WELLNESS
12/14/2014 09:39 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

10 Bedtime Rituals For Better Sleep

By Esther Crain for Men's Journal

You have a regular morning ritual that helps you launch your day feeling energized and alert, then an after-work routine that eases the transition from the professional world to your personal life. But if you haven't adopted some specific nighttime habits that prime you for deep, restful sleep, then you're shortchanging your health.

"Trouble falling and staying asleep can set you up for chronic fatigue, mood and memory issues, a slower metabolism, even reduced immune-system functioning," says Lisa Medalie, PsyD, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago.

An hour before you plan to hit the sack, start taking on these research-backed pre-sleep rituals. Making them part of your nightly routine will help you drift off to dreamland and score the restorative sleep your brain and body need.

  • 1 Dim The Lights
    Think of darkness as nature's sleeping pill, cueing your body to crank out melatonin, the hormone that helps you wind down. T
    Yuji Kotani via Getty Images
    Think of darkness as nature's sleeping pill, cueing your body to crank out melatonin, the hormone that helps you wind down. Turning down the lights ahead of your bedtime ramps up melatonin production, so you can successfully doze off, says Steve Orma, PsyD, a San Francisco–based psychologist specializing in anxiety and insomnia. Research backs this up: a 2011 study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exposure to bright electric light between dusk and bedtime can suppress melatonin levels and leave you wired.
  • 2 Turn Down The Thermostat
    The ideal snooze temperature is about 65 degrees, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That's because the cooler you a
    Nine OK via Getty Images
    The ideal snooze temperature is about 65 degrees, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That's because the cooler you are, the sleepier you become. No wonder your body is designed to experience a natural temperature dip at nighttime, says Medalie. If the room is too hot or you’re wrapped in too many blankets, your body temperature will rise, and that can make you restless.
  • 3 Steer Clear Of The Bedroom
    You know how Pavlov trained his dogs to associate a ringing bell with eating? That's what you want to do with your bedroom an
    Tim Robberts via Getty Images
    You know how Pavlov trained his dogs to associate a ringing bell with eating? That's what you want to do with your bedroom and feeling sleepy. "Not using your bedroom for anything but sex and rest will create a mental association between the bed and fatigue," says Orma. "Working, watching TV or other pre-bedtime activities should be done anywhere but the bedroom, so when it’s time to turn in and get under the covers, your body takes it as a signal to sack out."
  • 4 Power Down Your Digital Devices
    Save your Netflix binge or email catch up time for earlier in the evening. "The light from the screen of your computer, table
    Tetra Images via Getty Images
    Save your Netflix binge or email catch up time for earlier in the evening. "The light from the screen of your computer, tablet or phone is blue spectrum light, and it's particularly dangerous because it tells the brain to stop secreting melatonin," says Medalie. "Even a few minutes of exposure to it signals your brain to stay awake."
  • 5 Keep Out Of The Kitchen
    Finish dinner no later than three hours before bedtime, so you give your stomach time to digest, and you won't be kept awake
    Tetra Images via Getty Images
    Finish dinner no later than three hours before bedtime, so you give your stomach time to digest, and you won't be kept awake by heartburn, gas or a sugar- or caffeine-fueled energy surge. One exception: if your appetite kicks in again. "Going to bed hungry can keep you awake, so grab a small snack that's part protein, part complex carbs with no added sugar, caffeine, or anything spicy, which can block sleep," says Medalie. Good choices: a couple of pieces of jerky, a banana or apple or a handful or two of nuts.
  • 6 De-Clutter Your Sleep Space
    You don't have to be so messy that you're a candidate for "Hoarders" for this ritual to work. Neatening up your bed covers an
    Chris Gabriel via Getty Images
    You don't have to be so messy that you're a candidate for "Hoarders" for this ritual to work. Neatening up your bed covers and bookshelves or putting away laundry piles or other ordinary bedroom clutter has the weird effect of also de-cluttering your brain. "It subconsciously helps get rid of the anxiety and stress swirling in your mind that can keep you up when it's time to sleep," says Orma.
  • 7 Make Last Call A Lot Earlier
    Alcohol plays a nasty trick on your body. Drinking within three hours of bedtime helps you nod off -- booze is a depressant,
    Marianna Massey via Getty Images
    Alcohol plays a nasty trick on your body. Drinking within three hours of bedtime helps you nod off -- booze is a depressant, after all. But once the alcohol is metabolized hours later, you're more likely to wake up or start tossing and turning, says Medalie. That's because while any amount of alcohol can increase short-wave sleep -- the kind you get in the first half of the night that repairs body tissues and boost your immune system -- it can disrupt REM sleep, the later sleep stage that encourages learning and memory formation, reports a 2013 review of studies from the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
  • 8 Save Stressful Activities For The Morning
    The whole point of a bedtime ritual is to relax your body and set the stage of nodding off. So fighting with your significant
    Jan Stromme via Getty Images
    The whole point of a bedtime ritual is to relax your body and set the stage of nodding off. So fighting with your significant other, paying off cringe-inducing bills or doing any other activity that has the potential to raise your blood pressure should be put off until the next day if you can help it, says Orma. Wait until you're refreshed and ready to handle heavy topics.
  • 9 Face Your Alarm Clock To The Wall
    Nothing sets you up for insomnia quite like watching the minutes tick away on your alarm clock as you lie in bed, growing inc
    Image Source via Getty Images
    Nothing sets you up for insomnia quite like watching the minutes tick away on your alarm clock as you lie in bed, growing increasingly more anxious as you wait for sleep to hit. But if you can't see the time, you'll have a smoother transition to dreamland. The other thing is, even the light from a your clock's LED display is enough to put the brakes on melatonin production, says Medalie. As long as you can hear the alarm in the morning, you don't need to actually see the numbers.
  • 10 Ban Pets From The Bedroom
    A 2014 study from the University of Kansas found that 57 percent of pet owners surveyed shared their bed with their dog or ca
    jin chu ferrer via Getty Images
    A 2014 study from the University of Kansas found that 57 percent of pet owners surveyed shared their bed with their dog or cat, and a third of these pet parents reported being awakened at least once per night by their furry buddy. The researchers suggest that pets may be a little-known factor contributing to human sleeplessness. So as much as it hurts, ban Fido or Fluffy from the bedroom, or at least set them up in their own sleep space on the opposite side of the room.
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