1. Decide on a bedtime in advance, and start planning for it 1–2 hours ahead.
And consider setting it just a little bit earlier than you want.
Just like you can’t go from 0 to 100 in the morning, you can’t instantly calm down from a busy day the moment your head hits the pillow.
Create a transition period during which you tell your brain and body to start relaxing.
2. Limit your caffeine to the morning with no caffeinated drinks after 2 p.m.
Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your body for 8–10 hours after ingesting it. An afternoon coffee could still leave you tossing and turning at 10 p.m.
Remember that caffeine sources include coffee, black and green tea, colas, energy drinks, yerba mate, and dark chocolate.
3. 1 to 2 hours before bed, take out a piece of paper and do a “brain dump. ”
Whether we’re planning our next day, ruminating over stuff that happened earlier, or just thinking about nothing in particular, it’s easy to let the “brain hamsters” run in their wheel as we lie there staring at the ceiling.
So get the hyperactive, anxious little critters out of your brain and on to paper with a brain dump.
Keep a notebook next to your bed and write down everything that’s in your head: To-dos, the meeting next Tuesday, remembering to pick up milk, stuff you’re worried about, the meaning of life . . .
Write it all down.
Now it’s the paper’s problem. It’ll hold on to that stuff for you, so your brain doesn’t have to. And keeping the notebook nearby means that it’s always ready for dumping. Have a last-minute thought before you slip between the sheets? Bam! Hit the paper!
Now your brain is clear, clean, and calm, ready to relax.
4. Turn off all electronic screens (TV, computer, etc.) an hour before bed.
While you may swear that cruising Facebook or watching late-night reality TV are relaxing, electronic media are actually stimulating.
They rev up our brain and body even if we don’t realize it.
Plus, the light from screens can mess up our circadian clocks.
But what should you do if you’re supposed to turn off the electronics?
5. Make yourself some decaf tea, listen to soft music, and read something light.
Most people haven’t read a book since high school or college. Drink tea? Listen to relaxing music while calming down? Isn’t that for hippies? Nope. We scientists love it too.
Reading light fiction while sipping on hot herbal tea gets you out of your mind and into a story. It regulates your breathing and signals to your body that you’re “shutting down” for the evening.
6. Turn off all phones and gadgets and put them in another room.
You don’t want to hear text message or email alerts while you’re trying to sleep — they’re much too tempting to check.
Get an old-school alarm clock without a lit display.
(Hey, if you go to bed early enough, you might not even need an alarm. Now there’s a crazy thought.)
7. Keep your bedroom a little cooler.
If you’ve ever experienced a sweaty, sheets-knotted night, you know how difficult — and uncomfortable — it can be to relax and sleep when it’s too warm.
On the other hand, cooler temperatures tell the body it’s hibernation time.
8. Take an Epsom salts bath before bed.
Epsom salts contain magnesium, which calms the body and promotes sleep. This also helps overall recovery and will ease aches and pains. Dump 1–2 cups into your bath and soak.
Experiment with bath temperature. Some folks swear by warm water; others find that cooler water knocks them out better. See what works for you.
9. Dim the lights. Darken your bedroom.
Darkness tells our body that it’s time for sleep.
Dim the lights an hour or two before bed — only as bright as they need to be to keep you from bumping into things.
And make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible: Get good drapes or blinds, block out ambient light, and cover any light sources (e.g. electronic displays).
10. Try some white noise.
If you’re bothered by outside noise, try leaving a fan or humidifier on in your bedroom.
This will create a “white noise” or steady hum that will drown or level out distracting sounds, such as your neighbor deciding to sort his bottles and cans into the recycling bin by the light of the full moon.
11. Focus on your behaviors rather than the outcome.
Aim to be just a little bit better, for you.
Don’t lie awake wondering and worrying about “doing it right”.
Just do your sleep ritual faithfully, get your butt in bed, and know that you tried your best.
Develop your own sleep ritual
You don’t have to try all these strategies tonight.
Just pick one or two that you think might work for you.
Think of it as your own personal sleep experiment.
And, at the end of the experiment, you’ll have a fool-proof sleep ritual.