Develop a Pre-Sleep Routine to Improve Your Sleep

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

A pre-sleep routine can be beneficial because it distracts the mind from anxiety-fueled thoughts (toward sleep and other topics) and allows it to focus on a pre-sleep ritual instead. Repeating the process over time helps the brain to associate the routine with preparing for sleep.

Correcting bad habits

You probably know already that some things are bad for sleep; for example, watching TV in the bedroom or spending too much time in bed. What if there was a model pre-sleep routine you could follow? Good news — there is!

Your pre-sleep routine template

A study published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms identified a pre-sleep routine that improved sleep and daytime function. Although the routines were somewhat personalized, we'll outline the general steps. Let's begin...

Make sure your bedroom is a 'sacred' place

Make sure you've addressed any factors that may interfere with sleep (for example: excessive noise and light) before going to bed. The bedroom should be off-limits for any activity other than sleep or sex.

Select a 'transition marker'

The marker you choose will be your signal for transitioning from daytime to nighttime. At this point, put any unfinished business aside until tomorrow. Kissing your children goodnight, for example, or the end of the evening news might be appropriate markers.

Unwind

Now you have transitioned from daytime mode to nighttime mode, it's important that you take the time to unwind. If you find your mind is still racing with thoughts and worries, try writing a to-do list, or transferring your thoughts into a worry journal.

Practice sleep-promoting activities

Before going to bed, reading a relaxation script or listening to a guided relaxation session can help. Relaxation routines can promote calmness and reduce worry, helping you relax and fall asleep.

Additional hints

For your pre-sleep routine to work, you need to be consistent. Stick to the same routine every day, including weekends, and focus on the routine itself, not the desired result of falling asleep.

Some helpful deadlines

Six hours before bedtime: Avoid caffeine. Three hours before bedtime: Avoid alcohol and finish eating dinner. Two hours before bedtime: Avoid exercising. One hour before bedtime: Switch off electronic devices and stop working (and worrying).

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i)

An appropriate pre-sleep routine is one important component of CBT-i. If you find your sleep doesn't improve after committing to a pre-sleep routine, you may want to seek personalized help from a CBT specialist.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.