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Optimizing Your Bedtime Routine For Better Sleep

Although this isn’t exactly new news, numerous studies suggest that adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Doing so can improve brain performance and enhance your mood, while simultaneously supporting your overall health. Plus, a lack of sleep can lead to a mountain of problems, including irritability, poor performance at work, trouble concentrating, and even more chronic conditions. 

However, if you’re one of the many people who sleep fewer than seven hours per night, know that you’re not alone. In fact, about one in three American adults get less sleep than they should. 

Creating and maintaining a regular bedtime routine is one of the best ways to improve sleep quality. If you’re having trouble falling (or staying) asleep, below are some ways to improve your bedtime routine. 

Tips to Improve Your Bedtime Routine

Want to optimize your routine for a good night’s sleep? Check out these expert tips to do just that: 

1. Avoid Strenuous Exercise 

While it’s true that getting regular exercise improves sleep, you should save strenuous workouts for the morning or afternoon. Vigorous exercise raises your core body temperature and heart rate–making it harder to fall asleep at night. 

For this reason, we recommend sticking to light or moderate-intensity exercise in the evenings. Research suggests that daily yoga practice can improve sleep quality, and a few simple stretches can prevent cramping.

Additionally, going on a pre-bedtime walk increases the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin (a precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin). And it lowers the stress hormone cortisol while regulating the sympathetic nervous system. 

2. Cut Off Caffeine Early

The mean half-life of caffeine is about five hours. And that means your afternoon latte will still be in your system at 11 pm. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, try cutting off caffeine around noon—about ten to eleven hours before you head to bed. 

3. Avoid Alcohol & Nicotine at Night

Smoking and drinking alcohol disrupt your sleep quality, albeit in different ways. Because nicotine is a stimulant, it makes it more difficult to fall (and stay) asleep. And while alcohol is initially sedating, the effect disappears within a few hours–resulting in fragmented and disturbed sleep throughout the night.

4. Meditate

Meditation practice relaxes you both physically and mentally. And because sleep problems often stem from heightened stress levels, mediation combats them by improving your relaxation response. It also improves the autonomic nervous system, which minimizes how easily you wake. 

Because mindfulness meditation quiets the mind and body, practicing it before bed boosts your sleep quality. A 2015 study found that regular mindfulness meditation decreased insomnia symptoms and daytime fatigue.

5. Shut Off Your Screens

While scrolling through social media or binging on a Netflix show might feel relaxing at the moment, electronic devices emit a strong blue light. And if you didn’t already know, blue light has a wavelength that negatively influences our circadian rhythm. Additionally, it suppresses melatonin (the hormone signaling our body that it’s time to sleep), which causes poor sleep.  

Therefore, we recommend shutting off any electronics at least an hour before bedtime. And if that’s not feasible, consider investing in a pair of blue light-blocking glasses. 

6. Stop Eating At Least 3 Hours Before Bed

Heavy meals before bed can lead to indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux (all of which can disrupt sleep). And research shows that the closer a person eats to bedtime, the more likely they are to wake throughout the night. 

Additionally, eating causes the release of insulin–which is a hormone your body uses to convert food into energy. This process disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm by signaling your brain to stay awake. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people who ate late at night were more likely to develop sleep apnea. (For those who might not know, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing starts and stops.)

Of course, going to bed hungry can also upset your stomach and make it harder to fall asleep. So, if you need a pre-bedtime snack, avoid foods that trigger heartburn (like spicy and acidic foods). And instead, opt for foods containing higher concentrations of melatonin –like cherries, strawberries, kiwis, and nuts. 

7. Drink Some Bedtime Tea

A warm drink before bed can help you relax and unwind. And if you’re unsure what to drink, certain teas have sedative properties that support your sleep cycle: 

  • Chamomile tea. A review of 12 studies found that chamomile safely improves sleep quality. 
  • Magnolia tea. Made from dried bark, buds, and stems of magnolia plants, magnolia tea is a natural sleep aid in many forms of traditional medicine
  • Lavender tea. One study found that postpartum women who drank one cup of lavender tea daily for two weeks experienced decreased fatigue. Some studies also reveal that lavender essential oils reduce anxiety and improve sleep. 
  • Valerian tea. Valerian tea comes from the dried roots of the valerian plant. And of course, it’s a natural sleep aid
  • Passionflower tea. According to a review of nine studies, passionflower herbal preparations act as natural sedatives and help relieve anxiety. 

8. Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule 

Studies have found that an irregular bedtime schedule is associated with insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality. Conversely, going to bed and waking at the same time supports your circadian rhythm and promotes healthy sleep. 

9. Take a Warm Bath Before Bed

Research suggests taking a warm bath an hour or two before bed. Doing so helps lower your body’s core temperature, which is another circadian sleep signal. 

10. Make Time for Intimacy

Researchers link nighttime sex with improved sleep. Orgasms (either with a partner or via masturbation) release oxytocin (the love hormone) – increasing relaxation and favorable sleep outcomes. 

(Kissing and cuddling also release oxytocin – so any kind of intimacy will have this benefit.) 

11. Listen to Music

Parents already know that lullabies and gentle rhythms help babies fall asleep. However, children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from listening to music at night. One study revealed that adults who listen to 45 minutes of music before sleep experience better sleep quality. 

Researchers believe this is because music decreases our cortisol levels. Additionally, it triggers the release of dopamine, which boosts pleasurable feelings while simultaneously reducing pain. And finally, it soothes the autonomic nervous system – causing slower breathing, a lower heart rate, and reduced blood pressure.  

12. Try Sleep Supplements

Our bodies naturally produce melatonin to signal our brains that it’s time to sleep. Therefore, it’s a popular option when it comes to sleep supplements. Studies show that melatonin can improve sleep quality in individuals with sleep disorders. And while melatonin supplements appear safe when used for short periods, more research is needed regarding their long-term effects. 

(Due to a lack of long-term research, you shouldn’t take melatonin supplements if you’re pregnant or nursing.) 

Another popular supplement for sleep is magnesium, as it helps quiet the mind and calm the body. Not only do studies show that magnesium regulates melatonin production, but it’s known to relax the muscles and induce sleep.

13. Create a Restful Environment

Creating a restful environment is essential to getting regular, high-quality sleep. And while everyone is different, we recommend keeping your room cool, dark, and quiet. Opt for room-darkening curtains, cooling sheets, earplugs, and eye masks if necessary. 

14. Invest in a White or Pink Noise Machine

White noise creates a static-like sound using a mix of frequencies. And a 2021 study found that white noise significantly improved sleep for people with insomnia and other sleep troubles. Similarly, pink noise consists of all the frequencies audible to the human ear, and a 2012 study revealed that it increases stable sleep by reducing brain activity. Not only that, but a 2017 study also linked it to deep sleep. 

15. Drink a Glass of Milk

Drinking a glass of milk has long been rumored to promote sleep. However, research confirms that milk is a natural aid for both sleep issues and anxiety because it contains sleep-promoting constituents (including tryptophan). Additionally, milk collected at night contains exceptionally high amounts of tryptophan and melatonin. 

The Bottom Line

As we mentioned, getting high-quality sleep is essential to our physical and mental well-being. And if you’re struggling to fall (or stay!) asleep, we hope these tips to improve your bedtime routine offer a bit of relief.