What was your bedtime routine for your kids when they were small? Often parents will talk about a bathtime that starts at a specific time, getting into pajamas, singing a song, and laying together in the bed for a bedtime story. They will say that frequently their child falls asleep before they get halfway through the story. This is a conditioned response. Your child has been conditioned to the bedtime routine and easily falls asleep.

Sleep is so important. Arianna Huffington spoke in a TED talk about using sleep as the way to increase productivity, creativity, and improve decision making. She wants everyone to stop using a lack of sleep as a badge of honor and instead get the sleep we need to improve our lives.

Do you sleep as well as a small child? Dr. Jyotsna Sahni, a sleep specialist, says that as adults we think we don’t need a bedtime or a bedtime routine, but our bodies like routines. They like to go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, and eat at the same time each day. Creating a bedtime routine can be one way to make sleep a priority.

Steps to Establish a Bedtime Routine

  1. Set up a bedroom that you love.

If you are going to sleep well, you need your bedroom to be a place where you feel relaxed and calm. You don’t want to walk into your bedroom at night and see a stack of laundry waiting to be folded, or a stack of mail that needs to be sorted. Items like these can trigger a need to do a few more things on your list before you sleep. Starting one more task on our to-do list can make us feel wired and awake for several more hours. Dr. Sahni calls this “missing the sleep train,” and says that we need to jump on the sleep train the first time it comes by. Set yourself up to get on the sleep train by clearing clutter out of your room.

Make sure that you have a comfortable bed, pillow, bed linens, and pajamas. Make the things that are surrounding you for eight hours of your day as comfortable as possible. This will help your bedroom be welcoming and relaxing.

As you set up your room, pay attention to lights and temperature. It is difficult to fully relax if you have bright lights from electronics glowing, even if that electronic device is just an alarm clock. Try to remove all these glowing distractions so that you can be relaxed and sleep through the night. Also, if you tend to be warm at night, take a minute on your way to bed to lower the temperature.

All of these items are small things to incorporate, but they can help your bedroom be a relaxing and calm place that sets the mood for sleep.

  1. Set a bedtime.

Dr. Sahni says that even as adults, we need to set our own bedtime. Calculate this based on when you have to get up. If you have to wake up at 6 am, count back 8 hours and set your bedtime as 10 pm.

This is a bedtime that you may have to work up to. If you are a night owl and are used to going to bed at 1 am, it will take some time to get to the 10 pm bedtime. But start by setting up your wake up time and get up at 6 am every day. Then you can move your bedtime earlier by an hour each night until you hit the 10 pm goal. While you are working on it, you may feel that you aren’t immediately tired and falling asleep at the earlier time. That is ok. If you give it time, you will develop a conditioned response like your kids.  

Sometimes we feel like it is taking forever to fall asleep. Dr. Sahni reminds us that it should take between 5 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. If it is taking you less than 5 minutes to fall asleep, you should have gone to sleep a half an hour earlier. That will be a signal that you can shift your bedtime tomorrow night.

  1. Create a slow bedtime routine.

Creating a bedtime routine like the one you had for your kids when they were little can help you relax and signal to you that it is time to go to sleep. Dr. Sahni says this routine should be slow, like the sun setting. For adults, the word ritual often fits better than the word routine. It helps remind us that this can be a sacred time and it does not have to be exactly the same every night.

The first step in your ritual needs to be shutting off electronic devices 30 minutes before your bedtime. Watching TV or checking our phones until the moment we crawl into bed does not give our minds space to wind down. Commit to shutting off the TV and your phone at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

There are a lot of different ways you could relax in the 30 minutes before your bedtime. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have one cup of hot herbal tea (without caffeine)
  • Take a shower or bath
  • Jot down the to-do list that is on your mind
  • Write in your journal
  • Read a book (a paper book to avoid the blue light from electronics)
  • Meditate or pray
  • Write in a gratitude journal

In addition to those relaxing activities, many of us have our normal routine of changing into pajamas (or out of clothes), brushing our teeth, washing our face, checking the house, and setting the alarm clock. All of those also signal to our brains that we are preparing for sleep.

A sleep ritual shows us that sleep is a priority, that we have made time and space for it. These small changes to make sleep a priority can help us to sleep better, wake well-rested, and function better throughout our day.

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