The Best Wind-Down Routine for Perfect Sleep

You've probably heard about the importance of a wind-down routine, but what exactly should it include? Hi, I'm Dr. Catherine Darley. Welcome to Skilled Sleeper. Today we're discussing on the steps to an ideal wind-down time. The primary goal with our wind-down routine is to feel sleepy at bedtime.

Often, people are busy all day, right until bedtime when they quickly brush their teeth and hop into bed. Then they can’t sleep. They are effectively taking their wind-down time while in bed. This can be so frustrating, and appear like insomnia. It will take a long time to fall asleep because they weren’t sleepy when they got into bed. You absolutely want to feel sleepy before bed. An ideal wind-down routine will ensure that you are ready to sleep at bedtime. Follow these steps and feel the difference!

Step 1: Dim the Bedroom Light

Start dimming the lights three hours before bed. Set them to less than ten lux. For reference, one lux equals the brightness of one candle flame from three feet away, so it’s not much light at all. You can download a free lux meter app onto your smart phone, then use it to measure the light levels in your home. Not only do you want dim light, but also reduce blue light exposure. Blue light at night suppresses our natural melatonin release. In natural light conditions (like camping or the light that people have had throughout most of history) our melatonin starts to rise before bed. This helps us feel sleepy. So instead, avoid the blue light given off by devices, screens, and full-spectrum LEDs by using dim, warm-toned lighting. Here in our home, we set up “wind-down” lamps in each room that we use only during those evening hours. They have yellow hued, dim incandescent bulbs. Our bedrooms have soft twinkle lights for a gentle, relaxing glow that’s less than 10 lux.

A challenge is that for many people, three hours before bed is still a pretty active part of the day, what with homework, computer tasks, and TV. If changing the lighting isn't possible, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses to minimize blue light exposure. Check out our video on how to use Blue Blocking Glasses

Step 2: Calm Your Mind to Start Your Bedtime Routine

One to two hours before bed, take 10 minutes to process your thoughts. This could involve making a to-do list, planning for the next day, or jotting down any lingering thoughts. One thing that often comes up for people are those awkward conversations that we wish had gone differently. This mental "brain dump" helps calm a racing mind, making it easier to relax and fall asleep. There are more steps to calming an active mind, download the Calm Your Racing Mind So You Can Sleep Guide here.

Step 3: Engage in Relaxing Activities

Engage in calming activities that meet the dim light requirements, and allow you to mentally unwind. Read a book, listen to an audiobook, or enjoy music to help you sleep can be soothing. Other options include taking a bath, doing yoga or Tai Chi, or simply chatting and hanging out with family or friends. Initially, you could write these ideas in a bedtime routine chart.

There are both mental and physical benefits to taking a bath before bed. Mentally it can be a great way to disconnect from the busy day. A bath also physically makes us drowsy by dropping our core body temperature. Ideally, we take the bath 1-2 hours before bed. Learn more in this youtube video I made for you. Meditation for sleep can also be an effective way to calm the mind and prepare for bed. These activities help shift your body into the parasympathetic or "rest and digest" state, which is crucial for preparing for sleep. The goal here is to do something you enjoy, that is not mentally stimulating. Think of it like stopping a car coming off the freeway, much easier to do gradually than all of a sudden! Wind-down time is your off-ramp from the busy day into sleep.

Tips for Effective Wind-Down Time

1. Reduce Brightness: Ensure your environment is dimly lit, encouraging your body's natural melatonin production, which signals it's time to sleep.

2. Settle Your Thoughts: You’ve worked hard enough today. Take 5-10 minutes to process any last thoughts from the day. Then set them aside until the morning.

3. Relax Mentally and Physically: Choose activities that relax both your mind and body, promoting a smooth transition to sleep. Create, then follow, a bedtime routine chart to establish those rituals that will help your body recognize it's time to wind down.

In my practice, I often see patients who are busy until the moment they hop into bed, missing out on crucial wind-down time. Not having relaxation before bed can make falling asleep challenging. By incorporating these steps into your pre-bed routine, you can ensure a smoother, faster transition to sleep once you hit the pillow.

Have a great night and sleep well!

Dr. Catherine Darley

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Enroll today to start your journey towards restful, uninterrupted sleep. Gain the knowledge and skills you need to master your sleep patterns and enjoy a healthier, more energized life.

About the Author: Dr. Catherine Darley

Dr. Catherine Darley is a pioneering internationally recognized expert in the use of natural, behavioral and lifestyle medicine for the treatment of sleep disorders. Dr. Darley founded the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine to fill the need for natural, less invasive solutions to a common problem–poor sleep.  

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