Why You Need A Pre-Sleep Nighttime Routine (and How to Design One)

May 02, 2019

Stretching to sunlight after a good night's sleep
Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN

Does your nighttime routine consist of lying in bed scrolling through emails, commenting on social media posts or fighting to keep your eyes open reading the latest novel for your book club? You're not alone as we live in a culture of sleep deprivation or restriction, and the consequences on work performance, health and quality of life can be profound. Not sleeping enough can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression, causing a significant burden on the healthcare system. What can help? A healthy pre-sleep routine can foster more hours of shut-eye, plus better quality of sleep to enhance your daily activities, as sleep is restorative and renewing to many systems in your body.

How Sleep Patterns Work

There's an area of the brain called the hypothalamus that controls your natural circadian rhythm or when you feel sleepy and awake. Sticking with a regular schedule of waking up and going to bed at the same time daily has been shown to keep your circadian rhythm in sync and may help reduce sleep troubles like insomnia. While most people operate on a 24-hour cycle, it turns out that, in general, males have about a 6-minute longer circadian rhythm than women, making them more likely to be night owls. Women have a shorter internal clock, which makes them more apt to be early birds. Of course, this can vary, but 8 hours of sleep a night is ideal for both genders, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A regular nighttime routine can do wonders for conditioning your inner clock to allow your body to get a healthy amount of sleep every night.

Creating a Healthy Sleep Routine

Sleep patterns are regulated by daylight and darkness, too. The sleep hormone, melatonin, which is released into the bloodstream at night, fosters a good night's sleep. Keep in mind that melatonin levels decrease as we get older, therefore older adults are more prone to suffer from lack of good quality sleep, says The Wall Street Journal. This is where black-out curtains come in handy! Sleeping in total darkness helps you get a healthy dose of melatonin, otherwise you may have disturbed sleep, and this can throw off other hormones, especially ones that control hunger and fullness (known as ghrelin and leptin). That's why consistent sleep deprivation can cause intense cravings for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods, such as fried, salty and sweet foods.

Keep in mind that what you eat and drink, as well as physical activity, play a role in how well you sleep at night. Large, high-fat meals, as well as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can disrupt sleep. You may want to block out extraneous sounds with a white noise device. Consider this when creating a pre-sleep routine that you can follow consistently.

Here's an example of a nighttime routine with 8 hours of sleep from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.:

  • 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Avoid caffeinated beverages after 6 p.m. (If you are sensitive to caffeine, it could be 3 p.m.)
  • By 8 p.m. Finish dinner and limit alcohol to one drink at least 2 hours before you plan to go to bed. Think whole grains, protein and healthy fats, like a hint of olive oil, fish, avocado, seeds and nuts. Limit fatty meats, cheese sauces and rich, sweet desserts before bed.
  • 9 p.m. Brush teeth, wash face and put on pajamas.
  • 9:30 p.m. Put aside all electronics to eliminate the blue light that these devices emit at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • 9:45 p.m. Close blinds and doors for a dark bedroom; turn on white noise device.
  • 10 p.m. Lay head on pillow and lights out.

Curbing Bad Sleep Habits

As with any new habit, creating a nighttime routine takes time and daily practice. Write out your new pre-sleep routine, if it helps. It may take getting used to eating a smaller dinner earlier or not having that second cocktail, but think of the sleep benefits you'll reap. A good pre-sleep routine can entail taking a 20-minute walk or stretch after dinner to help your body utilize the blood sugar better, as well as aid in digestion of your meal. Turn off the distressing nightly news, which can cause anxiety and keep you up at night. If you want to unwind for a few minutes in front of the television before you start your pre-sleep routine, tune into a fun program to lighten the mood or even listen to some enjoyable music to soothe your senses. Try dimming the lights and adding a cup of soothing herbal tea. When you wake up throw open the drapes to let in the sunlight and stretch your body to keep your circadian rhythm humming along for the new day ahead.

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