This Is Why Having an Evening Routine Is *Key* for Better Sleep
Sleep experts talk how to start one, its benefits, and what to stop doing.
We know the benefits of a good morning routine can include feelings of being productive, more positive, and less stressed. But what about evening routines? If you're someone who struggles with falling asleep, consider starting a nighttime routine to help you wind down before bed.
Sleep experts agree that incorporating an evening routine into your daily schedule (and being consistent with it) can promote better sleep. If you're not sure where to begin, however, allow us to help. We reached out to three sleep experts to give us insight on how to start an evening routine, its benefits, and some tips you can start doing tonight.
How to start an evening routine?
There are many ways to create an evening routine. "Bedtime routines are very personal, and I encourage people to do whatever is enjoyable for them," says Dr. Jade Wu, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist. Try activities that make you relax, such as taking a hot shower, reading a book, journaling, listening to music, meditation, or yoga. "The specific activity doesn't matter so much as the pleasant feelings of the ritual and having enough consistency that the wind-down itself starts to signal relaxation and sleepiness," she says.
So, how do you become consistent with your evening routine? The first thing you can do is make a list of activities that calm your body and mind, says Dr. Whitney Roban, a sleep specialist. Once you know which bedtime activities relax you, write out a plan for yourself, including the time you begin your routine and the order of activities. Writing your routine down will help you remain consistent and help it become second nature. You can also try using a sleep assistant like the Hatch Restore, which Dr. Wu says helps pre-program a wind-down routine for you so you can get into the habit easily. "Sleeping on a consistent schedule does so much good for your body and its circadian rhythm (our internal clock)," says Dr. Michael Breus, the chief sleep advisor at Purple. "When your body can predict what's happening next, it can be more efficient, use less energy, and perform better.
If you're not into making lists, though, Dr. Breus recommends a technique that he calls "power-down hour." "Once you have an established bedtime, set an alarm one hour before bed and break that hour up into three, 20-minute segments," he says. Use your first 20 minutes to do something productive to help reduce stress, like getting ready for work the next day. Next, use another 20 minutes for hygiene, such as taking a bath or doing your skincare routine, and then use the final 20 minutes for some form of relaxation like meditation or prayer.
What are the benefits of an evening routine?
Having a nighttime routine is very important because it allows our bodies and minds to wind down after a long day. And Dr. Wu explains that an evening routine will signal our brains that it's time to sleep. Dr. Roban agrees and adds that "people want to fall asleep as quickly as they turn off the light switch, but we are not programmed to fall asleep instantaneously."
In addition to helping you relax, having an evening routine can also promote better sleep, which has a ton of health benefits. "Regular sleep appears to contribute to lowering depression, anxiety, stress, blood pressure, raising metabolism, and giving people more energy," says Dr. Breus.
What to avoid in your evening routine:
"I seldom prescribe hard-and-fast rules for what to avoid in the evening because what is stressful to one person may be enjoyable to another," says Dr. Wu. "However, I would caution that sometimes, we think we are 'relaxing' by mindlessly watching TV or scrolling social media, but this may not be true relaxation." We often use social media as an outlet to avoid our responsibilities, only delaying the stress we may be feeling. Blue light from our screens also can disrupt our sleep. "This light frequency stops melatonin production (a naturally produced sleep hormone) in your brain and makes it tough to fall asleep," adds Dr. Breus.
Additionally, avoid intense physical exercise right before bed because it causes your body's temperature to rise, which is the exact opposite thing you want when going to sleep, says Dr. Breus. That's because our circadian rhythm makes our body temperature decrease when it's time to sleep, which is why a bedroom temperature of 65 degrees is optimum. You'll also want to steer clear of alcohol, which reduces the chances of getting restorative sleep, and caffeine before bed, which makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Additional tips to creating an routine:
1. Try aromatherapy.
"Aromatherapy has shown to help some people relax before bed," says Dr. Roban. Studies have shown that aromatherapy has health benefits, such as relief from anxiety and improved sleep. Try spraying a pillow mist to transport you to a relaxed state. You can also go with a calming-scented candle, but make sure you don't get too cozy and forget to blow it out before actually falling asleep.
2. Have the right sleep equipment.
Because you'll most likely spend part of your evening routine in bed, don't be afraid to splurge on a supportive pillow and mattress to make you extra cozy and calm, says Dr. Breus. Not to mention, the right equipment can help prevent future back, neck, and other body pain.
3. Drink tea.
Drinking a hot, decaffeinated herbal tea has similar effects to aromatherapy, explains Dr. Roban. "It's a way of ingesting those calming scents to wind down."
4. Use blue light glasses
If you can't resist using your electronics before bed, make sure you do so in moderation and use blue light glasses to protect you from harmful emissions that impact your natural melatonin production. Dr. Breus recommends setting a timer to remind yourself to log off.
5. Use a melatonin supplement
As previously mentioned, melatonin is a sleep hormone produced in your brain and gut and can help you shift your circadian rhythm—aka your internal clock that signals your body when to sleep and wake up. There are melatonin supplements you can take that help promote sleep, but make sure you consult with a doctor before trying anything new.