Everybody talks about the ultra-successful early morning routines of famous go-getters. Barack Obama and Ariana Huffington have both evangelized about working out first thing in the morning to get their blood pumping. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, would wake up at 7:00a and stay in bed (while working) until 11:00a. We talk a lot about morning routines that help your day go more smoothly, but what about routines for winding down, on the other side of the day? Sleep is important, so it’s no surprise that having a functional bedtime routine can help your daytime routine become a lot more functional—better sleep means better days. Want to get better at going to sleep? Let’s craft the perfect bedtime routine!
Why You Should Create a Bedtime Routine
Simply put, routines work. If you’re trying to take control of something in your life, trying to really understand it and stick with it and improve it, you can’t go in willy nilly, you’ve gotta hatch a plan—one that’s repeatable, so you can burn it into your brain and turn it into second nature. That, and doing the same thing over and over helps you do things well. Think about practicing a sport or doing a creative activity or exercising. You can improve your sleep (and ability to go to sleep) by creating—and sticking to—a bedtime routine.
The Perfect Bedtime Routine
1. Pick your new bedtime and stick with it
This can sometimes be the toughest step, especially if you have varying shift work that keeps you up at all hours of the night or working lopsided morning/night/morning shifts. The goal here is to make sure that you’re hopping in bed at (roughly) the same time every night so you can sync your melatonin production with the time you need to get sleepy. Your body is going to develop a consistent circadian rhythm—you might as well take advantage of it!
2. Decompress (without electronics)
Take time to decompress and let go of your worries and stresses. This can be anything from personal downtime (reading a book, doing a puzzle, writing in a diary) to family downtime (cooking together, catching up on your day, working on an easy project) to taking a bath, doing the dishes, or meditating. The goal is to let your mind focus on non-stressors or wander whimsically as you let your brain clear out the cobwebs. Fashion designer Vera Wang, in a 2006 Fortune interview, said that her wind down routine includes “a fair amount of designing — at least conceptually if not literally.” Sometimes relaxing can be productive! Try to decompress without electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
3. Set your alarm early
One perfect bedtime routine secret is to set your alarm early, then leave your phone somewhere out of reach. You already know what time you’re going to get up tomorrow… why not set your alarm, put your phone on the charger, and give your brain a rest from Twitter & Instagram? If you phone is out of reach, you’re less likely to glance at incoming notifications and save yourself from the dreaded blue light that keeps our bedtime routine-oriented brains confused about when to slow down.
4. Make a list for tomorrow
What are you going to do tomorrow? There are a million ways to tackle list-making, but for your bedtime routine, it’s mostly just important that you have your stressors written down. The relief of wiring a to-do list will allow you to relax more readily—you won’t be constantly thinking about all the things you need to remember in the morning. In a famous case, efficiency expert Ivy Lee told steel magnate Charles M Schwab how to write lists and plan ahead:
“At the end of each day, write down the six most important tasks to be done on the next day. Prioritize the list. Next day, start working on the first task and when that task gets completed, start working on the second task and so on. At the end of the day again, create the list for the next day, adding the unfinished tasks for that day to the top of the list.”
Feeling overwhelmed and unable to let go of tomorrow’s tasks? Writing down what you need to accomplish tomorrow can help you free up brain space today so you can enjoy yourself tonight.
5. Create a Bedtime Routine Ritual
Remind your body that you’re getting ready to wind down. When you’re starting to get ready for sleep, maybe two hours before your chosen bedtime, one way to lock down your new bedtime routine is to create a ritual. Do one thing at bedtime you don’t do any other time—whether that’s taking a warm bath, doing a sun salutation yoga stretch, taking deep breaths, or journaling. The goal is to make an association with sleep. Our brains are easily fooled—why not fool yours into feeling like it’s bedtime?
A few additional bedtime routine tips
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary of sleep. If you cultivate a bedroom environment that caters toward sleeping, just going to your bedroom will help you get into that bedtime mood. You know what that means—keep it tidy, get that desk and paperwork outta there, and reserve your bedroom for sleeping, having sex, and relaxing.
- Invest in low light options. Lowering the lights helps your brain adjust to night time. If you have lamps with low-watt bulbs, you can use them to transition from the full light of your ceiling lights to more relaxing dim lights in the evening. Use light to your advantage!
- Consider aromatherapy for sleep—the holistic method of using plant-based smells to improve well-being and health. Whether it’s pseudoscience or not (the debate rages on), it’s a simple way to relax, create associations with certain smells, and a great way to boost your bedtime routine.
There you have it!
That’s it! Crafting the perfect bedtime routine can be pretty easy, once you think of it as a few simple priorities. The trick, of course, is sticking to it—especially when the weekend beckons you to a party or a late shift drags you down. But you can do it! It’s just as important to have a good bedtime routine as it is to have a good morning one, so make a plan and stick to it! You can get your sleep schedule back on track (and optimized!), one step at a time.