Many of our daily habits can cause trouble sleeping, sleep anxiety, or even nocturnal panic attacks. Fortunately, there are some things we can do before bedtime to get more restful, less anxious sleep. After much trial and error, here is my ultimate night routine:
- Eliminate Blue Light an Hour Before Bed
- Avoid Eating Heavy Meals Before Bed
- Go to Sleep at the Same Time Every Night
- Drink a Cup of Herbal Bedtime Tea
- Turn on an Essential Oil Diffuser with Lavender
- Run Through Today’s To-Do List and Create Tomorrow’s
- Put out Clothes for the Next Day
- Incorporate a Warm Shower in Your Night Routine
- Brush Your Teeth and Wash Your Face
- Set a Glass of Water Near the Bed
- Put Your Phone on Silent and Set Your Alarm
- Read a Book for 20 Minutes or More
- Meditate for 1 to 10 Minutes
- Try and Sleep for 7-9 Hours
Trying to incorporate all of these tips might be more overwhelming than relaxing. Instead, choose a handful to incorporate into your nightly bedtime routine and see how you feel.
Let’s dive into each tip a bit more now, to get a better sense of how it might improve our sleep and potentially decrease sleep anxiety. To make things easier, each tip is listed in sequential order.
How to Decrease Sleep Anxiety Before Bed
Eliminate Blue Light an Hour Before Bed
This one shouldn’t be news for anyone. By now, most of us know how bad “blue light” is for us before bed, but many people choose to ignore this wisdom anyway. Here’s why you shouldn’t.
Blue light doesn’t always look blue – in fact, it often appears as white to our eyes. And a ton of blue light bombards our eyes constantly anytime we’re staring at our phone screen, browsing on a laptop, or watching TV. If you’re staring at a screen, you’re probably staring at blue light.
The problem with blue light is that it causes our body to block a hormone called melatonin, which is responsible for making us tired. With most of us spending at least 7 hours a day staring at some type of screen, especially before bed, it’s no wonder so many of us have trouble sleeping. Here are some ways to minimize blue light before bed:
- Start cutting back all screen time 2-3 hours before bed
- Turn off computer and TV one hour before bed
- Dim the lights if possible (this also helps signal your brain that it’s time to sleep soon)
- Turn on “Night Mode” or lower the brightness on your phone; stop using it if possible
Taking small steps like these in your night routine will greatly help you to decrease blue light before bed. While it may seem difficult at first, it will become easier over time with habit formation. This is an extremely important step to take for anyone suffering from insomnia, nocturnal panic attacks, or sleep anxiety.
But I already hear my fellow social media addicts groaning: "What am I going to do without any screen time for the next hour?!"
Welp, that’s why this was step number one! The rest of this list should keep you occupied long enough to get good and tired.
Avoid Eating Heavy Meals Before Bed
Something that can easily be overlooked is our state of hunger or fullness before bed. In fact, this is a tip I’d have probably missed if I didn’t have my own story with overeating before bed.
Traveling frequently for work, I’ve had the pleasure of getting off redeye flights at 6am before – just in time to catch the hotel’s breakfast bar. Naturally, as one does at a breakfast bar, I’d load up my plate and eat as much as I could before heading back to my hotel room. But I’ve found that something happens when I do this – I have the worst, constantly interrupted sleep imaginable.
The gut is often referred to as our “second brain.” So much goes on within our digestive system that will directly affect the rest of our body and brain. This means that any sort of food insensitivity, inflammation, indigestion, or even a full stomach can all affect our sleep.
My tip here is to avoid eating any large meals an hour or so before bed. Sleep aside, it’s generally regarded as a bad idea to eat right before bed anyway, so your body will thank you for this. However, don't be going to sleep hungry, either. A small snack is fine to hold you over, just don’t overindulge or you may wake up every 20 minutes like I did after the buffet debacle.
Go to Sleep at the Same Time Every Night
The biggest part of a successful night routine is consistency.
Humans are creatures of habit – our brains even more so.
When we do the same thing every day, our brain learns to expect it and prepare us for it. Just about every item on this list is written with that fact in mind. Through time and repetition, our brain becomes more accurate and efficient at predicting our next move.
If we live completely sporadic lives with no habits or schedules, it becomes harder for our brain to do its job efficiently. If we utilize the same sleep ritual every night, our brain is better able to predict and prepare us for sleep.
Going to sleep at the same time every night is one big piece of that puzzle. Help make sleep easier on yourself and on your brain by going to sleep at the same time every night.
Drink a Cup of Herbal Bedtime Tea
If I could choose one component of my night routine to be my favorite, it would be this one. Drinking a cup of herbal bedtime tea is my favorite thing to do each night to help me relax, destress, and prepare for sleep.
First off, there’s just something about a delicious beverage that always seems to form the backbone of any great habit. Think about it – we drink coffee before we go to work, a pre-workout drink before we go to the gym, a protein shake after the gym, and a beer when it’s time to socialize. Every good habit (okay, maybe the last one isn’t so good) seems to have a ritual beverage associated with it.
Jokes aside, I genuinely do believe that there’s something about the physical act of consuming a beverage that helps our brain to register habits and predict our behavior.
Although I quit caffeine a few years ago (extremely glad I did by the way, check that article out), I turned to herbal tea so that I’d still have a sort of “productivity ritual” that I could associate with a hot drink in the morning.
After some experimenting with different types of herbal teas, I actually discovered what I consider for myself to be the best tea for anxiety and sleep (click for my full review). It’s important to note that not all teas are created equal; I fell in love with this particular brand because of the way the ingredients combine to provide an incredible amount of stress relief and relaxation.
I wound up building my night routine around this tea and highly recommend you check out that article to learn more about it and where to buy it yourself. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can experiment a bit on your own – I recommend trying teas with ingredients like passionflower, chamomile, and valerian.
Not only can the right tea help to relax you by itself, but the simple bedtime sleep ritual of it will, eventually, be a huge signal to your brain that it’s time to hit the hay.
Turn on an Essential Oil Diffuser with Lavender
Alright, I want to convince you of two things here.
First, I want you to forget any previous hang-ups you may have about essential oils and aromatherapy in general. Yes, there are many “snake oil salesmen” who will try and convince you that essential oils are a miracle cure-all (spoiler alert: they’re not). However, they should not be dismissed as ineffective; this study found lavender scent inhalation to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression in a group of 140 women after childbirth. So, there are absolutely some scientifically observable benefits to aromatherapy.
Second, I want to convince you that an essential oil diffuser is just an awesome thing to have, no matter who you are. In other words: Gentlemen, don’t be afraid to get in touch with your feminine side and let your bedroom smell nice for a change. I bought an essential oil diffuser on a whim with an old gift card and surprisingly fell in love with it. Shortly after, my cousin (whose primary hobbies include dirt biking and fishing) saw me using mine and also fell in love with it. I wound up buying my tough-guy cousin an essential oil diffuser for his birthday and he uses it every day. It’s just an awesome thing to have in any home, no matter who you are.
With that said, I don’t only use my essential oil diffuser to make my house smell nice, I also use it to help me relax before bed.
During the day, I intentionally use light and energizing smells to keep me upbeat and productive. As part of my night routine, however, I usually use lavender essential oil in the diffuser. Lavender has long been regarded as a relaxing smell that helps to decrease stress and anxiety and, as mentioned earlier, studies seem to back this up.
Eventually, your brain can learn to associate just about any smell with sleep once you’ve been using it in your night routine long enough. Feel free to experiment a bit but, personally, I’d just stick with lavender. You can buy a great essential oil diffuser online here.
Run Through Today’s To-Do List and Create Tomorrow’s
Once you’ve powered down the screens in your home, you’ll probably have some time alone with your thoughts. This is when I like to run through my day in my head, going over everything I got done. I make sure I’ve checked all the items off my to-do list for the day, and reflect a bit.
This is a good practice as it helps to keep you on track toward your goals, as well as giving you some well-deserved positive reinforcement. I find this helps me to go to bed feeling good about what I’ve accomplished with the day. If there’s anything I missed, I simply add it to tomorrow’s to-do list.
On the wall of my bedroom I keep a whiteboard, where I bullet point everything I need to do for the day. I write this to-do list just before I go to bed, right after crossing out the previous to-do list. I find that this is a great way to compartmentalize your goals and get a jump on the next day.
Rather than having all the things you need to do tomorrow bouncing around your head, write them down. This way they’re off your mind, but you can still pick back up where you left off in the morning.
Put out Clothes for the Next Day
Another part of a good night routine can be picking out your clothes for the next morning. This goes hand-in-hand with creating tomorrow’s to-do list, since what you wear will depend on what you’ll be doing.
Like creating a to-do list, putting your clothes out for the next day in advance is just one less thing you’ll have to do in the morning. Even on an unconscious level, the less you have to deal with tomorrow, the easier it’ll be for you to sleep tonight.
Incorporate a Warm Shower in Your Night Routine
One of the best ways to get your body relaxed before bed is to incorporate a warm shower or bath into your night routine. One study found that a 10-minute, warm or hot shower before bed can help people to fall asleep significantly faster. There are a few reasons why this might work, and it’s not necessarily what you might assume.
You might think you’re able to fall asleep faster because the hot shower is so relaxing, but it’s not that simple. Actually, our body responds to the heat of the water by initiating its own processes to release heat and cool us down. This cool-down process is, in fact, what may help us to fall asleep faster.
Naturally, our internal body temperature varies a bit throughout the day. We are typically a bit cooler at night, and a slightly lower body temperature helps ease us into sleep. This might explain why it’s so hard for us to sleep when the room is hot, as well as why a warm shower might help us feel cooler and sleep more easily.
To achieve this effect, either a bath or a shower should work fine. I’d advise against doing this with a cold shower, however, as that tends to energize us.
Brush Your Teeth and Wash Your Face
You should already be brushing their teeth before bed, otherwise… gross.
But, besides being hygienic, brushing your teeth and washing your face before bed are also great habits in any night ritual. Like having a cup of herbal tea before bed, repeated over time, these behaviors can be a great signal to our brain that it’s bedtime.
I brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash every night before bed (Not to toot my own horn, but… toot toot). I’d be lying if I told you that doing this immediately makes me feel more relaxed. It definitely doesn’t work that way. But, like I said, a lot of this happens on an unconscious level. The same way a puppy gets excited when you take out its leash, your brain will learn that habits like brushing your teeth and washing your face mean bedtime.
Set a Glass of Water Near the Bed
Kind of weird and seemingly inconsequential, but it’s a must-do for me.
Every night, before bed, I fill up a glass of water to leave by the bedside. Does this actually help me sleep better? Debatable. But I’ll tell you what – when I wake up thirsty in the middle of the night, I’m sure glad it’s there. After all, nothing ruins a good night’s sleep like having to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water at 4am.
*Note: Don’t drink too much water before bed or you run the risk of ruining your sleep a whole other way.
Put Your Phone on Silent and Set Your Alarm
It blows my mind that most other people don’t include this in their night routine, but I always sleep with my phone on silent. I set my alarm for the next day, and that’s the next and only noise I want to hear from my phone for the night.
To all my friends and family: I love you, but nothing you need to tell me at 3am is more important than my sleep and mental health. I promise I will get to you as soon as I wake up.
My own mother (who I love dearly) has argued with me over this point, suggesting that there could be a family emergency where I am needed. While this is entirely possible, let’s be real – 99% of the phone calls I receive during sleeping hours are from spam callers or drunk old flames.
Realistically, even in an emergency, there is always someone better to call than myself. Drunk at a party and need a ride? Order an Uber. Someone is injured? Call an ambulance.
I don’t intend to come off as harsh, but I do believe in being practical. You can’t help anyone if you’re tired and anxious all the time. Put yourself first, and put that phone on silent until morning. You’ll sleep a lot better for it, I promise.
Read a Book for 20 Minutes or More
Once in bed and settled, reading is a fantastic way to wind down your night routine.
While reading, it’s nearly impossible to focus on anything other than our book. Reading commands our attention in a way that other forms of entertainment simply cannot. Because of this, it has a tendency to wear our brain out a bit and make it tired.
Reading anything is great way to fall asleep. I prefer reading fiction books before bed; I feel they help me improve my creativity and have better dreams. I love nonfiction books during the day, but they’re just not relaxing to me at night. You should probably keep horror books out of your sleep routine altogether.
Meditate for 1 to 10 Minutes
Like the essential oil diffuser, I know some people will dismiss meditation due to misunderstanding the practice. I used to belong to this camp, but I promise you, meditation is a massively effective (and scientifically proven) way to decrease anxiety and improve sleep.
I already have a detailed article on meditation here, so I’ll be brief in this section. Meditation is an extremely useful tool for training the mind to be better at just about anything. No, you’re not going to learn to levitate or bend spoons with your mind. You can, however, significantly decrease anxiety, improve concentration and focus, and get better sleep.
Whether you believe it will work for you or not, you have nothing to lose by trying it. Worst case scenario, you fall asleep (great!); best case scenario, you get something out of it long-term.
Try and Sleep for 7-9 Hours
The final step to your night routine should be the sleep itself. How much should you be getting?
It’s recommended that the average adult shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. The ideal amount of sleep can vary a bit from person to person.
I remember being told as a kid that 8 hours was the absolute perfect amount for anyone. Incorrectly, I held this belief for years. As an adult, and after some trial and error, I’ve determined that I personally need about 9 hours to function optimally. Any less, I’m fatigued and will probably take a nap at some point. Too much more, I wind up feeling bummed out and unmotivated for the day.
I used to envy those super rich and successful guys who brag about waking up at 4am every morning. They’d say that this was their secret to getting more done each day than everyone else. Looking back, that whole notion is just silly to me.
Everyone is built differently. If you genuinely need less sleep than everyone else to function optimally, that’s great. But if you need a little bit more, that’s fine too. With regard to achieving your goals, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend awake – it matters what you do with that time.
Experiment a bit, as I did, to determine the ideal amount of sleep for you. For most people, this will be between 7-9 hours per night. If you need a little more or a little less, that’s fine too. Plan accordingly and adjust your schedule as needed.
And remember, with this and every other step of your night routine – consistency is key.