Nighttime routines are one of the most powerful agents for getting better sleep — but not all routines are created equal, or have the desired effect of helping us actually wind down and fall asleep.
Here, Thrive spoke with Chris Winter, M.D., a neurologist and the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It, about four gold standards to keep in mind when it comes to your nighttime routine:
Limit your exposure to light
Natural light affects our sleep by suppressing our body’s production of melatonin, known as the sleep hormone. This doesn’t mean you need to sit in the dark in the hours before bedtime, but it does mean you should be conscious of how bright your lights are. Winter suggests installing and using light dimmers in the rooms you hang out in before bed, or just using the light from the living room or hallway while getting ready to turn down for the night.
Put away your screens
In addition to limiting your exposure to light in the evening, you’ll also want to spend time away from your devices. Screens before bed can delay sleep for a number of reasons, Winter says: First, the wavelength of light that screens emit, blue light, suppresses melatonin production more than other wavelengths. There’s also the matter of what’s on our screens: addictive apps that stimulate dopamine, and jarring news alerts and emails, which activate our body’s stress response and can keep us from falling asleep. To optimize your bedtime routine for sleep, pick a time at which you stop using addictive apps like Instagram, stop checking email and the news, and refrain from watching T.V. (especially anything suspenseful). You could even take the step of escorting your screens outside your bedroom at a set time each night.
Pay attention to your body temperature
Winter and other sleep experts recommend taking a warm bath or shower before bed. When your body temperature drops, it sends a natural signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep. In fact, research suggests that body temperature may have as great an impact on sleep as light does.
You can also try adjusting the thermostat in your bedroom to ensure optimal sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping the temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Consider your meal times
Winter recommends eating dinner before your wind-down period begins. If you’re hungry, though, you can try eating a light snack in the hours before bedtime. He suggests snacking on foods that are high in sleep-promoting tryptophan, like hummus, almonds, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds, tart cherries, and yogurt. And making yourself a cup of herbal tea is about as comforting and grounding a ritual as you can find.