- Preparing for sleep should start two to three hours before bedtime.
- Winding down with a relaxing before-bed routine and dimming the lights will tell your body it’s time for sleep.
- Avoid doing non-sleep activities in bed, especially worrying and watching Netflix.
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Investing in your sleep will bring returns on your productivity, mental health, and energy level during the day, sleep expert Michael Grandner said. But sometimes getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done.
Preparing for sleep should begin with practicing good “sleep hygiene” in the hours before bedtime, which means avoiding exercise, alcohol, smoking, and caffeine during that period, said Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, sleep researcher and associate professor at Penn State University.
But even small things like the lighting in your home or what you do in your bed during the day can affect your ability to fall asleep when the time comes. The good news is that using these factors to your advantage can result in better sleep and a more pleasant bedtime ritual.
Insider spoke with four sleep experts about what they do to get ready for bed and optimise their sleep.
Take some time to wind down
Two or three hours before you go to sleep, you should start thinking about when and how you’re going to unwind.
Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at University of Arizona, told Insider he spends some time catching up on work after dinner, but he always plans ahead for what time he’ll need to put his work down.
“Some days, I don’t need a lot of wind-down time,” Grandner told Insider. “If the car is not going very fast, you don’t need to brake very far ahead of the intersection. But some days you’re going 100 miles an hour. You’ve got to give yourself enough time to brake.”
Creating a relaxing evening routine can help you mentally transition out of a busy day. Grandner said he often goes for a post-dinner walk to clear his mind. If exercise is your stress reliever, make sure to get in your workout a few hours before bed so the endorphins don’t keep you awake later.
Self-care can also take the form of a before-bed spa treatment. Rebecca Robbins, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sleep Matters Initiative at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said she takes a hot shower to wash off the day and uses night creams with relaxing scents like lavender, which she’s come to associate with sleep.
Dim the lights and turn down the thermostat
You can tell your body to prepare for sleep by adjusting the light and temperature in your house, Cathy Goldstein, associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Centre, told Insider.
“After dinnertime, which for us is about three hours before bedtime, I start dimming the lights all over our house,” Goldstein said. “We know that light within two to four hours before bedtime can push your internal clock or circadian rhythm later.”
She explained that exposure to light can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that lets your body know it’s time for sleep.
Robbins added that the cool, blue light of a computer screen is particularly alerting because it’s similar in tone to sunlight. If you have to use your computer at night, she recommends installing an app like f.lux, which adjusts your display to emit warmer hues at night.
Goldstein said she also turns down the heat in her home by a few degrees after dinner to trigger a drop in body temperature, another biological signal that facilitates sleep onset. If you opt to shower at night, she recommends getting that in at least an hour before bedtime to allow your temperature to decrease afterwards.
Don’t watch Netflix in bed
Along with cues like light, temperature, and scent, your bed itself should be a trigger for sleep. All four experts agreed that you should try to avoid doing non-sleep activities â€” especially watching TV on your laptop â€” in bed.
“If you’re doing all these other things in bed, the bed doesn’t become the place for sleeping. It becomes the bed for anything,” Grandner said.
To people who are thinking, “Well, my bed is more comfortable than the couch,” Fernandez-Mendoza posed a question: “Would you eat in your bathroom?”
By training your mind that your bed is the place for sleep, just like your bathroom is the place for other biological needs, you’ll be able to fall asleep faster and without the lull of your favourite sitcom in the background.
If you’re living in a small space, you should designate a corner for work and an area for leisure, so you’re really not getting into bed until it’s time for sleep. And if you can’t avoid spending some waking time in bed, Grandner recommended sitting up on top of the covers, or even turning your body to physically differentiate from your sleep position.
If your worries are keeping you awake, get out of bed
Spending time awake in bed when you can’t fall asleep will only lay the foundation for future sleepless nights, Grandner said. If it’s been more than 20-30 minutes of tossing and turning, just get up.
“If you feel awake â€” some patients call it the second wind â€” get the heck out of there,” Fernandez-Mendoza said. “The more you push your brain, it will eventually fall asleep. So get out of there, go into another room until you feel sleepy again, and go back to bed. And repeat that as many times as you need.”
Robbins said she likes to do some meditation or yoga on the floor next to her bed until she feels sleepy. She also keeps a notepad on her bedside table to jot down any specific worries or to-do list items that are keeping her up. Writing them down on paper, rather than opening her phone or laptop, decreases the likelihood of encountering another distraction.
Keeping your phone on aeroplane mode ensures that you won’t get sucked into social media on a sleepless night, Robbins added. To preemptively avoid seeing something that might keep you up worrying, Goldstein recommended having an hour of phone-free time before bed.
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