Newsflash – bedtime isn’t just a good idea for kids! Setting up a routine at night not only helps you to stick to the right amount of sleep regularly – the steps in your routine work as physical and psychological cues that help your brain and body start to wind down for sleep. So how do you build a really solid, foolproof sleep routine?
As with most health issues, different tricks work for different people – so we’ve gathered as many tips as we could find, to give you the best chance of building a routine that works for you. Pick and choose from the tips below (plus many more included in our sleep course), and see what fits into your lifestyle.
One more thing – we really recommend keeping a sleep diary and treating your routine like a scientific experiment! Keep the conditions as consistent as possible for a couple of weeks, so you can record enough data to find patterns and make conclusions. Give things a try for more than one night – your brain takes a couple of weeks to get used to new routines, so you might need a while to see the benefits. Good luck!
1. Sleep at around the same time every day
Of course, we’re all adults, so nobody’s getting grounded if they stay up past their bedtime. But in general if you can stick to a regular bedtime, it makes it easier for your body to get into the swing of things – it’s called your circadian rhythm, and it controls a lot of functions in your body, from hormone production (which can affect your mood and ability to drift off), to digestion and mental health. Bedtime might be boring, but it’s based in science!
2. No caffeine or alcohol for 6+ hours before bed
Again, a bit of a ‘boring’ one – but if you’re struggling with sleep, it could be worth cutting out coffee or booze in the evenings. And yes, that means nothing at dinner! Caffeine can stay in your system having energising effects for much longer than that initial coffee buzz, so best to stick to non-caffeinated drinks from the afternoon onward. Alcohol can initially make you feel sleepy and fall asleep more easily, but as your body processes the alcohol, you’re more likely to wake up in the night feeling weird symptoms like dehydration, racing heartbeat, shakes and temperature fluctuations.
3. Exercise during the day to get the benefits by nightfall
Getting that ‘good tired’ feeling at the end of the day doesn’t come without a bit of hard work earlier on. Just be careful to avoid exercising up to 3 hours before bed, as the endorphin boost from exercise can have an energising effect and keep you up later than you’d like. Stick to gentle stretching and breathing exercises to help you wind down, loosen up and relax before bed.
4. Block out the light
Dim the lights a couple of hours before bed – and that applies to your phone and laptop too. Use the night-time function on your phone to reduce the blue light which keeps you awake, and look into screen-dimming apps for your computer too (there are plenty available for free online, and you can set what time you’d like them to kick in.)
Make sure you sleep in a fully darkened room, with good curtains or blinds, and no blinking charger lights or lamps. Use a sleep mask to block out light (silk is a good option for your sensitive eye skin). Controlling the light and darkness around you means your body will get used to periods of darkness when you want them, and soon you’ll be able to trigger that ‘dark, sleepy winter evening’ feeling whenever you like.
5. Block out the sound
If you find you’re easily woken by innocuous noises in the house, it’s definitely worth investing in some earplugs. And if you find you sleep long hours but don’t feel rested, it might be worth trying them too – you could be ‘half-waking’ due to sounds around you. It feels a bit weird to get used to the sound of your own blood pumping round your head while using earplugs, but it can actually help you zone out.
Another great option to help you block out sound is listening to white noise while you fall asleep. If your headphone aren’t very comfy, try a sleep headband with inbuilt headphones – they’re great for white noise, and also for audiobooks if you prefer a soothing voice in your ear. Audible is a great subscription service with thousands of professional audiobooks – or if you want to try listening to some audiobooks for free, you can find hundreds of classics read by volunteers on Librivox.
6. Stop clock-watching
Once you’ve set your alarm for the morning, hit the pillow and don’t look at your alarm clock until you wake up. If you stay awake, or doze in and out of sleep, just knowing what time it is can stress you out and make it harder to fall back under – allow yourself to lose track of time, and even a couple of hours asleep can feel much longer.
7. Evening rituals
Reading in bed is a classic for a reason, and a sleepy cup of tea on your bedside table can do wonders too. Find the little self-care activities that help you take a breath and go ‘ahhhh’ – then do those every night, to train your brain into associating them with sleep.
8. Empty your head
Plenty of people find themselves staying up thinking about the worries of the day gone by, what’s happening tomorrow, or that embarrassing thing that happened 6 years ago and still haunts you to this day. To help you escape these insomnia thought loops, save a notebook by your bed – any thoughts that run through your head, jot them down and know that you’ll get to them in the morning.
9. Make your bed in the morning
It’s a simple trick, but making your bed makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something good as soon as you wake up, gives you closure on the night, and looks so cosy and inviting when the next evening comes.
10. No snoozing the alarm
Studies show that the small amounts of sleep you get after snoozing the alarm just make you feel so much worse when you finally drag yourself out of bed! Instead, find something that really wakes you up – the Alarmy app is a great option for those who really struggle! The alarm won’t switch off until you’ve completed a challenge of your choice – a memory puzzle, taking a picture of something, or even scanning a barcode (set it to scan something next to you kettle, and it will force you to get out of bed!) Likewise, use bright light to wake yourself up – SAD lamps are great for this, or sunlight-mimicking alarm clocks.
11. Lower your body temperature
This might sound a bit counter-intuitive, since all you want to do at bedtime is get cosy – but when the body feels your core temperature lowering, it sends signals to your brain to sleep in order to conserve energy. Aim for your bedroom to be cool but not cold. When you’re tired, your body temperature falls. This causes a release of melatonin, a hormone that makes it easier to fall (and stay) asleep.
Do you have any sleep routine tips you think we’ve missed? Head over to our community forum, and share advice and support with hundreds of other people affected by cancer.