Looking for a simple way to improve your sleep? Research shows not only children, but also adults can significantly benefit from a bedtime routine.
Falling asleep is not a problem for many people. Between the late working hours, relationships, homework, and the like, it’s normal to feel exhausted by the time you reach your bed in the evening and shut your lids before you even hit the pillow. However, the amount of pressure we experience in our daily lives nearly as often has an opposite effect on us. When your workday lasts over eight hours, and you come home to use the “free” time as extra time to work, every other aspect of your life falls out of balance.
Our human nature requires us to fulfill some aspects of life regularly: besides eating and sleeping, we also need to socialize, take breaks, have some fun to thrive rather than just survive. When you insist on putting one of these factors above the others, over time, it takes a toll on your health, no matter whether it’s partying all the time, overworking yourself or not eating enough. Unfortunately, most of us prioritize almost everything else from this list over sleep, and when you think about it for a second, it really shows.
Nowadays, we have a culture of endless hustling powered by caffeinated drinks. We rely on coffee to push us through all-nighters, work at three jobs at once, and still struggle with debt, financial insecurity, personal fulfillment. We try to hack our bodies into needing less rest, shock our organisms out of inertia in the morning and do all it takes to put all our efforts into being busy and productive.
As a direct consequence, 20% of adults sleep 90 minutes less than recommended on a daily basis, according to research, and between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep-related disorder. And why? Because we’ve all been trained into thinking that our productivity dictates our worth.
This kind of lifestyle is in itself unattainable – conditioning yourself into thinking you must deserve health and happiness will only have them slipping away beneath your fingers while you focus on business. In turn, impaired health and discontent with your life will strip you of the ability to function at your highest potential and as a result, decrease your efficiency at work, forming a rather sad cycle. However, there are things to be done about it. Not convinced? Bear with us.
Being tired during the day may seem like a normal occurrence to most of us, for reasons we just explained above. Common as it may be, excessive sleepiness still signifies that something is wrong with our bodies. When it happens many days in a row, it may well be a roadside message board on your way to forming a sleep disorder.
Sleep is closely tied to every other area of our health. When you feel sleepy during the daytime, it means you’re not getting enough rest during the night, whether your sleep is too short or poor in quality. In other words, this isn’t something you would typically experience regularly. If you don’t check your behavior, and this problem keeps happening, it leads to sleep deficiency, which quickly takes hold of your physical, emotional and mental well-being, often leaving you feeling weak and moody. Besides the risk of sleep disorders, excessive daytime sleepiness carries its own, present-moment issues. One good example is drowsy driving. Being excessively tired while sitting behind the wheel is regarded as equally dangerous for yourself and others on the road as driving while drunk. When you are sleep deficient, you have difficulties performing tasks you usually wouldn’t struggle with. This includes poor focus, short attention span, difficulties making decisions, solving problems, taking too long or being too sloppy with your work or school. In children, overly active behavior, tantrums, mood swings, irritability, inability to stay still or focus often accompany sleep deficiency.
These issues often occur due to poor sleep hygiene, irregular sleep patterns, low-quality rest, or an existing sleep disorder. It may be caused by a mental condition or another health problem, but it can also help in forming a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders are very diverse and go beyond insomnia, although it is the most common annoyance you can face. Similar disorders are grouped into subcategories, like sleep-related breathing disorders, or circadian rhythm disorders, based on which aspect of your sleep they affect the most. Although it’s not always certain what causes them, their roots can usually be traced down to genetic predispositions, environmental factors, and, the universally favorite – poor lifestyle choices.
Maybe you’re thinking, it’s not always by choice that we delay sleep, which is true, but it happens more than you would initially presume. Teenagers, after a tiring day at school and topped with a pile of homework to do, end up with limited time to do other things, like socializing. While most of us need this aspect of life, at their age, socializing is especially of vital importance for teenagers. That’s why the majority of them will choose it over sleep, whether it’s going out with friends or just chatting over the smartphone. In fact, most teenagers sleep with phones in the bed with them, while many wake up an hour after they fell asleep to answer a text or call.
It’s not a very different story with adults, either. Due to our busy lives, most of us can think of a task that needs to be wrapped up last minute before bed, and effectively postpone our sleep more than we expected, even for hours.
On top of that, many of us deal with additional health conditions like depression, anxiety, or GI issues, that make it an even bigger challenge to have everything under control. All of these can add up gradually, and we often don’t notice it when the problem first begins. After a week of nights laying in bed, closing our eyes, only to stay awake for hours, we realize something is wrong.
Scary as they may sound, all sleep disorders can be treated and managed, if not completely cured. After having some tests done to get yourself a diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe one or a number of treatment options accordingly. Some are more narrowly focused on a specific disorder, some involve light treatment or even sleep medication, but all of them will start with introducing proper sleep hygiene.
Before we move on to bedtime routines, note that sleep disorders have a wide range of symptoms that can occur with or without the presence of sleep deprivation. If you experience any of the following, go see a doctor:
Tip: if you aren’t sure how often a symptom occurs or want to make sure to keep a thorough track of your situation, it’s a good idea to start writing a sleep journal. Whatever you notice during the day and night alike will be useful for your doctor once you’re ready to go to your appointment. You can also have your partner, parent, or household member write one to cover symptoms you may not be aware of, like talking in your sleep, limbs twitching, unusual noises, etc.
A bedtime routine is an essential aspect of establishing good sleep hygiene. It focuses on removing anything that will distract you or work you up when you should be transitioning into the relaxed, calm state needed to fall asleep. The thing is, many of us use our last waking hours to talk with friends, play video games, scroll on social media, or watch something engaging. As fun as those things are, for our bodies, they count as stress. Although it doesn’t feel like a negative thing, the adrenalin your body makes while watching a horror movie or the fresh, exciting idea you just got for your art project sends a signal to your body that you are about to do something opposite of winding down for bed. You suddenly choosing to go to sleep because you notice it’s late can’t make your body flip its course of action.
To avoid the mess and replace it with sleep-promoting, relaxing set of tasks instead, doctors never fail to advise you to check, readjust, or set up a good bedtime routine.
This should be something easy to follow that you need to tend to every evening without exception, which will help you develop a more organic and efficient transition between being fully awake and ready for bed. Over time, your brain will be trained to recognize the pattern and learn to expect sleep to follow, ensuring you will fall asleep faster, have a better quality of sleep and wake up fresh for the day. Setting up a bedtime routine is also a good start for any additional treatment required if you have a sleep disorder, and it’s used all the time as part of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Bedtime Routine for Adults
When planning out your evening ritual, you need to keep in mind that it’s something you will repeat every single day. Maybe you are very excited about the concept right now, but making a list too elaborate will just set you up for failure. Likewise, writing down things that will take too long to do, like an hour-long bubble bath, makes it likely that you will quickly become annoyed with your routine and have you procrastinating sleep even more than you would have without it. Keep your steps manageable even when you’re tired, and keep them few. Here is an example to get you started:
You can also try reading a bit, dimming the lights, praying, having a warm drink, or whatever else you can think of that might make you feel peaceful before bed, as long as you can fit it all into 45 minutes at most.
When it comes to building your children’s habits, it can get a bit trickier to get them engaged and up for it. To make any plan work, you need to explain it to them in a way that will make them understand why and how it will help them. Let them know that you already have one, or if you are just setting it up for yourself, too. You can discuss with them what it can include, and ask them what they think would be enjoyable and relaxing for them. Maybe you can do some elements of the routine together (like brushing teeth or taking deep breaths) and make it that much more fun. In any case, keeping the steps as easy as possible, and being consistent with them is of vital importance. Here are some ideas for kids to try:
Any steps you choose to do, don’t forget to repeat them every night in the same order. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a “Brush, Book, Bed” approach to keep it fuss-free and effective.
What’s included in your routine mostly revolves around you winding down and priming for bedtime. However, there are things you can do outside of that time window to make your rest that much more satisfying.