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How to Build a Bedtime Routine

Written by Florrie Byrd

How often does this happen to you? You hop into bed, turn out the lights, get cozy under the covers, and then … nothing. Your mind is racing, your body is wired, and you can’t fall asleep. If this is something that happens to you a lot, you might need a healthier bedtime routine.

“Bedtime routine” probably brings to mind flannel PJs, bedtime stories, and getting tucked in and kissed goodnight. But a bedtime routine — a simple, relaxing ritual that you stick to every night — can improve sleep for kids and adults alike.

Why Do I Need a Bedtime Routine?

It’s simply a way to train your brain to start winding down for the night. Life is hectic, and your brain isn’t just going to flip to “sleep mode” because the clock says it’s time to go to bed.

Take a look at what you’re doing in the hour or so before bedtime. Stimulating activities like tidying the house or answering emails can make it harder to fall asleep. The same goes for kids. Doing homework or playing video games right before bed can keep kids amped up and unable to fall asleep. A little transition time, where you focus on calming activities, can make a huge difference when it’s time to turn out the light and go to sleep.

Creating a Bedtime Routine for Adults

What your bedtime routine looks like is totally up to you. And it doesn’t have to be elaborate. 30 minutes to an hour should be enough time to calm your mind and prime you for a good night’s sleep.

Some ideas to try:

  • Taking a warm bath
  • Putting on your favorite fuzzy robe and slippers
  • Having a cup of herbal tea or hot cocoa
  • Eating a light bedtime snack
  • Reading or listening to an audiobook
  • Praying or meditating

If you’ve never tried journaling, it can be a great way to decompress after a stressful day. Keep a notebook and pen on your nightstand, so you can write a few things down before bed. Putting your worries down on paper can help get them off your mind.

Whatever your bedtime routine looks like, the most important thing is that it should be simple, relaxing, and consistent.

How to Implement Your Bedtime Routine

Now that you know what a healthy bedtime routine looks like, here are some ideas for how to start doing it.

Set an alarm. Decide what time you want to go to bed, and set an alarm for 30 minutes before. When the alarm goes off, that’s your signal to start powering down for the night.

Dim the lights. That helps signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.

Just say no to electronics. Our devices are great for a lot of things, but sleep isn’t one of them. Ideally, you should turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep. It can be hard to break the habit of watching TV or looking at the internet before bed, but it helps if you have something to replace it with. Try listening to music or a podcast instead.

Skip the nightcap. A couple of drinks near bedtime might seem like a good idea, and it may even make you drowsy. But alcohol disrupts your sleep in a variety of ways, from causing night sweats and snoring to making you need to get up and pee more often.

Don’t go to bed with a full stomach. Try to have your evening meal at least 2 to 4 hours before you want to go to bed. A bedtime snack is okay and can work as part of your routine, but keep it light.

Be consistent. It’s not a “routine” if you don’t do it the same way, at the same time, every night. Consistency is the key to training your mind and body to shut down for the night. That means sticking to the routine on weekends as well.

Creating a Bedtime Routine for Kids

Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you sleep battles are one of the biggest challenges of parenthood. Kids need lots of sleep, but wrangling them into bed (and keeping them there) isn’t always easy. A relaxing but structured bedtime routine can really help with this.

Same as for adults, keeping the routine simple and consistent is key. The more lengthy and complicated it is, the less likely you are to stick to it. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a program called Brush, Book, Bed that promotes the idea of a simple nightly routine — brushing teeth, reading books, going to bed — to help your child develop healthy sleep habits.

A bedtime routine that works well for young children consists of bathtime, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading books, giving hugs and kisses, then going to sleep. It’s simple and soothing, and it primes kids for sleep. Again, what the bedtime routine consists of is totally up to you — maybe you skip books but sing songs instead. The important thing is doing it at the same time, in the same order, each night.

Maybe you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow most nights. Maybe your kids go to bed without so much as a peep. If so, lucky you. But a relaxing, consistent bedtime routine is still a good idea — whether it’s to correct sleep issues, or just to ensure that you don’t have them in the future. Now off you go — time for bed.