The Last Hour of Your Day
Parents of small children understand the importance of bedtime routines. They provide comfort and familiarity and become a psychological trigger to support falling asleep. Similarly, research finds that consistent bedtime routines support healthy sleep patterns in adults [1, 2].
First step? Set an alarm. You probably use an alarm for when you wake up, so consider using an alarm for when you should begin winding down too. It’s easy to get caught up in chores, checking email and social media, and watching one more episode of whatever show you’re binging. Having a timer go off one hour before you should be in bed can be a helpful reminder that it’s time to start winding down. Then, consider doing these key activities.
Close Out the Day
Before you shift to your bedtime routine, it can be helpful to close out your day and prepare for the next day. This is particularly helpful if you are prone to anxiety or if you have a particularly complicated work-life situation. Consider writing out your to-do list for the next day (to get it off your mind so you won’t be thinking about it when you should be sleeping), and preparing anything you need. For instance, set up your breakfast, make your lunch, pack your briefcase, and pick out your clothes. If you’re a parent, help your children do the same things. A little bit of time in the evening can save a great deal of stress in the morning, and you’ll find that you sleep better knowing that your morning routine will be more efficient and pleasant.
Turn Off Your Technology
We are exposed to blue light waves from technology and new energy-efficient LED and fluorescent light bulbs. Blue light waves can be energizing, but in the evening hours, they can actually interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythms, including levels of the hormone melatonin, which is key for the onset of sleep. Sleep doctors generally recommend that we turn off technology at least an hour prior to bed and refrain from bright screens (and potentially use blue-light-blocking glasses) in the two to three hours prior to bed .
Take a Shower and Floss Your Teeth
Maybe you shower in the morning, thinking that the rush of water will wake you up. But doctors suggest that—especially if you have allergies—you should actually shower at night. That’s because during the day, your skin and hair get covered in pollen and dirt from the world. If you go to bed like that, you may find you wake up stuffy and congested. Taking a shower and washing your hair before bed and then sleeping in a room with a good quality air filtration system can give you an allergy-free space that will facilitate your breathing and therefore, help you sleep better .
Also, consider taking two minutes to floss your teeth. People with poor oral health are at a higher risk for a variety of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke . Recent research indicates that the bacteria involved in gum disease may even be implicated in Alzheimer’s disease . Flossing your teeth may be the simplest health-promotion strategy there is, and it’s worth having it as a consistent part of your bedtime routine.
Write (or Reflect on) Gratitude
As you wind down your day, take a few moments to reflect on what you’re grateful for. The gratitude list is an exercise where you take five minutes each evening and write down three to five things from the day for which you feel grateful, focusing as much as possible on concrete and specific things. For instance: “I am grateful for a pleasant family dinner where my children told me about their day at school,” or, “I am grateful for the fresh lemon and mint in my sparkling water.” According to UCLA Neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral, the process of searching for gratitude helps us cultivate a positive attitude and learn to focus our perception and vision on the positive things in our lives . The practice of gratitude can have concrete, physical effects on the brain. You don’t have to write it—you could do it as a daily thought exercise in the shower or while brushing your teeth. The point is just to spend some time at the end of each day reflecting on what was good about it.
After you’ve done this, you can go to sleep with a sense of contentment. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep.
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