The Benefits of a Night Routine
For most of my life I wouldn’t have considered myself a particularly organized or regimented individual. I wouldn’t say that I was messy or disorganized either. I hovered somewhere in the middle quite comfortably. But life has a way of molding you over time, and through the years I’ve become more organized and disciplined in my approach to many things, one of those things being a bedtime routine.
A major motivation for me was the fact that my sleep has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. My first line of defense was sleep aides. I started to take melatonin and Tylenol PM, and at the beginning it really did help. The issue was that I started to develop a dependence on them while also building up a tolerance, so it got to the point that an aide became part of the problem. I knew I needed a different route. I also knew that I wanted that route to be a solution and not just another band-aide.
Ultimately this article isn’t about my specific story. I really just want to highlight the importance of having some sort of protocol to help induce quality sleep. Everyone is different, so you have to find what is going to work best for you. It will probably take some trial and error to figure out what’s going to match your personality, work with your lifestyle and produce the results you’re looking for. With that in mind, I’ve decided to break down specific strategies: non-negotiable and negotiable. I think you can tell the difference, but just to make sure, non-negotiable actions are those that should be done by everyone. Negotiable actions are those that will work for some but not for others.
- Screen Time. I’m sure that most of you are aware of the negative effects of screens, specifically their detrimental qualities toward restful sleep. Long story short, watching TV, a computer or a phone can stifle the release of melatonin which is the hormone responsible for making us tired. Ideally, you want to get off the screen as early as possible, but the reality is that’s not always possible because of work, social lives, or the need to watch just one more episode of your favorite show. I would look to turn all screens off at least an hour before you go to bed, but the more time you can give yourself the better.
- Lighting. Your exposure to light and dark throughout the day and night helps to develop your 24 hour circadian rhythm. Generally, you want to expose yourself to bright light in the morning, preferably from the sun, and you want to diminish your light exposure as you get closer to bedtime. Lights with dimmers and nightlights are great and easy ways to control your light exposure at night. Then when it’s time to go to bed you want your sleeping space to be as dark as possible. Turn all lights off, including the TV, and if you have a nightlight dim it as low as possible.
- Cut-off time for eating and drinking. I put this under negotiable because this is going to look different from person to person based on lifestyle and needs, but ultimately, you want to have a buffer between your last drink of water and bite of food and your bedtime. Eating right before bed, especially if it’s quick digesting carbs can have a negative effect on your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep because of the bursts of energy you’ll get while continuing to digest your food. Along with food, avoiding water right before you go to bed is a good idea just because you don’t want to be up multiple times in the middle of the night going to the bathroom. Ideally, you want to be done eating 3 hours before bed and done hydrating 2 hours before bed.
- Mental and physical decompression. This is a broad one, and can come in many different forms: meditation, breathing technique, writing, reading, journaling, crosswords, etc. I’m not going to go into specific detail on each one, but this component is going to be determined based on your preference. Ultimately, you want to find something that is going to declutter your mind and calm your body. These are just a few suggestions, so find the best fit for you!
- Supplementation. I’m not big on supplements in general for myriad reasons, but there are a couple that I would recommend to most people. Magnesium glycinate is one which has gained popularity recently, and while there’s still more to study and learn, it shows promise in helping aid quality sleep for many people. It can help relax the body and muscles to give you a better night’s sleep. If you have concerns about any supplementation please be sure to talk to a medical professional for further awareness and strategy through conversation and blood work.
- Stretching/mobility. This is another great way to calm the mind and body. You have to be careful though because it’s easy to find yourself pouring sweat with an elevated heart rate in no time. On the other hand, some easy stretching and soft tissue release can quiet the mind and body.
The bottom line is that sleep is far too important not to put at least a little time and effort into. We grow, heal and organize our thoughts all while sleeping. We strengthen our bones and muscles through quality sleep as well as rejuvenate the mind to maximize acuity and energy. You may not even know that your sleep is a problem until you start to give it some attention. Nothing is perfect and this will take some time and effort, but the benefits of quality sleep are far-reaching and will reap rewards the more you invest. Let’s get some sleep!