Are you going to bed wrong? Maybe! The same scene plays out in homes all across America—while relaxing in your living room, you realize that you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, so you get up from the sofa, floss, brush, wash your face and climb into bed…only to discover that you are now wide awake.
What went wrong? The actual process of getting ready for bed, with all the activity and bright bathroom lights, can be sufficiently stimulating to stave off sleep. In fact, the minutes immediately before getting into bed are not the ideal time to get ready for bed…and that’s just one mistake people make with their pre-bedtime schedule. Here’s a better getting-ready-for-bedtime plan…
Eight hours or more before bedtime
Stop consuming caffeine. Caffeine can linger in the body much longer than people realize—half of its sleep-preventing power can remain a full six to eight hours after consumption. Eight hours before bedtime should be the absolute last-call for caffeine, if not earlier.
Three hours before bedtime
Stop exercising. Working out shortly before bed might seem sensible, since exercise tires us out, but it actually can inhibit sleep. Exercise causes body temperatures to climb and remain slightly elevated for several hours. That’s precisely the opposite of the falling body temperatures that are conducive to sleep.
Two hours before bedtime
Stop eating. This will reduce the odds that your sleep will be disturbed by indigestion, GERD or any other digestive issues.
90 minutes before bedtime
Stop looking at electronic screens. The wavelengths of light emitted by TVs, smartphones, tablets and computer screens can interfere with circadian rhythms, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Take melatonin pills if appropriate. Melatonin can help travelers overcome time-zone changes and night-shift workers adjust their circadian rhythms…or it can be taken if you have a melatonin deficiency. But taking these pills immediately before bedtime is far too late to be effective. Exception: Melatonin in liquid form should be taken 20 to 25 minutes before bedtime. Caution: Melatonin also can change the effectiveness of certain medications, in particular blood pressure medicine and antidepressants. Check with your doctor before taking melatonin.
Turn down the thermostat. A room temperature of 68°F to 70°F is ideal.
60 minutes before bedtime
Stop consuming liquids so that sleep won’t be interrupted by the need to urinate. Exceptions: Do consume liquids less than an hour before bedtime if you need them to take medications…if you’re dehydrated and/or if you have diabetes and the beverage will improve your blood sugar levels through the night.
Prep for the following morning. Think through your morning schedule and responsibilities…jot down plans for the following day…lay out your clothes…and prepare your breakfast. Tackling morning tasks in the evening can help your mind relax.
40 minutes before bedtime
Take care of evening hygiene. Floss, brush and wash now—don’t wait until right before bed. If your bathroom lights are bright, install a dimmer switch and turn these lights low in the evening. Helpful: Take a hot bath—soak up to your neck in water above 100°F. When you get out of this hot bath, your body will rapidly cool—and those declining body temps are conducive to sleep. Hot showers work, too, though not quite as well.
20 minutes before bedtime
Do something quiet and calm. Meditate, pray, listen to relaxing music or a podcast that isn’t too exciting, or read an actual printed book—not a digital book on a screen. Whatever sedate activity you select for this final 20 minutes, do it in relatively low light. Helpful: On evenings when you don’t have enough time to follow this bedtime routine precisely, still spend at least the 10 minutes before bed in quiet, low-light relaxation.