Bedtime Routines and Sleep Rituals for Restful Sleep

The process of going to sleep is highly dependent upon behaviors, and disruptions in your bedtime routine may lead to difficulty falling asleep (insomnia). Children and adults alike need to mentally prepare to go to sleep with ritualized behaviors. By engaging in specific activities, we can better make this transition and improve our rest. Discover some of the best sleep rituals and bedtime routines that will help you to sleep, including reading, listening to music, or taking a bath.

Woman practicing yoga on bedroom floor
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Sleep Is a Behavior

Sleep is certainly a physiological process—a chance for rest that conserves energy and an opportunity to process memories and improve learning—but it is also a behavior. In a very real sense, our bodies can ​learn to sleep well, and we can also learn to sleep poorly. Our body follows a natural circadian rhythm, and by keeping a consistent sleep schedule, we can reinforce this. As part of better sleep guidelines, we can make other choices—including establishing a bedtime routine—that likewise improve our sleep patterns.

How We Benefit From Bedtime Routines

Just like we encourage for children, adults need daily sleep rituals prior to going to bed to allow us to unwind and mentally prepare for going to sleep. Imagine taking your 5-year-old child to an amusement park, indulging his every sugary wish, and then rushing him home and putting him to bed hours before his normal bedtime. The chance of him going to sleep is slim. Similarly, we cannot rush through our day, making choices that ruin our sleep, and expect sleep to easily come when we desire it.

Sleep is a quiet, relaxing activity, so it doesn't make much sense to try to transition to that directly from something that is quite the opposite. Our bodies don't do well with abrupt changes. Quiet sleep rituals help ease this transition, preparing us mentally and physically for sleep.

Recommended Sleep Rituals

Sleep rituals should include quiet activities in the brief period before bedtime. How much time you spend unwinding may vary. If you fall asleep immediately on most nights, you may not need much time to transition. However, if you suffer from insomnia or have trouble with your mind racing as you try to fall asleep, a longer period of sleep rituals may be helpful. In general, 30 to 60 minutes will likely be sufficient.

What sleep rituals should be part of your bedtime routine? These will vary and depend largely on personal preference, including a consideration of what you find relaxing. If you struggle to read, then plopping down with a book is ill-advised as it will prompt frustration and not aid sleep. Think of things that individually make you feel sleepy, as that is just the feeling you are after. These activities may include:

  • Reading
  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Stretching
  • Taking a bath
  • Praying or meditation

Overly stimulating activities, such as aerobic exercise, doing work, using a computer, playing video games, or watching stimulating television may disrupt your sleep. Light at night may be a problem. Perhaps some of these activities can be incorporated into your bedtime routine if they are not disruptive to your sleep, but if you have trouble falling asleep, then they may be targeted as potential culprits.

By taking some time each night to wind down, you will ensure a successful transition to sleep. And if you can sleep soundly after a nice bedtime story, there's no happier ending than that.

1 Source
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  1. National Sleep Foundation. Insomnia and sleep.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.