Go to Bed Better

Go to Bed Better - A New Routine

Besides the amount of sleep you get each day, the quality of your sleep is also important. While it is generally recommended by experts that adults sleep for at least 7 hours, the effect of that amount of sleep is dampened if you spend some of that time tossing and turning, staring at your phone or computer screen, or worrying about what you need to get done by tomorrow. If you are looking to improve your sleep and discover new ways to go to sleep better, explore some of the suggestions below for a new and more effective sleep routine.

A lady unable to sleep

Why a Good Routine is Important

A bedtime routine is important for helping you settle down and enjoy your sleep time. Because your mind is actively in high gear when you go to bed, it is necessary to calm it down with a constant routine before you get into bed. Sometimes, the only quiet time we have during the day is while in bed. However, thinking can keep you up so it should be done beforehand. With the consistent practice of a bedtime routine, you can condition your mind and body to recognise a particular sleep time. A lot of the activities carried out in the evenings can over stimulate the brain, so a bedtime routine ensures you avoid them and do relaxing things instead.

Following a bedtime routine will get you feeling calm and relaxed as you get ready to sleep. While the clichéd practice of curling up with an interesting book and a glass of warm milk might get you feeling comfortable, the perfect night’s sleep starts even before you get into bed. Cutting yourself off from certain distracting daytime activities which can interfere with your sleep is a good place to start.

The Ideal Duration of a Bedtime Routine

There are no hard and fast rules about how long or short a routine needs to be. It depends on you and how much time you need in order to feel like you are relaxed enough to sleep. If your routine takes a long time, then you need to create more time to complete it to your satisfaction. The way your routine goes is determined by your own unique lifestyle. If you have kids and have to put them to bed before you can get started on a night time routine, then you may only have 15 minutes to unwind, unlike someone else with more opportunities where time is concerned. Also, if you are suffering from serious sleep problems and constantly waking up at night, you may require more time than someone who simply needs help falling asleep in the first place.

The key is to have a quiet, relaxing and enjoyable time. This means that each person will have a slightly different routine from what is suggested here. However, here’s a good place to start:

  1. Get Unplugged
  2. Write down your thoughts
  3. Eat Sleep-inducing foods
  4. Plan Proper Relaxation
  5. Physical Exercise
  6. Mental Exercise

Get Unplugged

Studies show that the blue light from the display screen on your phone activate neurons that increase alertness, boost attention, reaction times and mood, which is great during the day time. But keeping your smartphone on at night, when you should be sleeping or preparing to sleep, inhibits the production of melatonin – a sleep aid – resulting in a poor night’s sleep. The artificial light confuses the body’s biological clock, lowering sleep quality.

A lady in bed with her phone

Don’t let your devices decide when it’s time to go to sleep. At least one hour before sleep, stop using your smartphones, tablets or computer. Getting unplugged and staying unplugged is easy if you follow the following guidelines:

  • Ensure your devices are kept away from you, either in another room or across the room (in case of emergency phone calls).
  • Dim your bedroom lights encourage the release of melatonin.
  • Read a book you have read before. Rereading an old favourite is calming since you already know how the story ends, your mind finds it easier to fall asleep rather than excitedly waiting for the next parts. Ideally, the book should be a paper back or a kindle, which doesn’t emit blue light.
  • If you awaken in the middle of the night, don’t be tempted to reach for your phone, not even to check the time – your alarm clock can do that for you. Simply lie in bed and sing a song over and over in your mind till you fall asleep.

Write Down Your Thoughts

Your mind could be churning with ideas or worries at bedtime, disturbing you from settling down properly and getting a good sleep. From shopping lists to questions for your doctor, blogging ideas or other worries about the next day, there are many thoughts that you have lying in bed at night. The best idea is to write them down on a piece of paper and let go of the thoughts so that you can deal with them in the morning.

Sometimes, the best ideas come at night and you either have to grab your phone to write them down or risk forgetting them in the morning. A good idea is to have a pen and notepad by your bed to put down your ideas without leaving your bed or exposing your eyes to blue light. A better alternative is Nite Note Bedside Notepad which doesn’t have a bright and overly distracting light, so that you can see and make notes without being over stimulated and unable to sleep.

Eat Sleep-Inducing Foods

If you haven’t heard the saying ‘don't do to bed on an empty stomach before, then you heard it here first. While overeating before bed can leave you feeling uncomfortably tight and unable to sleep, you need to make sure hunger pangs and a growling tummy don’t keep you up either. Here are some foods you can add to your bedtime routine to increase your chances of a better sleep.

  • Cherries

Naturally containing melatonin, the chemical in charge of the body’s internal clock, cherries are a good option when you need an evening snack. They also contain antioxidants that control sleep-depriving inflammations. Try drinking tart cherry juice at night before bed, and you might be rewarded with noticeable improvements in the quality and duration of your sleep. You can mix with some sparkling water to take care of the taste if you find it too intense.

  • Fortified Cereal

Generally, carbs are good for sleep. This doesn’t mean that bingeing on a box of cookies before bedtime is a great idea. Consider a bowl of Kashi or shredded wheat to add good or complex carbs to your bedtime diet. Other complex carbs you can try include barley, buckwheat and quinoa. Taking your fortified cereal with milk gives you more bang for your buck where good sleep quality is concerned. This is because milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to the brain chemical, serotonin. Therefore, going to the fridge for a bowl of cereal and milk before bed is simply taking steps in the right direction.

  • Rice

According to studies, consuming rice about four hours before bed reduces the amount of time it can take to fall asleep. Rice is a high glycaemic food which means your body digests it slowly and glucose is released slowly into the blood stream. The melatonin and tryptophan production in the body is improved by rice. Unlike bread, which has no effect on sleep quality and noodles, which is bad for sleep quality, rice gives a soothing and satisfying feeling which helps you sleep better. When it’s bedtime, warm some leftover rice in the microwave and add a dash of milk.

  • Bananas

With bananas, you get the perfect sleeping pill wrapped up in a nutrient-rich peel. Bananas and banana peels present a powerful combination of magnesium and potassium in different proportions. The amount of magnesium and potassium found in the banana peel is even more than in the banana itself. Now’s the time to consider all the times you tossed the peels in the trash and decide to do it differently. Both potassium and magnesium are great muscle relaxants and beneficial to the nervous system as well. This banana cinnamon tea recipe is great for a bedtime drink to enjoy a blissful snooze. Or try a blend of banana and low-fat milk for similar results.

Plan Proper Relaxation

Relaxation cannot be forced because you need to let go in order to actually relax. Bedtime relaxation is important and should be consciously carried out so, even if you are not very good at relaxing, you can learn it and be better prepared for sleep. Listening to great music and infusing calming scents into your environment are two effective means of relaxation.

Listen to some music

While avoiding blue light from your devices is important, it is a great idea to listen to some relaxing music before bed. Music has been shown to improve sleep quality by decreasing anxiety, blood pressure and respiratory rate, providing muscle relaxation and a helpful distraction from worries and other serious thoughts. The best music to sleep to is something that is not loud, too exciting or too emotional for the best results – classical music, contemporary music or meditation sounds are some good options.

Soothe with Lavender

Studies have proven lavender essential oil to be one of the most effective for relaxing. It calms the nervous system, lowers heart rate, skin temperature and blood pressure and changes brain waves to a more relaxed state. Adding the use of lavender essential oils to your nightly routine can improve the quality of your sleep and help with mild insomnia. Inability to sleep as a result of depression and anxiety has also be found to be reduced by lavender.

A lady lying down in bathtub

Lavender’s sleep-improving properties is well backed up by research. Some top tips to use lavender oil as a sleep aid include:

  • Adding lavender bath salts to your water for a refreshing and soothing evening bath.
  • Giving yourself a massage with lavender essential oils, or have your partner do it for you.
  • Light lavender scented candles around the bedroom and turn off the bright lights.
  • Spray your pillow to enjoy the soothing aromatherapy all night long or consider a lavender infused bed pillow.

Physical Exercise

Exercising before bedtime holds a wide range of benefits for the quality of your sleep. When you add bedtime workouts to your night routine, you might notice an improvement in sleep quality and an increase in sleep amounts. Engaging in physical activity increases the time spent in deep sleep, which is the most physically beneficial sleep phase. Consistent deep sleep will boost your immune function and control anxiety and stress. In addition, energy is expended during your workout so that you are tired and ready to fall into bed at the end of the routine.

A lady exercising

Aerobic exercise in particular, has been shown to be a highly effective natural therapy for insomnia. While the benefits are not immediate, keeping to a consistent aerobic workout routine during the day or a few hours before bedtime would bring in results over time. It is important to watch out for bedtime while working out in the evening however. Too close to your bedtime and the purpose is defeated because your temperature is elevated, you are feeling energised and stimulated. Don’t feel like going to the gym? No problem! Simply check out some of the best aerobic exercise apps for great routines you can carry out from the comfort of your own home.

What is the best time to work out to enjoy a better night sleep?

A good rule is to engage in gentle forms of exercise such as walking or jogging at least 4 hours before bedtime. Generally, if you have difficulty falling asleep, early morning workouts may work better for you. People with difficulty staying asleep however, do better with evening exercises. Your sleep cycle is more likely to change if you exercise in the mornings since you are waking up earlier to accommodate the workout. In addition to the added calorie burn, you’ll find yourself falling asleep quicker at night.

Exercising at night on the other hand, increases your body heat which in turn relaxes your muscles – the same thermal effect you get from your warm evening bath. Added to a calorie burning workout some hours before bed, and you’ll be sleeping soundly with less chances of waking up during the night.

Top Exercises for Better Sleep

  1. Aerobic Exercise (Cardio)

To position yourself better for great sleep, engage in activities that get your heart rate up, such as swimming, cycling, running, or taking brisk walks. Even if you do a 10 minute aerobic exercise, you might begin to see improvements in your sleep as you work up to the goal amount of aerobic exercise each week – 150 minutes for moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity.

  1. Yoga

People who find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep can benefit a lot from yoga. The relaxing poses, stretches and breathing exercises involved are even more helpful when stress is the main culprit behind your inability to fall asleep. Doing yoga daily for eight weeks will provide noticeable benefits for insomnia sufferers.

  1. Strength Training

The process of building muscle has been proven to improve the quality of sleep, helping you fall asleep faster and spend less time staring at the ceiling during the night. So carry out exercises like bicep curls, lunges, calf raises, triceps dips, shoulder presses, push-ups and sit-ups to make you stronger physically, and sleep better at night.

Mental Exercise

Beyond being physically active, staying mentally active as well is great for a sound sleep. Just as a lack of physical exercise can contribute to poor sleep, boredom and low mental activity can reduce the need to sleep and affect your quality of sleep too. Tiring out your mind with positive stressors such as strong mental activities will stimulate your brain by making it work harder to process the new information. The result is better, deeper sleep at night since your brain needs more deep sleep to properly recover. Meditation techniques such as imagining your favourite movie in reverse or practicing breathing exercises are also great forms of mental exercises to do before bed.

When should you be mentally active to get the most sleep benefits? High mental activity should not be engaged in right before bedtime either. Although, unlike physical exercise where about 4 hours is needed to calm down before bedtime for the best results, an hour is usually enough time to transition from mental exercise to going to bed.

Some simple activities you can do to stimulate your brain and help you go to bed better include doing things differently than you normally do them, changing your regular routes, going to new places, reversing the order of simple regular tasks, and so on.

Mental exercises can be carried out easily with the aid of some apps. Recommended ones include Brain Trainer Special which contains different games in a range of levels from easy to hard, Lumosity, Positive Activity Jackpot, Fit Brains Trainer and more.

Going to bed better is a conscious choice. By following a good routine and staying consistent with the methods, you’ll find yourself enjoying better sleep which will undoubtedly affect your life overall.