Sleep

Sleep: 3 experts share their top tips for perfecting your bedtime routine

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Having a good evening routine is so important if you want to get a good night’s sleep. But why exactly is that? And what can you do to ensure you’re winding down effectively before you head to bed?

There are few things more lovely (or more important) than a good night’s sleep. And, in order for us to feel properly rested and adequately set up for the day ahead, the NHS advises that we try and get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.

But according to research carried out by Aviva in 2018, adults in the UK get an average of just over six hours of sleep a night – a problem that the pandemic has exacerbated further. In fact, 39% of respondents to a recent King’s College London survey said that they have “slept fewer hours a night on average compared with before the lockdown.”

Clearly, then, we just aren’t getting the necessary amount of sleep to support our busy lives and stressful days. Poor “sleep hygiene”, which basically just refers to our sleeping routine and environment, could be to blame, says Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity. But if your sleep hygiene isn’t up to scratch, then winding down in good time before you head to bed could be exactly what you need to sort your sleep out.

A good evening routine “helps to support your internal body clock and aid relaxation,” Lisa continues, and can really “improve your chances of sleeping well.” She goes on to say that “you can’t expect to hop into bed and go straight to sleep without giving your body and mind the chance to process the day and relax.”

As sleep expert and neurophysiologist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explains, “we need time to settle down and smooth out after the overstimulation from our nervous system, so that we can access the deep healing sleep that we all need, especially in these challenging times.” 

“If we don’t wind down,” says Dr Ramlakhan, “our sleep quality is more likely to be shallow, fitful, and even noisy; filled with edgy dreams, thoughts and worries from the day.”

A woman in bed
How to fix your sleep schedule: micro-adjustment can help you to wake up earlier in the long-run.

However, Stephanie Romiszewski, consultant sleep physiologist and founder of the Sleepyhead Clinic, makes it clear that “a good bedtime routine is helpful for winding down and getting good quality sleep, but only when you are not too strict about it.”

What she means by this is that when you “believe that a certain ‘regimen’ before sleep will guarantee a good night’s sleep,” it can cause you to feel “really inadequate, at a loss and lonely about sleep issues” when it doesn’t work out. Being really prescriptive about winding down can also lead to us becoming “quite obsessive about routines that we feel we have to do.”

So, “the trick is to have something flexible in place most of the time,” says Stephanie. “After all,” she continues, “consistency (or doing something more often than you don’t) is key, but perfection often leads to unhappiness.”

If you get it right, an evening routine can help to balance out the things in your life that trigger sleep problems. As Lisa explains, “stress and worry are often the main cause of not being able to sleep, so developing a good wind down routine will improve your chances of sleeping well by relaxing both the body and mind.”

Plus, by allowing yourself to switch off at the end of the day, you actually aid your body’s natural physiological processes. According to Stephanie, in the hour or two before you go to sleep, your body naturally starts “lowering your temperature, reducing cortisol and increasing melatonin” (which is also known as the sleepy hormone). So, if you don’t relax in the evening, “you are actively asking your body to wind back up, therefore interrupting the physiological process, and this will either make it more difficult for you to get to sleep or stay asleep.”

If you struggle with chronic sleep problems such as insomnia, though, this unfortunately is unlikely to be enough to help you out. Lisa explains that “insomnia is a medical sleep disorder, so sleep hygiene alone won’t solve the problem.” However, she goes on to say that “having a solid bedtime routine is a great sleep habit to have, and can be useful when used alongside other insomnia interventions such as CBT-I,” which is cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia. 

A woman sleeping
If you get it right, an evening routine can help to balance out the things in your life that trigger sleep problems.

Top tips for perfecting a bedtime routine

If you’re looking to improve your wind-down routine, then these super helpful and varied tips from the experts should help. 

LISA ARTIS

  1. “Plan: take some time to plan your routine and even consider writing it down.”
  2. “Consistency: do the same things at the same time each evening. This signals to your brain that it’s time to wind down and get ready for bed.”
  3. “Turn it off: avoid screens where possible, as they do have an impact on your sleeping habits. They suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it more difficult to relax.”
  4. “Lights out: dim the lights in the hour before bed to encourage the increase in melatonin levels.”
  5. “Relax: choose activities that you find relaxing. This could be a warm bath, reading, listening to soothing music or practising relaxation exercises.”

    DR NERINA RAMLAKHAN

    1. “Watch a TV programme or read a book that is uplifting, life affirming and even funny – laughing is a great way of creating the inner safety that is vital for restful sleep.”
    2. “Start withdrawing from electronic devices two hours before bed. Don’t have a phone in your bedroom, avoid looking at more than one screen at a time, and especially don’t check your inbox before you go to bed.”
    3. “If your mind is racing from the day, try some chi kung shaking. Stand with bare feet about hip width apart, and soften your knees and upper body. Keep your feet rooted to the ground and shake, generating the movement by moving up and down, keeping your knees soft, upper body relaxed, and eyes closed.”
    4. “Soak in an Epsom salt bath for 20 minutes or so for a deep healing, whole body cleanse.”
    5. “Think of one thing that you are grateful for that happened in your day, take some time to relive the experience, bring a smile to your face and fall asleep smiling.”

    STEPHANIE ROMISZEWSKI 

    1. “Get ready for bed an hour or so before you would usually sleep, because getting ready for bed usually wakes us up a little, and gets us thinking about all the daytime stuff, such as the things we have forgotten to do or things we need to do tomorrow.”
    2. “Try writing down and reflecting on five good and five not so good points from the day, and perhaps a realistic, short to-do list for tomorrow which falls outside of your work schedule.”
    3. “Only you know what is ‘relaxing’ for you and also what winds you up. However, a good rule of thumb is not to do activities you might do during the day such as being on the computer.”
    4. “Do make sure the brightness of your screens is low, and have only lamps on and no overhead lights. Make it a little darker than during the day, to signal to your brain that it’s wind-down time.” 

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