Routines, even when not fully followed, they provide a guiding structure in the chaos of human life. I shower in the morning right after my coffee. I sit in the same desk every day, even though we technically have unassigned seats. I take long walks during lunch. I sleep every night. Always.
From bubble baths to pajama time, kids often have a regular bedtime routine set by their parents in an effort to get the little balls of energy to go off. “We do all these things so beautifully for our kids,” says Rebecca Robbins, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a sleep scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “And then forget about doing it for us, as adults.” He’s right: Upon further examination, so many of the “routines” in my life are simply habits formed unconsciously and unconsciously over time.
Whether you’ve never given much thought to what you do before bed or want to overhaul your entire routine, here are seven tips to help you achieve that perfect, calm end to a hectic day.
Complete your bedtime routine
Robbins recommends doing rituals all the time before bed. Maybe you’re drinking hot tea, putting on face lotion, and talking about the day’s events with your partner in bed. Or maybe you do some stretching, followed by a quick bath and a warm robe. Whatever the routine, the repetitive nature is important.
“Your body and brain then understand that what comes after those activities is sleep,” he says. “So we can classically condition ourselves to understand that the end of the bedtime routine is bedtime.” Intentionality can shift what was a mindless habit into an effective routine.
Understand that consistency is king
One of the biggest mistakes adults make when it comes to bedtime routines is lack of consistency. “I would take a page out of the playbook we use for our kids when it comes to falling asleep,” says Robbins. “And that includes a consistent bedtime.”
Even if you start a regular evening ritual with the best of intentions, the unpredictability of life is bound to interfere with your plans. It could be a late-night phone call from a loved one or your favorite sports team winning a nail-biter. Anything that throws off your schedule, take a moment to think about what happened, then try again the next night.
Set a regular wake-up time
Chris Winter, MD, neurologist and sleep expert who hosts the Sleep Unplugged podcast, suggests focusing more on when you wake up in the morning than the exact time you go to bed each night. “I eat lunch every day at one,” says Winter. “But if one o’clock rolls by and I’m not hungry, I won’t force food down my throat.”
One caveat is that even if you go to bed an hour or two later than normal, she advises people to set their morning alarm for the usual time. “I think it’s okay for your brain to have a little penalty there,” he says. Some sleepiness can reinforce the importance of structure to your routine.
Banish screens before bed
When should you put down your smartphone, move notifications to Do Not Disturb and leave it untouched on the charger?
Robbins suggests doing this at least 30 minutes before bed. Although turning down the brightness on your phone or switching to a warmer-hued light may be easier on your eyes than normal phone use, using the screen earlier overall is the best option for a calm pre-workout routine. sleep.
Don’t rush the process
A common myth about quality sleep is that it happens in an instant. The main characters of the films huddle under their covers in a bedroom with half the lights still on and off in a nanosecond. “In reality, even a well-rested person takes about 15 or 20 minutes to fall asleep,” says Robbins. Incorrect assumptions about how you should experience sleep can create unrealistic expectations for your nightly ritual.
Seriously, stop pushing yourself
Be kind to yourself. While a soothing set of activities before bed is beneficial, the reverse is also true. One of the worst things you can do is feel a bunch of pressure to get the perfect night’s sleep. “Anxiety starts to cloud the way we perceive sleep, which is really problematic,” says Winter.
As for most situations in life, hypercritical emotions just lead to negative spirals. “The secret to a great night’s sleep, for me, is to be as happy in bed awake as you are asleep,” she says. So build that routine and stick to it, but don’t beat yourself up on a night that doesn’t go according to plan.
See a professional
Looking for that perfect gadget to help you relax and jump start your sleep? From duct tape to pink noise, Winter is critical of “all these stupid things” people buy to help them sleep. (Though to be fair, we at WIRED have spent a lot of time testing sleep gadgets, and we certainly have clear favorites.) He says, “It’s this idea that if you haven’t figured out the problem, you just haven’t bought the right solution.”
Instead of buying a $500 gadget or trying the latest sleep hack from TikTok, people who are still having trouble should consider making an appointment with a sleep specialist who has a history of helping patients with sleep disorders or conducting sleep studies.