Ever feel like getting into bed and trying to fall asleep is even more work than waking up in the morning? For many, falling asleep can be a lengthy ordeal. From the restless tossing and turning to the anxious overthinking and aimless scrolling through social media — sometimes it feels impossible to get the rest you need.
That's why when I work with my private clients on creating healthier habits, sleep is always one area that we address. I’ve seen what a difference it can make when people institute a routine to wind down at night — and how the more restful sleep improves their mental and physical health.
Luckily, if sleep doesn't come easy there are things you can do before bed that will help reduce stress, calm your mind and make sleep much more accessible. Consistency is key. Give them a good week’s try, then pick the ones that work for you to create your own bedtime routine.
Practice gentle yoga
Yoga is one of the best ways to release tension in your muscles and relax for a good night’s sleep. Studies show that a regular yoga practice can improve your sleep quality — and I’ve experienced it personally. Before I become a yoga instructor and health coach, I suffered with insomnia. I started doing a relaxing yoga class once a week that focused on syncing breath with movement and it got me into a state of deep relaxation. Yoga helped me calm my mind before bed and eventually get rid of my sleeping aids.
Try this simple routine you can do right in bed: Sit up and open your knees out to the sides with your feet touching. Slowly lean forward to feel a stretch in your hips, groin and low back. Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose four times. Then extend the legs long in front of you and hinge forward into a forward fold. Breathe in and out four times. Finally, lie flat on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Twist to the right, and hold the knees to the right for four breaths. Switch to the other side.
For some people, meditation can be intimidating. But sitting (or lying) in silence and focusing on your breath is one of the most effective ways to calm your mind and body — and prepare it for a restful night’s sleep. One of my favorite ways to meditate before bed is to lie down on my back with my palms facing up. Lie in this position for five minutes and focus only your breathing. This may be challenging at first, but the more you practice focusing on your breath, the easier it becomes!
One of my clients replaced her nightly podcasts with meditation and swears that she feels more rested when she wakes up in the morning. Instead of listening to an engaging podcast or watching a television show, she lies down in her bed and meditates herself to sleep. She focuses on breathing in to the count of five, and then breathing out to the count of five, picturing herself lying on a beach, and before you know it she’s asleep!
Keep work and play out of the bedroom
Especially during the past two years, many of our bedrooms have been used for multiple purposes, not just sleep. An office, your home gym, a playroom for your kids — it may all get done in the bedroom! The problem here is that it can be challenging to actually shut your brain off and relax when you are distracted by the other tasks that are also performed in that room. I know this is a hard one but try using your bedroom for sleep and relaxation only. This will help train your mind into knowing that your bedroom is a place for rest, not everything else life throws at you!
If that’s not the case, close any closet doors or put up accordion shutters to block off the space that’s not used for sleeping. Keep the electronics out of your bedroom, or at least out of reach, and don’t use your phone or computer at least one hour before bedtime.
Close down the kitchen early
I know it is beyond tempting to turn on your favorite TV show and grab a bowl of ice cream or bag of chips to indulge before bed. Or, you may come home from work late and find yourself eating dinner 30 minutes before going to bed. But consuming large meals or sugary snacks before bedtime can affect your sleep, especially if you already struggle with trying to fall asleep at night. Not to mention that the goal is to keep everything other than sleep out of the bedroom — not make it your dining room, too!
Try to eat more protein and fuel yourself during the day so that you’re less hungry at night. If you must eat before bed, opt for a handful of nuts, yogurt with some granola or herbal tea with honey to satisfy sweet cravings.
Try some breathing exercises
Controlling the most automatic function of our body — breathing — helps slow your heart rate, calm the mind and body and prime us for sleep. Some breathing exercises that are helpful include yoga breathing where you breathe in and out through the nose slowly. As you breathe in, think about filling up your stomach and then your chest. As you exhale, release your chest and then your stomach. Close your eyes, and place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly.
One breathing technique that I personally love to do is box breathing: Breathe in for four counts, hold at the top for four counts, and then exhale for four counts. I feel relaxed and sleepy after just a few rounds of this. You can take this breathing exercise a step further by adding visualization. One of my clients started doing this while imagining that she’s on a beach breathing in fresh saltwater air with wind blowing in her hair. She drifts off to sleep as if she was swinging in a hammock by the ocean.
Make your bedroom a retreat
I encourage my clients who have difficulty sleeping to set up their bedroom like a luxurious hotel. (Who doesn't wake up feeling refreshed after a night in a fancy hotel room?) Turn down the bed an hour before bedtime. Light a candle that smells good. Keep hand lotion next to the bed. Maybe even put a piece of dark chocolate on the pillow! Dim the lights and have fuzzy socks or soft blankets on your bed. Make your bed an alluring part of your day so that you look forward to going to sleep.