Bedtime Stories. One of the biggest services that bedtime reading provides is an engrossing distraction. It forces your brain to focus on processing new information. Your primary input devices — your eyes — are receiving a steady flow of data.
This provides your mind a diversion so your wheels can’t start spinning with the usual thoughts that keep you awake at night.
Did I remember to pay the water bill? Why does water circle the drain in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere? Do you suppose there are capybaras in Australia? If not, why not?
There’s no guarantee that your mind won’t wander. (Oh, if we only had a quarter for every paragraph we’ve had to reread.) But it does give you a diversion, something you find interesting and/or entertaining. (If not, maybe it’s time for a trip to the library.)
The best part? It keeps you from doomscrolling social media before bed.
Gratitude journaling. It may seem surprising that cultivating an attitude of gratitude can help your slumber.
Enter Emma Seppälä, a happiness researcher (how cool of a job is that?) at Yale and Stanford Universities. Her studies show that fostering positive thoughts at bedtime soothes the nervous system and helps you sleep better and longer.(8)
A gratitude list doesn’t have to be anything complex — just list 5 things that you’re grateful for today. You don’t have to get philosophical about it, either, listing deep items like “the laughter of children.” Items on our lists include simple things like, “Chai with an unhealthy amount of creamer,” “Dog paws that smell like Fritos” and “Not having to deal with the DMV for another year.”
It doesn’t even have to be formalized on paper — go green and just make a mental list. How sweet are those dreams going to be when you’re counting blessings rather than sheep?
Stretching. Not everybody’s into yoga, and we respect that. But a 2016 review of studies(9) linked stretching movements to improved quality of sleep — and better quality of life. It shifts your mind’s focus to your breath and movement instead of the things stressing you out, plus it relieves muscle tension that can lead to nighttime restlessness or cramping.
There’s an abundance of great bedtime stretching routines on YouTube that you can follow along with, but even taking a few minutes to stretch as high as you can and hold it, give yourself a big bear-hug, roll your neck and shoulders and straighten your legs along the wall will provide incredible results.
Aromatherapy. Whip out the incense, dig out the bottles of essential oils and see what kind of deodorizing spray you’ve got lurking under the bathroom sink. We’re about to smell the place up.
Lavender is the king of bedtime scents, and with good reason. It works. (Manta even has a mask that pipes lavender aroma directly to your nose.)
We get it, though — lavender’s floral scent can be, shall we say, “a bit much.” Or you might be out of lavender and having to resort to a backup from your set of essential oils.
Other, more subtle sleep-inducing scents you can try: cedarwood, chamomile, frankincense, marjoram or ylang-ylang.
Meditation. Relax, we’re not going to meditation-shame you. Maybe you’ve tried meditation before and just gave up out of frustration because your mind was like a marble on a Tilt-a-Whirl.
And, to be honest, you never found the right background music; it all sounded like a clinic waiting room.
But whether you’ll acknowledge it or not, you already know how to successfully meditate. Counting sheep? That’s meditation. Going down a rabbit hole of daydreams can be, too.
The truth is, it’s totally normal for your mind to wander while you’re meditating.
Any yogi will tell you that it takes years of practice to get great at meditation. But you’re already good at meditation, and that’s good enough for our purposes.
Instead of the conventional nature sounds and piano music, how about something a little more off-the-beaten-path? Try train tracks or a space shuttle’s hum as your soundtrack instead.
Stick to a routine. Especially a bedtime routine. Brush your teeth at the same time, let your dog out for that final bedtime pee at the same time, read at the same time… you get the idea.
This helps to train both mind and body that bedtime is approaching. That way you’re working with nature rather than against it. You’ll start to get drowsy at the right time and you’ll drift off a lot easier — because that’s what your body is expecting.
That means rising at the same time every day, too. Yep, even on the weekends. (Sorry to be a buzzkill.)
Want to skip the alarm and sleep an extra 20 minutes? That won’t be a problem. But trying to cram hours of sleep lost during the week into weekend catch-up sessions isn’t going to do your sleep hygiene any favors.