- Your bedtime routine — aka the things you do before bed — has a pretty big impact on your sleep.
- To tell your brain it’s almost time for bed, try a bath, soft music, aromatherapy, or gentle yoga.
- If your new routine doesn’t help your sleep issues, talking to a professional is a good next step.
Having a rough day after another night spent tossing and turning? You’re probably not the only one.
Around 50-70 million Americans struggle with sleep problems, with 70% of American adults reporting poor sleep at least once a month.
But if you’re tired of feeling like a zombie in the mornings, a new bedtime routine could do the trick.
“For people of any age, a bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that it’s time to start winding down and preparing for sleep,” says Dr. Shelby Harris, licensed clinical psychologist and director of sleep health at Sleepopolis.
When you stick to a consistent nighttime routine, your body and brain could learn to automatically associate these activities with sleep, helping you feel more relaxed and calm, Harris says.
You don’t need to carve out a large chunk of your day to start a bedtime routine, either. To prove it, here are 12 basic pre-bedtime activities you can try out tonight.
1. Take a bath or shower
A long soak or shower is one way to unwind before bed.
According to one review, taking a hot bath or shower one to two hours before bed could help you fall asleep 10 minutes faster, on average. That’s because the soothing water may help relax your muscles and wash away stress.
Plus, when you get out of the water, your body temperature lowers. This mimics how your body naturally cools off before sleep, says Terry Cralle, registered nurse and clinical sleep educator. That could help prime your brain for bedtime so you, theoretically, fall asleep more easily.
You can even enhance your experience with aromatherapy by showering with a fragrant soap or lighting a scented candle near the tub.
As an added benefit, a 30-minute bath may help ease depression. Evidence has found strong links between depression and sleep issues — and if you’re among the 75% of people who live with both concerns, getting some relief from mood symptoms may also benefit your sleep.
2. Play restful music
Listening to music might lead to better sleep by easing anxiety and reducing levels of cortisol — the stress hormone. So, consider making a bedtime playlist of soothing songs to listen to before bed.
You don’t have to stick to a certain genre, like classical music, either. Music of many different genres may promote better sleep, so long as it has a smooth, non-danceable rhythm and a low tone.
Experts recommend listening to your sleep playlist for around 45 minutes every night at a low volume. You could also play it as you drift off in place of white noise.
3. Listen to a bedtime story
If you used to treasure listening to bedtime stories as a kid, why not bring them back into your routine as an adult?
Bedtime stories have plenty of positive effects for kids, like better listening skills or heightened imagination. And there’s no reason to think those benefits suddenly stop when you reach a certain age.
You could listen to a story with an app like Audible or Libby while you drift off. Or, if you have a partner, you can create a relaxing screen-free routine to share by taking turns reading aloud to each other.
4. Practice gratitude
Adding a gratitude practice to your bedtime routine could also make a difference, as research links attitudes of optimism and gratitude with better sleep quality.
Cralle suggests an exercise called “three good things.” This involves listing three positive things that happened to you during the day — like enjoying a perfectly made, extra-tasty latte or no line at the grocery store.
Whether you write them down, speak them aloud, or reflect quietly, naming those three good things can offer a peaceful way to end the day and look forward to the next, Cralle says.
5. Enjoy calming scents
According to a 2021 review, aromatherapy may help improve sleep quality and reduce stress. Certain smells, like lavender, may even help boost levels of melatonin — your body’s natural sleep hormone.
To bring soothing scents into your bedtime routine, you could try things like:
Relaxing scents to perfume your room and set the scene for sleep include:
- Clary sage
The scents you find most relaxing can depend on your personal preference — but keep in mind that certain fragrances might make you feel awake and invigorated instead of calm.
Scents you may want to save for the daytime include:
6. Have a snack
If you’re prone to nighttime hunger, a scheduled bedtime snack might help you satisfy your appetite so you don’t wake up hungry.
The best nighttime snack options contain ingredients that could potentially improve sleep, such as:
7. Grab a pair of blue light glasses
Maybe you know blue light from your phone or laptop screen can interfere with your sleep quality by blocking your melatonin production — but you can’t escape working before bed, either.
If that’s the case for you, special blue light glasses may be a welcome addition to your bedtime routine.
Blue light glasses work by absorbing the light from electronics, and some evidence suggests they may help you fall asleep faster. So, if screens are an inescapable part of your nighttime routine, donning a pair of blue light glasses may help your body produce more melatonin than it would otherwise.
8. Make a cup of tea
If you want to unwind with a warm drink, try brewing a calming cup of tea. Caffeine-free blends that are perfect for a pre-bedtime routine include:
On the other hand, you may want to skip tea blends that might be more energizing than restful, like:
9. Do a bedtime yoga routine
Restorative yoga and gentle stretching are great ways to wind down, Harris says.
Over 55% of people who practice yoga say they get better sleep. Yoga might also help you feel more relaxed by keeping your body from releasing stress hormones.
A few yoga poses that may help you unwind before bed include:
10. Give yourself a bedtime massage
If you often feel tense or stiff before bed, it may be worth relaxing your muscles with some at-home massage therapy.
One small study found that foot massages improved sleep quality for people receiving treatment for hemodialysis — a treatment that filters waste from your blood when your kidneys no longer function properly.
Another study linked massage therapy to lowered insomnia for people who had gone through menopause.
A few ways to enjoy a massage before bed include:
11. Play a brain game
Just as you might do physical exercise during the day to help you feel sleepier at night, some research suggests that brain exercises may improve your sleep, too.
According to one small study, cognitive training could help improve sleep quality in older adults.
Of course, you can benefit from giving your brain a workout at any age. Screen-free ways to challenge your brain before bed include:
- Playing a card or board game
- Solving a puzzle, like a crossword, Sudoku, or jigsaw puzzle
- Learning a new language
- Playing a musical instrument
12. Clean your room
If you want to prep your bedroom for sleep, it may be worth taking a few minutes to tidy it up.
According to a study from the University of Connecticut, repetitive tasks like cleaning may help you cope with anxiety. Plus, clearing away the physical clutter in your room might help you put away racing thoughts and worries, too.
What’s more, a poll from the Sleep Foundation found that people who regularly turn down their bed were more likely to sleep better at night.
If you don’t make your bed in the morning, try making it extra cozy for yourself before hopping under the covers — for instance, by adding a weighted blanket, plumping up your pillows and fluffing your comforter, or adding a few extra pillows.
When to get professional support
If you’ve already established a regular bedtime routine and sleep still doesn’t come any easier, it might be time to reach out to a professional — like your regular doctor or a sleep specialist.
You may want to consider making an appointment if:
Experts recommend reaching out for help if you experience any of these sleep problems on more than one night, for multiple weeks in a row.
A consistent bedtime routine can help you clear your mind and set the tone to destress, relax, and fall asleep, Cralle says.
Calming activities like listening to music, taking a shower, or even tidying up your bedroom could help you get into the right mindset for sleep.
But if you’ve already tried adjusting your bedtime routine and still find yourself lying awake at night, connecting with your regular doctor or a sleep specialist may be a good next step.