We know kids need bedtime routines to calm them and get them ready for bed, but you may not know adults need wind down time too. A relaxing routine will rest your mind and heart rate so that when you finally go to bed you won’t lie awake trying and failing to sleep. The one or two hours before bed should be your time for activities to prepare yourself for sleep. Here’s a list of soothing activities to try when you’re winding down for the night.
1. Make it a routine and set your bedtime
Having a regular bedtime is just as important for adults as it is for children. Set your bedtime, whether it’s 9 pm or 1 am and stick to it. A consistent sleep schedule can get you more and better quality rest and may lower your risk for heart disease. Additionally, a set bedtime will ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but the amount you need is highly individualized. WHOOP members average 7:30 hours of sleep for every 8 hours in bed.
2. Snacking: Eating some simple carbs after dinner may help you fall asleep faster and sleep better. Foods like potatoes, toast with peanut butter, low-fat cheese and crackers, almonds, bananas, or yogurt are easy to digest and may be sleep inducing. Avoid sugary or high-fat foods (sorry, no ice cream). Some spicy foods are also difficult to digest and may cause you to wake up throughout the night.
3. Stop eating early: Speaking of snacking, avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime. Beyond eating early, sticking to a regular dinner time regulates your circadian rhythm and improves your sleep efficiency. When WHOOP members report eating close to bedtime, they get 26 fewer minutes of sleep than they usually do. They also average 3% less REM sleep than normal. Additionally, their next-day recovery dips by 10% following late-night snacking.
4. Have a hot beverage: Warm milk is a traditional bedtime routine in some cultures. It may be that the sleep-inducing compounds that milk contains, such as tryptophan, can promote sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in proteins (such as turkey) and plays a role in the production of serotonin, which boosts mood, promotes relaxation, and functions as a precursor in the production of melatonin.
If you don’t like milk, or you’re on a plant-based diet, you can try chamomile tea, which in addition to reducing anxiety and depression may also boost your immune system. Chamomile tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to receptors in your brain that can promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.
5. Avoid caffeine: Coffee drinkers should stay away from consuming it in the afternoon. Some people are so sensitive to caffeine that they should stop before noon. You can experiment by stopping earlier than normal and track how it affects your sleep in the WHOOP Journal.
6. Avoid alcohol: We’ve said it before. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it is detrimental to a good night’s sleep. Sleep is an active process and alcohol inhibits those processes. Alcohol prevents you from getting enough REM sleep and deep sleep as your body metabolizes it.
Not every tip will work for every person, so experiment with different wind-down activities to see which ones work better for you.
7. Separate work from bed: The ability to work from anywhere means you can also work at any time. Working remotely often means you have less separation between home and the office, and potentially less separation between work and sleep. This was an issue during the coronavirus pandemic when people who were used to going into work suddenly had to work from home. Nearly one-third of American employees worked remotely during the pandemic, and about 40% of Americans polled reported new sleeping problems in this study.
Avoid working in your bedroom if possible. Maintaining a separate space for sleep lets you mentally associate your bedroom with relaxation and sleep. Additionally, try to stick to a schedule. You are in your work area for a specific time that is separated by at least a couple of hours from bedtime. This gives you a chance to have work, family and wind-down times, and spaces that encroach less on each other.
8. Tech-free time: Plan some technology-free time before you go to bed. Blue lights from most televisions, computers, and phones inhibit the production of melatonin. It also affects your circadian rhythm, which is one reason blue light and sunlight wake you up in the morning. Some electronics have settings that alter screen temperatures to a warmer color in the evening, but electronics can have other negative effects. Social media can create feelings of anxiety and depression, emotions you don’t necessarily want to feel when you’re trying to sleep.
9. Pre-bed yoga routine: A gentle activity such as yoga can calm your mind and heart rate as you prepare for bed. One survey found that most adults reported improved sleep after practicing yoga and 85% said it reduces stress. Try relaxing positions such as child pose, reclined butterfly, or simply sitting cross-legged on the floor (or your bed) in the easy pose and breathing for five minutes to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
10. Music, white or pink noise: A sound machine for white or pink noise frequencies that generate a steady background hum can drown out noises that may keep you awake or jolt you out of sleep. Turn on the sound machine as part of your nightly routine to teach your brain that these sounds mean its bedtime.
11. Journaling: Writing in a diary the old-fashioned way lets you organize your mind, decrease overthinking and worry, and allows you to fall asleep faster. If you’re prone to staying awake with anxiety, organizing your thoughts on paper may help calm you enough to be able to rest. You can also use journaling to write about positive experiences to redirect your mind as you prepare for sleep.
12. Meditation: Like yoga and journaling, meditation decreases resting heart rate and improves heart rate variability. Meditation also promotes neuroplasticity.
13. Supplements like magnesium or melatonin: Magnesium can help your body relax by inhibiting the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. Magnesium deficiencies have been connected to sleep disorders and poor sleep. If you’re not getting enough of it in your diet a magnesium supplement may aid your sleep. WHOOP members average 15 more minutes of sleep per night when they use magnesium, and 2% more REM sleep. They also average an 8% higher recovery the next morning.
Melatonin is a widely used sleep supplement. It’s produced naturally in the pineal gland and aids the regulation of your sleep cycle and circadian rhythm. Your melatonin levels are linked to the amount of light around you. Melatonin alerts your systems that it’s time to go to sleep by binding with receptors in your body and brain and telling them to relax. WHOOP members report 34 more minutes of sleep each night when they take melatonin and 2% more REM sleep. They also wake with an 11% higher recovery.
Learn which pre-bed activities work best for you by tracking your wind-down routine with the WHOOP Journal. Each morning you can log nightly activities in the Journal and start to monitor how well they work for you. For example, you can begin tracking the use of a sound machine or blue-light blocking glasses when you prepare for bed, and learn the results of each behavior from your Monthly Performance Assessment.