It’s All About Routine: Making Bedtime Matter

There’s a reason why parents set bedtimes for their kids and every night go through the same routine of washing up, tucking in, storytelling and lights out. It works! Why? Because our body clocks are set by circadian rhythms, biological responses to light and darkness which regulate sleep and other bodily functions over a 24-hour cycle. So why do we, as a society, continue to fight against these natural sequences? We stay up until the wee hours of the morning, bring unnatural light (in the form of smartphone screens) into our beds and fill ourselves with caffeine to compensate.

sleeping boyIt’s time to break this pattern. Tonight you are going to sleep better and you can do it by being your own parents – it’s time to reinstate the bedtime routine. Firstly, you need to decide on a time to go to bed. In an ideal world, this would be around 10pm but if you are regularly up until 2am, there is little point in you lying restlessly under your covers for four hours. Instead, choose a time fifteen minutes before you usually go to sleep. Every week, take off another 15 minutes until you meet your optimal time.

Next, you need to set up your sleep hygiene checklist. Is your room comfortable? Adjust the temperature so it’s neither too hot nor too cold. Switch off all electronic devices (or if this is impossible, mute them) – no more phones or laptops in the bedroom. If it is too bright, close the drapes or consider blackout blinds.

Next on the checklist are your daytime habits. Try to avoid napping or taking stimulants for at least six hours before your bedtime. Exercising and getting exposure to natural light during the day will increase the likelihood of restful sleep at night. Vigorous exercise should be done in the morning whereas more relaxed activities, such as yoga or tai chi, are more suitable for the evening.

You should also get into the habit of having a cup of chamomile tea, lemongrass tea or mint tea close to bedtime. These teas tend to relax us and ‘prepare’ us for sleep; they also have the side benefit of being a rich source of phytonutrients.

Finally, establish your bedtime routine in the hour leading up to sleep. Avoid stimulating conversations or media, don’t take large meals too close to bedtime and engage in a relaxing activity, such as meditation, to promote rest. Remember, your bed is for sleep only – the stronger this association becomes, the better your sleep will be.