If it’s a struggle for me to be productive in the morning, it’s a real struggle for me to be productive in the late hours of the night. It can be often be really, really difficult to wind down in a way that helps me sleep and have a better tomorrow.
So many nights I do the following two uninspiring things…
- Watch a lot of TV, including the eleven o’clock local news
- Scroll mindlessly through my phone until it runs out of battery
You know what? It’s a good thing my phone dies so often, because my night shouldn’t just be filled with hours and hours of screens, and neither should yours.
When you all you do is stare at screens, especially in the hours leading to your bedtime, you’re likely going to toss and turn for a long while, have a restless night’s sleep, and suffer through a mostly unproductive tomorrow.
In the last two weeks, I’ve finally started mixing up the routine, especially since I’m staying at home more than ever before, and I can happily report I’m getting much better sleep and feeling more productive the following morning!
Here are 9 things you should think about trying in the nights to come…
Turn Screens Off at Least One Hour Before Bed
Doing this will work wonders for your sleep. I know of so many people who watch TV and scroll on their phones all the way until the second they decide to plunk their heads down against the pillow and go to bed. This is not good. Even worse are those people who let their TVs stay blaring for hours on end while they’re sleeping. This act will actually interrupt your sleep often and wake you up feeling groggy.
I used to watch the news at night before going to bed, but in the last two weeks I’ve finally stopped doing that, and I’ve also stopped checking my phone late at night. I usually go to sleep around 11:30, so by 10:30 I make sure to put all the screens away. Anything I need from these screens I can get in the morning, I can get tomorrow. I don’t need them before bed.
And you don’t either. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’m telling you just one hour of time at the end of your day without screens will work wonders for your sleep and for your mental health in general. We spend too much time in front of screens as it is. Forcing yourself to go without them late at night will help you in the long run.
Read for at Least Ten Minutes
What have I started doing late at night instead of watching the local news? I’ve started reading more. I had a tiny nightlight installed next to my bed a few weeks ago, and now I keep at least two or three books in the dresser drawer within arms reach.
I love to read in the morning but I especially love to read at night because doing so completely relaxes my mind. I feel calm and centered, and better yet, the more reading I do, the more tired I end up feeling. Sometimes I’m able to read for thirty minutes or more, and some nights I only make it ten to fifteen minutes before it’s time to say goodnight.
In the beginning, aim for ten minutes of reading, and make sure it’s a physical book, not an ebook. Hold that real book in your hands and read a few pages every night instead of mindlessly watching the news. You’ll feel better in the days to come, and you’ll get better sleep, too.
Avoid Food and Drinks at Least Two Hours Before Bedtime
A physical trainer taught me this rule about fifteen years ago, and I’ve done my best to follow it ever since. I’m not sure if he was one-hundred-percent right. Maybe there are some foods and drinks you can have right before bed that won’t upset you or affect your sleep much. (Alcohol, however, is definitely not one of those things.)
But something I’ve always found made a whole lot of sense was to avoid eating or drinking anything (except for water, of course) in the last two hours of the day before going to bed. It makes sense because if you’re being sedentary at night, any calories and fat you consume will just sit there in your body while you’re asleep. And I’ve absolutely felt it on those rare days when I ate dinner too late and had to go to bed at an earlier hour. It’s harder to fall asleep, and you often feel gross all over. It’s something you want to endure as little as possible.
Now, this is not to say you have to stop eating at a strict time, like 7:30. I hear that all the time, too. If you do happen to eat dinner a little late, try to go to bed later, too. The struggle to fall asleep happens when you eat late and go to bed early. Just do whatever you can to stop eating at a reasonable hour, so that when you go to bed you’re not hungry or stuffed but instead feel just right.
Listen to Ambient Music
Something I’ve also done in the past two weeks besides reading in bed is telling Alexa to put on some ambient music for me to listen to. Music, like reading, has a way to soothe your mind and body before you drift off to sleep, and there’s something about ambient music in particular, especially by artists like Moby and Broken Social Scene, that can put you in a comforting state of mind.
I had an Alexa installed in my bedroom a few months ago and I’ve been experimenting with different kinds of music for it to play both as I get ready for bed at night and once I’m actually in the bed. Ambient music is great and so very soothing, and so is the right music from film and TV soundtracks, too. Right now I’m in love with the scores to The Shawshank Redemption, La La Land, Stranger Things, and Twin Peaks, to name a few.
The key is to experiment with different artists and types of music to see what puts you at ease late at night. You don’t want to play music that gets your heart pumping. You don’t want to put on something that keeps you awake by any means. Find something that calms you down and fills you with joy in those precious minutes before you head off to sleep.
Take a Warm Bath
Something I’ve started doing more and more these past few weeks is take a warm bath at night before going to bed. Baths have always been a bit of a struggle for me because I’m so tall, but eventually, I figured out ways to position myself to make baths perfectly comfortable and oh so relaxing.
I often bring a couple of books with me and place them next to the bath. The first ten minutes or so I let the tub fill up with warm (not hot!) water and I keep my eyes closed as I try to relax. Sometimes I use bubbles, and sometimes I don’t. The most important thing is to feel relaxed, so if bubbles help do that for you, by all means, go for it. What ends up relaxing me the most, once the warm water has risen toward the top, is picking up one of my books and getting lost in a great story for twenty to thirty minutes.
You know what makes a bath even better? If you play some ambient music in the room, too. You want wordless music that doesn’t swallow up the words you’re reading on the page, and I’m telling you all three — the music, books, and warm water — bring a sense of peace that can rarely be accomplished anywhere else.
Just don’t bring a phone with you in the bath because doing so negates the whole purpose of getting you calm and centered. Again, you want to turn off all your screens in the last two hours before you go to bed, and having that tiny screen in front of you in the bath will do you no favors.
Something I want to do more of in the future both in the morning and at night is meditate more. I’d actually like to try doing this on the bed with that ambient music playing nearby and no TV screens or phones blasting any extraneous noise.
The thing about meditation is that it will calm you down right away and give you a better night’s sleep. Anything that allows you to stop your mind from racing, the way it seems to always be racing these days, and instead bring your focus to your breathing and to your heartbeat and to everything that makes you whole. Meditation has the power to work wonders in all aspects of your life, and that most assuredly goes toward your sleep.
I’m going to look into a meditation regimen that works, and you should, too! Along with all the helpful ways that give us a good night’s sleep, meditation is something that should never be ignored.
Write in a Journal
It’s important to have a journal beside your bed for a number of reasons, and a big one is that you’re able to express gratitude for the day you just had in the minutes before you go to sleep. Before you turn out the lights, you should take even just a minute or two to write in a journal.
I’ve been doing this every night the past two weeks, and I’ve really enjoyed writing down my thoughts in a black hardback journal, which I also use in the morning as well. Again, I don’t take long doing this. Usually two to three minutes, five max. Some nights I just write about my day. Some nights I express gratitude and thanks. Some nights I write down an idea or two I might want to explore in my creative life the next day.
You can write down anything you want as long as it gives you peace of mind and makes for a good night’s sleep. If you have no idea what to write, I would go with thoughts of gratitude. What are three things you’re grateful for? Who’s a person out there you want to thank for something? Even just a minute or two writing those words of gratitude down will make for a world of difference in your mental state and for your sleep to come.
Turn Out All the Lights
I started doing this at night more than a decade ago, and my sleep has been all the better for it. Yes, I turn off all the lights. Every single one of them. That includes the TV, of course. That includes any lights in the bedroom or bathroom or hallway. That includes even the faintest nightlight in the corner of the room.
You want to turn off everything and get your bedroom as dark as it can possibly be. Even the tiniest bit of light from something clear across the room might make you struggle to fall asleep. Turning off all the lights is you telling the world you are done for the day and it’s time to say goodnight. Even though your eyes are closed, your eyes will still pick up on faint light coming from nearby, so do everything you can to eliminate all sources of light.
Sure, there might be some lights in your bedroom you can’t turn off for whatever reason. You might have to awkwardly reach behind something tall to unplug the source every night, and that might not be fun. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you want a better night’s sleep, get your bedroom as dark as possible.
Try to Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night
Here’s one last important strategy to get a good night’s sleep. You can do everything I’ve recommended — read for a bit, write in a journal, listen to ambient music, take a warm bath — but none of those things will have a huge impact on you if you go to sleep at a different time every night.
You want to do everything in your power to wake up around the same time every day and go to sleep at the same time, too. When your body gets used to that rhythm after a few weeks, you’ll find yourself sleeping better, not waking up throughout the night, not suddenly opening your eyes at five in the morning and tossing and turning before you have to get ready for work.
Now, this is not to say you have to go to bed at the same minute every night. It doesn’t have to be that strict. Nobody can really follow that kind of a rigid schedule, and I would never ask you to. Just try to find a half-hour to go to sleep every night. If it’s around 11:30, 11:15 works and so does 11:45. But if you aim for 11:30 every night, don’t suddenly get into bed at 12:15 one night and then 10:45 the next. Try to keep it within the same half-hour if you can.
Sure, things come up in life, and you can’t always follow that schedule every night of the week. Just do your best to agree on a set time to get into bed and then to turn off the lights. The point of all of this is to get a better night’s sleep for a more productive tomorrow, and getting your body used to the same time to go to bed every night will work wonders for you in the long run.
Do What Works Best for You
I wouldn’t try to attempt all nine of these things your first night, but you could definitely try to do some of them. And then try a few others later in the week!
I would say the best things to try your first night is to turn off all screens an hour for bedtime, don’t eat or drink anything besides water two hours before bed, take a warm bath, and read for at least ten minutes. And then when you get into bed, make sure to turn off all the lights before you’re ready to go to sleep. Those five steps are an excellent way to start, but then in the weeks to come you can also try listening to ambient music, practicing meditation, writing in a journal, and going to bed at the same time every night.
It’s so crucial these days to get a good night’s sleep to have a more productive tomorrow, so give these strategies a try… and see what works best for you!