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Establishing a Bedtime Routine: An Hour by Hour Sleep Checklist

A woman wrapped in white linens asleep in bed.

Establishing a Bedtime Routine: An Hour by Hour Sleep Checklist

A woman wrapped in white linens asleep in bed.

Clocking the proper amount of sleep is important for our bodies and our overall wellness. When we are sleep deprived, we may be more forgetful and definitely more lethargic. Over time, poor sleep may even contribute to more serious medical issues (like obesity, heart disease and dementia).

According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep. Lots of factors could keep us wide awake, though. Stress and worry can plague us at the most inopportune hours, and pain from an injury or medical condition also could keep sleep at bay.

Some bad habits, however, may be to blame for pushing back the clock on bedtime. Maybe you love coffee and drink it throughout the day. Unfortunately, that jolt of caffeine could be adding to your restlessness.

Staring at a phone or tablet can also contribute to a delay in falling asleep. Blue light messes with our body’s circadian rhythm. While you may think that watching a movie could lull you to sleep, the reality is that the light from the screen might be contributing to your sleep issues.

Establishing a bedtime routine can be a simple way to help train your body to prepare for sleeping. Think a nightly routine is just for kids? Think again! Patterns and routines can be comforting, and they can help you bust your bad bedroom habits.

Stop being so careless about your sleep and take control of your nights! Establishing a bedtime routine is easy when you follow an hour-by-hour sleep checklist.

The first step, though, is to set your bedtime. Plan to turn the lights out at least nine hours before you need to be up in the morning; so a 6 a.m. alarm clock means a 9 p.m. bedtime. Assume that you may toss and turn for an hour, so this bedtime will give you at least eight hours of sleep (perfect!).

Ready to prep for bed? Here’s how the routine breaks down:

Late Evening: Don’t Exercise

This recommendation might need to be adjusted per your own body or schedule. However, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you may want to refrain from doing any major workouts in the late evening or nighttime.

The NSF states: “The boost in body temperature that comes with cardio workouts, along with their stimulating nature, might interfere with falling asleep.”

However, the Foundation notes that everyone is different. You might not have any issue falling asleep after a long run.

A woman working at her computer late at night and drinking coffee.

Six Hours Prior to Lights-Out: Cut Caffeine

According to a 2013 study, researchers discovered that caffeine could affect sleep many hours before bed. The recommendation? Ditch the caffeine at least six hours before going to bed! If you plan to settle in at 9 p.m., cut caffeine before 3 p.m.

For those of you who live on coffee throughout the day, this might be bad news. However, the constant infusion of caffeine also might have been causing you to lay awake at night.

Early Evening: Last Call for Alcohol

Over at his site The Sleep Doctor, Michael J. Breus, PhD, talks about drinking and sleep. He writes that research has shown that the best time for indulging in a cocktail coincides with Happy Hour (so mid-eve at the latest)!

Timing, according to Dr. Breus’ article, is everything, because our bodies have to metabolize the alcohol we consume; it’s the metabolism process that he notes causes issues with our bodies. If you love to have multiple drinks with a late dinner, or as a night cap, you might want to re-think the habit.

3 Hours Before Bedtime: Don’t Drink the Water

Guzzling any liquid before bed is a bad idea. The more you drink, the more trips you’ll take to the bathroom. An article on MSN included some sound sleeping advice from a registered dietician: cut out H2O three hours ahead of your bedtime. To ensure you’re hydrated for the day, instead focus on drinking plenty of water starting in the morning.

2 (or 3) Hours Before Bed: The Last Meal

Many people have heard that eating before bed can lead to weight gain. Health experts recommend that  your last meal should be about two or three hours prior to your scheduled bedtime.

As for snacking? Nutritionists note that if you have to grab something to munch, you should stick with easily digestible snacks. A small healthy meal before going to sleep may even be beneficial.

An Hour before Bed: Turn off the Screen

Blue light is bad for sleep. Ideally, that screen shouldn’t follow you to bed, but most of us are guilty of staring at our screens during the night. Give your eyes and brain a light break and try to shut off those screens at least an hour before bed.

Other solutions? Invest in blue light glasses; these allow you to stay connected without the detrimental sleep effects.

An Hour (or Two!) Before Bed: Get into Pajamas!

After you unplug from the device, this is the perfect time to prep for sleep. Take a warm bath, swap clothes for pajamas and complete all those health/beauty tasks (wash your face, brush your teeth, etc.). Try to create a sleep ritual that helps signal to your body that it’s time for rest.

A Half-Hour Before Bed: Grab a Book

If you have children, you probably read to them at night…or make sure they read to themselves at night. This is a great habit to teach kids the benefit of books. However, adults may want to follow the same example.

After you turn off your devices and prep for bed, grab a book or a magazine. This may help your body feel ready for sleep. Your eyes may get heavy and you might feel like nodding off into those pages.

Time to Sleep: Zero Hour

After reading, it’s time to turn off the lights and get ready for sleep. At this point, you should have about an hour left before your bedtime. That means, if you need to fall asleep by 9 p.m., the lights should be out by 8 p.m.

You should assume that your body may take some time to fall asleep. Maybe you’ll nod off quickly, but it’s always best to allow a little extra time.

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that we make is assuming that once the lights go out, we’ll naturally just doze off. Instead, we stare at the clock or ponder about the day. Give your mind time to process the day and to lull into a dreamland.

Mind Games: What to Do with Worries

What if you’ve established a great bedtime routine but you still can’t fall asleep? Maybe your mind is racing from the day or you just can’t seem to quiet the thoughts of worry.

Before you head to bed, jot down all the tasks you need to do the next day. This ensures you won’t forget anything on your to-do list, no matter how small.

Some people keep worry journals as a way of emptying the late-night concerns. You can keep a notepad or a journal by your bed, but according to a sleep expert interviewed by Health, try to journal a few hours before bed.

Meditating before bed also may help you cope with worrisome thoughts and musings.  There are many online resources that can help guide you on your meditation journey. Some people incorporate crystals or music, others may incorporate religious prayer. Even simply focussing on 5 long-and-slow breathes in and out can help relax the mind and body for sleep.

Your Bedroom: Set the Sleep Mood

While a solid sleep routine can help prepare your body for sleep and may even assist you in diminishing some bad habits, your bedroom and bed also play a role in sleep and sleep comfort.

Cutting caffeine, limiting liquids and setting strict meal schedules all help the body wind down easily. However, if the room is too cold or too hot, you still may toss and turn.

At night, nudge the thermostat down a little. Add blankets for extra warmth. During the summer, if you’re concerned about electricity costs soaring with more AC use, you can use a fan in the bedroom.

Your bed also plays a role in your sleep routine. Make sure you have adequate pillow support. Some people add mattress toppers for extra cushion, but if your mattress has adequate support, this isn’t really necessary.

Grabbing a more cushioned or softer topper for the mattress, though, might be an indication that your mattress isn’t providing enough support. An old mattress also may be keeping you awake at night. As a mattress ages, it loses support and comfort. A mattress older than a decade should be replaced. Otherwise, you may end up sore or uncomfortable in the morning.

Falling asleep at night could be your worst nightmare. Many people toss and turn and fight for their sleep, but most adults need at least seven (and up to nine) hours of sleep each night. If you’re not clocking the recommended amount, then you need to figure out why sleep has become a problem.

Try to adopt a sleep routine at night; follow the hourly guidelines to limit caffeine, alcohol, meals, liquids and blue light at night. Manage your worries with meditation or a journal. And if the sleep problems continue, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor for more advice. Sweet dreams!

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