12 Tips for Better Sleep: Part 8 – Relax Before Bed
You can’t expect an airplane to go from 30,000 feet to 0 feet within a few minutes; it doesn’t end well. Similarly, you can’t expect your body and brain to go to sleep 5 minutes after you get off the treadmill, get home from work, or finish getting the kids to bed. Your body needs time to unwind.
Specifically, your body needs time for your heart rate to slow down and for your core body temperature to decrease. While a lot of us unwind after a long day by lying on the couch and watching Netflix, that type of relaxation isn’t the best way to prepare your body for sleep.
Rather than re-watching The Office for the tenth time, here are some relaxation techniques you can try as part of your bedtime routine.
7 Ways to Relax Before Bed
- Take it in Sections
To fall asleep, you need to remove all tension in your body. One way to do this is to imagine each part of your body relaxing or falling asleep. So, you start with your toes and imagine your toes completely relaxed. Then, you move to your feet and imagine them relaxing. Then, your ankles, and so on. You do that all the way up your body, section by section, until you get to the top of your head. Hopefully, you’re asleep by then.
While this exercise is a great way to relax your body, it also helps keep your mind occupied. Since you’re focusing on each part of your body, your mind isn’t thinking about everything you need to do at work tomorrow.
Speaking of work tomorrow …
- Make a To-Do List
We all have a million things to do. And, for some reason, everything stressful pops into our mind the second we try to go to sleep. So, instead of falling asleep, we lie in our bed for the next hour (or two) worrying about tomorrow’s tasks.
Instead of wasting precious sleep time, take 5 minutes and write down a to-do list. By putting your morning tasks down on paper, you lighten your mental load. You don’t have to worry about remembering everything, because your list ensures you won’t forget anything. This simple step will help you fall asleep faster and keep you more organized.
- Release the Tension
This is a variation of #1. In this relaxation exercise, you need to lie on a flat surface. Once you’re lying down, allow your body to go limp, then take a big breath and exhale deeply.
When you’re connected to your breath, instead of just imagining sections of your body, you actually squeeze each section of your body, then release the tension. Start by squeezing your toes, then relax them. Then move to your heels, knees, thighs, stomach, etc. End with your forehead, and pay attention to how relaxed your body feels. Keep that relaxed feeling as you make your way to bed, and allow yourself to fall asleep.
- Slow Your Heartbeat
What’s the first thing you say to someone who needs to relax? “Take a deep breath.” Slow, deep breathing is a great way to relax your body and slow down your thoughts.
To get your breathing in check, put your hand on your heart and feel for your heartbeat. Once you feel the rhythm, inhale for 4 seconds, then slowly exhale. Repeat this pattern as many times as it takes for you to feel your heartbeat slow down. This process will also help clear your mind.
When we think about relaxing before bed, we usually think about relaxing only our bodies. But it’s amazing how much our thoughts impact how our bodies behave. Which is why it’s so important to learn how to calm your mind. When you’re able to turn off negative or stressful thoughts, you’ll be able to drift off to sleep much easier.
If you’re new to meditation, it may be helpful to find a point of focus. This may be the sound of your breath or your heartbeat, or repeating a calming phrase in your head, like, “I am at peace.”
If you’d like more direction in your meditation, there are countless health and meditation apps that can lead your meditation. You may even want to hop on YouTube and search for meditation videos. Try to find a meditation style that doesn’t distract you and helps you calm down and focus.
In the beginning, it may be difficult to tune out your thoughts. But the more your practice meditation, the easier it will become and the longer you’ll be able to meditate.
- Practice Yoga
For many people, practicing yoga helps them sleep better. But if you’re not ready for a late-night yoga class, you can do a couple poses on your own to help you relax before sleep.
Child’s Pose – For this pose, kneel on the ground with your big toes together. Spread your knees to hip-width apart, and allow your chest to come down to your thighs. Let your forehead rest on the floor. You can either rest your arms at your side with your palms up or bring them straight forward to rest on the ground above your head with your palms down. Stay in this pose for 3-5 minutes.
Corpse Pose – Also known as savasana, this pose is a great option for people with hip issues. In this pose, you lie on your back with your legs apart and your arms resting at your sides. As you lie on the ground, breathe deeply through your nose, and feel your body start to sink into the ground. Stay in this pose for 3-5 minutes.
- Keep a Journal
Journaling, or writing down your thoughts, at the end of each day can be very therapeutic. By getting your thoughts and worries out in the open, you can more easily address and deal with stress. Keep a journal next to your bed so you can journal before bed each night. This could also be where you write down your to-do list for the next day.
Despite being totally ready for sleep at the end of the day, sometimes it can be hard to turn off our brains or release tension in our bodies. So, before you let your head fall on your perfect pillow, remember to try one of these relaxation techniques to help you get a better night’s sleep.
Want more sleep tips? Check out our past blog articles:
Part 2—Exercise at the Right Time
Part 3—Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
Part 4—Avoid Drinking Alcohol
Part 7—Don’t Take Late Nap