By: Regina Taylor
We all know quality sleep is vital to our mental and physical wellbeing, but is there any significance to how we prepare for a good night’s rest? Research has shown that the mere essence of a nighttime ritual – no matter how detailed it is – can have positive psychological effects and can lead to a better sleep. This is because your brain begins to associate the routine itself with preparation for sleep through classical and operant conditioning, meaning you will begin to feel calmer and more relaxed during this time before bed (Wickwirel). Whether you have a super complicated regimen that takes hours, or no nighttime routine at all, here are some things to think about as you decide what to do (and not do) before bed in order to get the most from your sleep.
- Create a “sacred sleep space.”
Studies have shown that creating a space only used for sleeping can prevent insomnia, or the difficulty of initiating and maintaining sleep (Wickwirel). Although this can be more difficult now with online school, finding alternative places to study or use technology whenever necessary can help your brain associate your bed and bedroom more with peace and comfort and less with work and stress. Another easy way you can make your sleep space more cozy includes lighting candles at a certain time every evening, lowering the temperature, and adding an essential oil diffuser for aromatherapy. Initiating a more dim light setting near bedtime is shown to increase restfulness, while bright lights trigger our internal clocks and signal that it is time to be awake (Harvard).
- Choose activities that induce calmness for better sleep and mental health.
As indicated by clinical research, “preparing for sleep and achieving a state of calmness have been suggested as important precursors to a good night’s sleep” (Wickwirel). Whether it’s reading, journaling, or listening to music or a podcast, giving yourself a little break at the end of your day, no matter how short, is important. Some pre-sleep activities that help me relax are taking hot bubble baths, drinking tea, and listening to soothing music. On a similar note, try to avoid activities and conversations that will bring you stress, as the stress hormone cortisol is associated with increased alertness. The presence of blue light from phones and screens before bedtime also can make it harder for you to fall asleep, so keep that in mind if you have trouble feeling tired before bed (Harvard).
- Make your routine good for your physical health, too.
Another important part of a bedtime routine is skincare. It’s critical you remove all of the dirt, germs, and pollutants you are exposed to during the day before you settle down to sleep. A nightly skincare routine includes repairing your skin after UV light exposure, thoroughly removing makeup, and applying any of your favorite serums or products to help counteract dryness or oil accumulation (Nwe). Setting aside time for a regimen your skin deserves is good for your body and mind as it can be super relaxing! Exercise can also help you sleep more deeply, but only if timed correctly. If you choose to workout at night, try to end your exercises at least 3 hours before being ready for bed to avoid activating the alerting mechanisms of the brain and not feeling tired (Harvard). Being hydrated before bed is also important, but you should distribute most of your water intake evenly throughout the day and not drink too much right before bed. Avoiding heavy meals less than 3 hours before bed, as well as foods that cause indigestion, are also important tips to remember (Harvard).
With all this said, yes– a nighttime ritual can actually make a difference in your sleep and health and should totally be part of your schedule, no matter how long or short it is. Having a bedtime routine is also a very good excuse for being ‘extra’ with your self-care, doing things you enjoy but don’t always have time for, and for cutting out distractions after a long busy day.
Harvard Medical School. (n.d.). Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips
Nwe, S. M., DO. (n.d.). Do You Really Need a Skin Care Routine? Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/do-you-really-need-a-skin-care-routine
Wickwire1, E., &, J., & Clarke2, E. (2016, July 28). Patient-reported benefits from the pre-sleep routine approach to treating insomnia: Findings from a treatment development trial. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1111/j.1479-8425.2009.00389.x