Have you ever woken up from bed and felt that your brain was already running at 200 miles per hour? This is because your brain is active from when you wake up in the morning until you fall asleep at night.
You don’t get to slow down for a while or wind down for the night before you rest your head. This is why you lay on the bed after a long day and continue ruminating on the day’s activities and experiences while simultaneously stressing about how the next day will go.
A good sleeping habit will help you make the most of your time in bed. It’ll ensure you’re well-rested and fresh for the next day’s activity. An essential part of a good sleep habit is winding down at night. Note that all your activities leading to your bedtime contribute positively or negatively to the quality of your sleep.
This is why you must create a wind-down routine to help you relax better and improve your sleep quality. But what does it mean to wind down for the night, what benefits does it have, and how can you do this? We’ll answer all of your questions in this article!
What Does It Mean to Wind Down for the Night?
Winding down for the night refers to a series of habits or activities that you perform around the same time every night and, most times, in the same order.
You can create a wind-down routine that works specifically for you. There’s no one routine that everyone has to follow. The activities you choose to wind down with are usually based on your preferences or individual needs, and the goal is for you to destress, relax, and have a better sleep.
Some activities that help you wind down for the night are reading, meditation, listening to soothing music, journaling, etc.
Why Do You Need to Wind Down?
There are several reasons why you need to wind down at night. A good starting point is that there are about 80 sleeping disorders that adult humans experience, including sleep apnea and insomnia. You can fix your inability to sleep at night through behavioral and cognitive changes, as they can take care of the underlying symptoms causing you to stay awake.
Creating a wind-down routine is an effective way to combat insomnia. It involves adopting routine behaviors that you perform consistently before bedtime every night in the same order. Over time, these activities train your body and brain to relax as you prepare to sleep. Hence, you’re able to sleep better. Some of the countless benefits of creating a wind-down routine are:
- Low risk of serious health issues
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Stronger immune system
- Improved mood
- Clear and focused thinking
- Improved productivity
Improving any or all of these conditions improves your sleep quality and overall health.
Combating Insomnia and Late-Night Anxiety
Late-night anxiety and stress are major causes of insomnia. Having thoughts racing through your mind about your to-do list for the next day or a review of your day’s events can keep you up all night. These thoughts keep your mind active and also activate your sympathetic nervous system.
Creating a wind-down routine changes the focus of your mind to the routine and teaches it to relax at bedtime rather than mulling over other things.
The effectiveness of bedtime routines in reducing insomnia symptoms and improving sleep quality is why your parents tried to create a bedtime schedule and routine for you as a kid. This helps you relieve crankiness, fall asleep quicker, and experience less frequent wakes.
It’s even more effective for children as it calms their nerves and helps to form a healthy circadian rhythm. They carry these sleeping habits into their adulthood, and it helps them live healthier lifestyles.
How Long Should Your Wind-Down Routine Last?
Winding down isn’t something that happens in an instant. You can’t turn your body on and off like a light switch. It takes a gradual process to ease your body to wind down for the night, which requires several activities.
The ideal time to wind down is between 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. It depends on what works for you, the activities you choose to engage in, and how your day usually goes. So, find a time that’s realistic for you and stick with it.
The effectiveness of your wind-down routine depends on your consistency level. You’re training your body and brain to prepare for sleep and sleep well. You can’t achieve this by doing it once or twice. That’s why it’s also important to maintain the same order and do it daily.
How to Wind Down for the Night
Following a healthy sleep pattern helps to improve your focus, mental health, and memory. With the wind-down routine, you teach your brain to differentiate the day from the night, and you get to shed stress and other negativities that may have built up in your body throughout the day.
There are several activities that you can do every night as part of your wind-down routine. Note that you don’t have to incorporate all these activities into your schedule at once, and the list below isn’t exclusive. Find the ones that work well for you and do them, but here are a few examples.
1. Determine Your Bedtime
Timing is important when trying to wind down for the night. So, the first step to your wind-down routine has to be to determine your bedtime if you don’t have one already. This means you have to first set or know your natural circadian rhythm. Pick a time ideal for you to sleep and wake up every day and train your body to stick to it, even when you’re on vacation, on holiday, or on the weekend.
Being consistent with a sleep schedule trains your brain to be alert once you wake up in the morning and be tired at night. Choosing a specific bedtime helps you choose a specific time to start winding down. Stick to this wind-down time every night too.
2. Get Off Your Digital Devices
You’ve most likely developed a habit of scrolling through social media, playing games, watching TV and movies, and doing other activities involving digital devices, even when lying in bed.
You may feel like they help you relax at night before sleeping, but if you’re going to create a good wind-down routine, then you must do away with these devices and related activities. The reason is that their screens affect the brain’s ability to release melatonin, the sleep hormone. So, while you think it’s helping you relax, it’s preventing you from falling asleep.
Drop all digital devices before you start your wind-down routine every night. Keep your phone, especially, away from you, or make sure it’s face down, so you don’t get to see the screen light, which affects your sleep. If there’s a TV in your bedroom, switch it off before wind-down time.
Also, take away all devices with illuminated or digital displays, including your alarm clock, to prevent them from interfering with your body’s natural progression into sleep mode.
3. Take a Late-Night Snack
Doing this as part of your wind-down routine ensures that you sleep full but not overfull. You should avoid going to bed hungry or with an empty stomach, as much as avoiding overeating before bed.
If you overeat before going to bed or eat foods rich in sugar and saturated fats, you can experience digestive issues, bloating, discomfort, and acid reflux. You may also have to frequent the bathroom throughout the night, leading to poor sleep quality.
This is why you should eat healthy and lite snacks, such as whole wheat toast, oatmeal, nuts, and fruits. These are foods that are rich in melatonin and will help promote sleep. You’ll be satisfied and full without feeling heavy and over-full. You can also go for non-caffeinated teas, such as chamomile and lavender, which induce relaxation and relieves stress.
4. Have a Warm Bath and Listen to Relaxing Music.
Listening to relaxing music or having a warm bath are two effective ways to soothe yourself before going to bed. So, either or both activities will make a good addition to your wind-down routine.
Your body experiences several hormonal changes as it prepares to go to bed. One of these changes is that your body temperature drops as your brain releases melatonin. Having a warm bath at night mimics the temperature drop that the body experiences while you sleep.
So, doing this can help your body kickstart its internal wind-down protocol. As the warm water touches your body, it increases the body temperature, but the temperature starts to cool down gradually as the water evaporates. This makes you relax better.
Listening to music to soothe your body and relax is also effective as part of your wind-down routine. It’s common for people to feel calm and sleep better while listening to music. Also, the genre of music you listen to isn’t as important as your preference in music or what you consider soothing music.
So, choose music that calms your nerve, irrespective of the genre, and helps to take away your worries and thoughts.
5. Write a Journal or Read a Book.
Reading a book is one of the best ways to wind down your body for the night. This makes it a great bedtime activity. However, ensure you’re not reading from a tablet or mobile phone. Instead, get a magazine, a hardcover novel, or other pieces of writing that aren’t electronic.
This ensures you don’t get drawn into using your mobile phone and reduces your brain’s melatonin secretion process. This is another one of those childhood practices that you should take with you to adulthood. It’s common to find parents reading stories to their kids at bedtime to make them relaxed and help them sleep better.
Your choice of books to read at bedtime is another thing that you must note. Ensure you’re reading a drama-free book. Don’t pick an action-packed or suspense-filled book to read. It’ll excite you and affect your wind-down process. Pick a dull or boring book. The duller, the better.
Writing is also a good wind-down activity, especially if you have a journal you’re writing in. It’s a good way to expel anxious and negative thoughts from your body before going to bed.
Allow your thoughts to flow when writing. Write down things that happened to you during the day that haven’t left your mind or your plans for the next day or next week that may keep you anxious and awake at night.
Taking care of these feelings and thoughts in writing before you sleep ensures that they don’t get to keep you awake thinking about them. That’s why journaling works for winding down at night. However, if you feel overwhelmed by journaling, you can start with something as simple as your to-do list for the next day.
6. Start Your Day With Exercises.
Exercises are an effective way to improve mood, relieve stress, and develop good sleep habits. Your nighttime behavior isn’t the only thing that affects your sleep. Your daily behavior and activities also affect your sleep quality at night.
While you can add exercises to your wind-down routine at night, ensure that the exercises you’re doing aren’t high-intensity exercises. However, you should add physically compelling activities and exercises to your day. And the earlier you do this in the day, the better.
7. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation helps to improve your sleep. These two activities should be a crucial part of your daily wind-down routine. They promote relaxation, help you deal with your thoughts, relieve stress, and ease anxiety.
Mindfulness helps you to be “mindful” and fully aware in that moment. You take in all your thoughts as they come into your mind, acknowledge them, and let them out without judgment. This ensures that these thoughts don’t have any more power over you, so it’s impossible for them to hold you or keep you up at night.
With meditation, you’re going to get more mental clarity. You’re calmer, your emotions are clearer, and your head is lighter. This practice helps you transition from a hyperactive, overworked, chaotic state of mind to a more relaxed and stable state.
You can achieve this by focusing on one thing during the exercise and shutting out outside distractions and other intrusive thoughts.
Implementing an Effective Wind-Down Routine
Creating a good wind-down routine doesn’t automatically translate into implementing it. There are several activities you can do during the day that can prevent you from making the most of your wind-down routine. Here are a few tips that’ll help you implement an effective routine:
- Study your circadian rhythm first
- Avoid taking mid-day naps. This can make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night.
- Avoid consuming caffeine about 6 hours before bedtime. This blocks adenosine receptors and makes it hard to find sleep.
- Don’t bring your work close to your bed. This helps to train your brain that your bed is solely for sleep.
There are several activities you can do to wind down for the night, as some others can be counter-productive. It’s important to know which activities work for you and stick to them. Be flexible enough to change these activities if you don’t notice any improvement in your sleep quality within a week or two.