know I’m not going to not that. Instead, I’m going to aim for less scrolling to give myself more time for sleep and hopefully fewer regrets. It’s a start.
Sticking to a sleep schedule will keep your internal clock expecting and reacting to when it’s time to sleep and wake up each day. This helps us fall asleep and then get up each morning to start our day. Even if we didn’t get the best night of sleep or if it’s the weekend, experts recommend that we go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each day. This is something I’m good at and as much as it hurts sometimes to roll out of bed after losing an hour of sleep if I was up too late, I feel the effects of that less than sleeping in by an hour or two and throwing my sleep off in that way.
3. Turn On Sound
The sound of a fan or white noise machine can drown out those innocuous noises that we only seem to notice as we try to drift off to sleep. Adding white noise to your space can take away the unpredictable sounds of the heater or air conditioner turning on and help you relax knowing that you won’t be bothered by bumps in the night. The simple act of turning on your white noise machine can be part of a nightly routine that gets your body ready for a good night’s sleep.
4. Write It Down
Not that I can solve anything by overthinking it late at night, but I sure do try! I have learned that if I make a to-do list for the next day before getting into bed or if I get up and write down the thoughts running through my head, I’m able to fall asleep quicker. It takes away the “OMG I need to remember this!” feeling as well as reduces my anxiety. Just like saying something out loud can lessen its weight, so can writing it down.
5. Turn Down The Lights
When it starts to get dark outside, my kids flip on all of the light switches in the house to make it seem like the sun never went down. In order to get them ready for bedtime, I start to turn off overhead lights and flip on lamps instead. I do this in my own room too because it’s one more signal to my brain that bedtime is near.
6. Read Or Listen To A Story
Again, we do this with our kids to help them unwind and settle into sleep. Adults benefit from reading before bed too. If actual paper books aren’t your thing—remember screens aren’t ideal—try listening to a book or podcast specifically for bedtime. Apps like Headspace, Calm, and Sleepiest are popular for nighttime listening and offer stories and meditations.
7. Adjust What You Eat—Or Drink
If you’re hungry and need a snack before bed, go for it! But try to avoid spicy or greasy foods that can cause heartburn and indigestion because that can make it hard to fall asleep. Too much caffeine or carbonated beverages can also make it difficult to fall or stay asleep.
8. Nap Sooner
Plenty of folks sneak in naps during the day—my partner is taking one now—but to help yourself at night, it’s better to snooze earlier in the day than later. If you need to close your eyes for a bit, do it before 3:00 p.m. and keep it short; experts recommend naps no longer than 20 minutes.
9. Exercise Sooner Too
I am more likely to shake off afternoon grogginess with a workout than a nap. Exercise releases cortisol which activates us and gets us moving but it also raises our core body temperature—this is the opposite of what our body does before sleep. Working out will help us sleep better but it’s best to get your sweat on at least a few hours before bedtime.
It’s been proven that daily meditation improves sleep. One study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed the benefits of mindful meditation and the positive impact it had on sleep. Meditating throughout the day or right before bed are both beneficial ways to get a better night’s sleep. Apps like Simple Habit and Ten Percent Happier are great to get your started.
As you try these out, be gentle on yourself. Pick one or two and see if you find success but remember that consistency is key to establishing new habits that will make us feel better. Sweet dreams!