Good news if getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle for you: Re-evaluating your bedtime routine—not just what you do the first thing you wake up—could make a big difference in how you start your day. That’s right, you don’t need the perfect morning routine, you need a solid sleep routine. After all, it’s the quality of your sleep at night that dictates how well you’ll feel the next morning. And these healthy sleep habits contribute to your overall wellness.
“Most of us acknowledge the importance of the ‘miracle morning,’ and have experienced the difference it makes to start the day with positive activities,” says Bethany Tait, RDN, LDN, a health coach at Parsley Health. “But the hour before bed is crucial to set us up for a good night of sleep.”
According to the American Sleep Association, 33.3 percent of adults report getting less than 7 hours of snooze time. But it’s not just a matter of getting enough sleep that’s the issue—it’s also the quality of your zzz’s.
“Sleeping and sleeping well aren’t the same thing. Poor sleep quality is strongly linked to the incidence and severity of most chronic diseases, but we often figure that if we slept 5 hours, it’s OK. Truthfully, most adults need a good 7-8 hours per night for optimal health,” Tait explains.
A proper and consistent bedtime routine — what Tait calls a “sleep power hour” — can help you get high-quality sleep. “Whether we eat, exercise, meditate, how much exposure to light we get, and even the types of shows we watch or conversations we have in the hour before bed are all controllable factors that impact the essential life-supporting activity of sleep,” explains Tait.
The benefits of a sleep power hour
“Sleep is where we recharge, detoxify, heal, and restore. If our phone doesn’t get plugged in, it dies, and not to be dramatic, but so would we without sleep,” says Tait.
Beyond soaking up essential REM, the benefits of creating a sleep power hour include better stress management and reduced anxiety. In fact, a November 2019 article in Nature Human Behavior suggests that poor sleep or sleep disturbances are associated with anxiety during the day. That’s because sleep loss can impair the problem-solving parts of your brain, which can also affect your ability to cope with stress and be more resilient.
“The hour before bed and what you do with it will give your body signals about what to do when you hit the sheets. The science shows that our habits, thoughts, and emotions affect the production of chemicals and neurotransmitters in our body that control sleepiness, wakefulness, or even cause anxiety,” Tait says.
So what does a sleep power hour look like? Tait offers her tips on how to create a healthy sleep routine below.
Set a bedtime alarm.
Just like you would schedule your alarm clock to go off at a certain time in the morning, you should do the same at night, Tait suggests. And research backs this up: A November 2011 study in Chronobiology International shows that a regular rise time and bedtime are associated with a shorter sleep latency (the time it takes you to fall asleep) and lower daytime sleepiness.
“Having a bedtime alarm helps us stay on schedule in the evening as well.” Ideally, you should be following this schedule on weekdays and weekends, Tait says. This helps your body get into a circadian rhythm, so if your bedtime is at 10 p.m., you’ll want to make your evening power hour at 9 p.m. (Which is crucial to building healthy sleep habits.)
Reduce light exposure.
Once your evening power hour starts, that means it’s time to put away the laptop, shut off notifications from your phone, and turn off the TV. You’ll want to reduce as much light exposure, including blue light from devices, as much as you can, which signals to your body that it’s time to produce melatonin—the sleep-promoting hormone, Tait says.
To help your melatonin levels along, Tait recommends wearing a pair of blue light-blocking glasses and turning down the brightness on your phone or TV to the lowest setting if you must use them. A December 2019 study in BioMed Research International showed that using blue light-emitting devices at bedtime, in addition to unhealthy sleep habits and worrying, is associated with poor sleep quality. Which leads us to our next tip…
Keep evenings calm.
“You want to avoid having stimulating or difficult conversations, watching action movies, playing video games, doing intense exercise or anything that elicits strong emotions, which can all cause the body to produce stimulatory hormones and chemicals that will keep the nervous system active and on high alert,” Tait says.
Yep, that means cult and murder documentaries, which you’ve probably felt quicken your pulse or elicit worry, may not be the best evening show selection. “Instead this hour should include low light exposure and activities that calm and nourish the nervous system to set up your body and mind to release stress and get ready for a good night of sleep.”
Incorporate gentle movement.
Taking an after-dinner walk, and doing some restorative yoga or light stretching (particularly in your back, neck, and shoulders) can help relieve tension, as these are common areas where we tend to hold stress. These low-intensity exercises also activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for slowing down your breathing, promoting digestion, and helping your body relax.
“Avoid stimulating exercise before bed, including moderate- or high-intensity workouts. These can contribute to insomnia by encouraging production of endorphins and other stimulatory chemicals, so it’s best to do these workouts earlier in the day,” Tait says.
Sip on herbal tea.
Herbal teas, such as those made with valerian, passionflower, chamomile, and magnolia bark, can help support restful sleep, Tait says. A July 2018 study in Biomolecules & Therapeutics found that herbs, like valerian and passionflower have been shown to be effective for sleep, but more research is needed to evaluate their effects for treating insomnia.
“There are a number of well-researched herbs that support sleep by activating GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. GABA is an amino acid that acts as a calming neurotransmitter in the body,” she explains. “Low levels of GABA have been linked to anxiety and sleep disorders, but increasing GABA has been shown to help block impulses between neurons in the brain, therefore, promoting sleep.” (Consult your doctor before introducing herbs like these into your diet because they may interact with medications you’re currently taking.)
Enjoy a small snack to balance blood sugar.
You’ve probably debated whether it’s detrimental to have a bedtime snack, and the truth is that everyone has different nutrition needs, so it’s important to work with a professional, like a Parsley health coach to optimize your nutrition timing. Because nutrition does play a factor in your sleep routine and may need to be incorporated into your healthy sleep habits.
That said, Tait generally recommends eating dinner at least three hours before bed, and if you wake up in the middle of the night hungry, you can have a small snack. “I have found that the subset of people with insomnia who fall asleep but don’t stay asleep, tend to sleep better with that bedtime snack, which may be attributed to hypoglycemia during the night,” Tait explains. “Your body will wake you up to eat if you have low blood sugar or are in a caloric deficit because your dinner was too small or too early the night before, or because you did a big workout and had higher caloric need that day.”
If you choose to have a bedtime snack, Tait advises to keep it small and choose one that’s higher in protein, like two tablespoons of almond butter or a handful of mixed nuts and seeds. “Some research shows that consuming about 30 grams of protein before bed may have a positive effect on metabolism and muscle quality, especially in more active individuals,” she says.
Do something to put your mind at ease.
There’s no doubt that doing calming activities, like meditating, journaling, and practicing yoga, can help reduce anxiety and stress, but these things might not be for everyone. If those aren’t for you, Tait suggests doing any activity that feels relaxing to you, whether that’s listening to soft music or nature sounds, doing some aromatherapy with lavender essential oil, or following a skincare routine.
Clear your to-do list.
If you have lingering tasks from the day that you want to get out of the way and absolutely can’t put off until tomorrow, then it might also be worth addressing them before bed, so you can truly focus on sleep once you hit the hay.
“You may also want to consider any particular factors that cause stress for you at night,” Tait says. “For example, some people have trouble falling asleep or relaxing when the dishes are a mess in the kitchen, when the bedroom has clothes not put away, or if they haven’t finished up their work emails or returned important calls. This ‘unfinished business’ can be interruptive for sleep and exacerbate anxiety, so recognize if there are factors like this contributing to your stress levels and use the power hour or time earlier in the day to finish up anything on your plate.”
Once you are done with the emails and calls, be sure to put away your phone and laptop—away from your bed—and move into a more relaxing sleep routine.
Because a sound sleep routine (and healthy sleep habits) can have a positive ripple effect on your health, Parsley Health clinicians and health coaches address it as a part of every member’s holistic health plan. If you’re ready to start optimizing your health or addressing ongoing issues, including sleep, schedule a consultation with a membership advisor today.