How to Design an Effective Bedtime Routine

man sleeps tightly on bed covering body with stripped blanket
by Beatrix Schmidt

If you are somebody who struggles to get to sleep at night, then I’m sure you’ve already read plenty of articles around this topic of developing a bedtime routine. You may also have found that these tips didn’t work the way that you hoped.

This might be because the tips are too generalised and don’t work for your personality type. There may also have been an issue with you putting too much pressure on yourself, expecting to get it all right straight away.

Pick a bedtime routine that realistically works with what you have going on in your life.

Set your own bedtime

I’ve seen plenty of articles suggesting that 10 pm is a good time to get to bed. The idea, of course, is to get to bed earlier to get more sleep. So then people aim to follow that but it just doesn’t work for them.

If you have things going on in your evening, then you also need time to wind down and relax so you don’t take those activities to bed with you.

With many of my clients, 10 pm is just too early for them. Personally, I don’t go to bed that early either. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m a night owl, I just need to have more downtime.

If this sounds like you, then maybe 11 pm is more realistic. Whatever you choose, it needs to work for your lifestyle and personality.

Inventory the last part of your day

It’s really helpful to look at what you are routinely doing in the last 30 to 45 minutes of your day before you go to sleep. And I want to draw the distinction here between going to sleep and going to bed. If you are in bed but reading, then this is a period of activity before sleep that is counted in this last 30-45 minutes of ‘doing’.

So start with the time you actually switch off the lights and go to sleep, then work backwards 45 minutes from there, noting down all the things you do. These might include taking a shower, brushing your teeth, laying out your clothes for the morning, or perhaps wrapping up your to-do list.

Now that last one, the to-do list raises a red flag! Going overwork or general responsibilities is very likely to trigger stress or other negative emotions. I suggest moving tasks like this to another time.

Getting those evening activities in sequence

Once you know what you are doing with your time in the evenings, the next step is to put those into a sequence that helps you to wind down. And this is where elements of brain training come in.

Your brain will come to recognise those things you do last before going to sleep and will begin responding by allowing you to wind down. This is what’s really key about bedtime routines.

Prepare for sleep physically, emotionally and mentally

I said in the introduction that many people I come across struggle with putting too much pressure on themselves. You can mentally prepare better for sleep by telling yourself that you are going to bed and that even if you don’t sleep straight away that’s okay, at least you are resting.

Prepare emotionally by dealing with those feelings earlier in your evening – as I mentioned before, this is a good reason not to look at your to-do list late at night.

And of course, physical preparation for sleep allows that brain training to kick in. Going through the pre-sleep routine of getting into your pyjamas and brushing your teeth as the last thing you do, prompts your brain that it’s time to sleep.

Remember to be patient with yourself when implementing a new sleep routine. It does take a little time to adjust and for those brain training benefits to kick in.

To learn more about sleep see: The 10 Day Sleep Challenge

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