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Five Ways to Wind Down and Relax Before Bed

We’ve all been there: the evening is winding down, you’re finishing just one more show before you get ready to sleep. You do your nighttime routine, get comfortable, and once you get into bed, suddenly you can’t sleep. You’re thinking about what happened today, what you need to do tomorrow, did you remember to do this task or that chore, or you try to pass the time on your phone. Relaxing before bed can be difficult at best, but it doesn’t have to be a battle every night. We understand it can be hard (or nearly impossible) to shut your brain off before falling asleep but getting into a stable routine can help keep those ruminating thoughts at bay. Dr. Lawrence Epstein, chief medical officer of Sleep HealthCenters and professor of medicine at Harvard explains, “Our body craves routine and likes to know what’s coming.” A wind-down routine will help signal your body that daytime activities are over and it’s time to sleep.

So how do you establish a nighttime routine? The answer is both simple and complicated: consistency. A large part of a successful routine is sticking to it. Find out what works best for you and your body will eventually learn and associate your wind-down activities with relaxation. Your brain will kickstart melatonin production, and you’ll be fast asleep before you know it. Melatonin is a hormone your brain produces that signals your body when it’s time to go to sleep or wake up. Your body usually makes more melatonin in the evening in response to lower light levels, causing you to feel tired at night. We have some tips to help you establish a wind-down routine that will work for you and hopefully help you sleep better:

  1. Schedule technology-free time. Many of us are guilty of scrolling through social media or watching a show before we go to sleep. But studies have shown that the blue light emitted from your screen negatively affects your circadian rhythm. Some devices allow you to control the level of blue light in your screen or even schedule when to adjust the blue light emitted from the screen, which is a great alternative. Any type of bright light signals to your brain that it’s time to be awake so try to avoid looking at any screen, computer included, too close before bed. The National Sleep Foundation recommends you cut your screen time at least 30 minutes before bed.
  2. Separate work from bed. For any of us working from home, this can be a tough one. As we continue to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, work-life balance has taken a serious hit. Regardless of whether you go into the office or your office is down the hall from your bedroom, it’s important to log off when the workday is over. Try to avoid answering emails after dinner – some email services even have a “Do Not Disturb” function that you can customize so you won’t be notified during certain hours of the day. If that’s not an option, try physically closing your laptop to signal that you’re done for the day.
  3. Read a book. An actual paper book works best (remember that pesky blue light from screens), but any kind of reading will help you relax. One study showed that just six minutes of undisturbed reading can reduce stress by 68%, and it’ll give you the opportunity to think about something other than your worries.
  4. Listen to music. No matter what you choose to do to wind down, listening to soothing or calm music in the background can help you feel relaxed, even if you just have it playing in the background. Classical music has been proven to lower blood pressure but if that isn’t your vibe, your favorite music should do the trick too.
  5. Try stretching or light yoga. Stretching exercises help relax your muscles by relieving some tension after a long day. A comprehensive review found meditative activities like yoga are wildly beneficial for sleep quality and also improve quality of life and depression.

No matter your routine, alleviating anxious or worrisome thoughts should be your priority. Good quality sleep will come. It’s especially important to have boundaries between work and home if you’re working from home. Sleep specialist Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D explains, “It’s very hard to shut down your brain or quiet anxious or worrying thoughts when you’re on the go before bedtime. You want to separate your day from nighttime.” If you find that you’re still have trouble with anxious thoughts prior to bedtime, talking to a mental health professional may help you figure out strategies to cope. High quality sleep will help improve your mood and cognition throughout the day, so #BeTheDifference for yourself by investing in a routine that works for you.

 

Resources:

Foley, L. (2020, December 17). How to determine poor sleep quality. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/how-to-determine-poor-quality-sleep

Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, July 7). Blue light has a dark side. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.

Lewis, D. (2009), Galaxy Stress Research, Mindlab International, Sussex University, UK.

Tartakovsky, M. (2016, May 17). 12 ways to shut off your brain before bedtime. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/lib/12-ways-to-shut-off-your-brain-before-bedtime#1.

Trappe, H. J., & Voit, G. (2016). The cardiovascular effect of musical genres. Deutsches Arzteblatt international113(20), 347–352. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2016.0347

Wang, F., Lee, O., & Feng, F., et al. (2016). The effect of meditative movement on sleep quality: a systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 30, 43-52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2015.12.001

WebMD. (2020, May 18). What is melatonin? https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/what-is-melatonin