Health / Sleep

6 Soothing Nighttime Rituals to Boost Your Health

Sleep experts share tips that can help you fall asleep and even boost your health.

If you find yourself tossing and turning at night or waking up multiple times for seemingly no reason at all, you’re probably 1 in 3 American adults who isn’t getting enough quality sleep each night. That can be quite problematic, as not getting enough sleep can have serious side effects including low energy, dark circles under your eyes, irritability, anxiety, and even an increased risk for a myriad of diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

There’s no way around it: Sleep is crucial for our overall well being. Yet, as important as it is, it’s not easy to achieve without a little effort on your part. That’s where a nighttime ritual can come in handy. A nighttime ritual refers to a series of calming and relaxing activities or practices performed consistently before bedtime, explains Sunjya Schweig, M.D., Founder and Director of the California Center for Functional Medicine. “These rituals are designed to signal to the body and mind that it’s time to transition from the hustle and bustle of the day to a peaceful and restorative sleep,” he says. “No matter the actual ritual, the key is consistency and choosing activities that are calming and enjoyable to the individual.”

Falling asleep is a process and not something that we can just stop and start whenever we’d like to. “Melatonin needs to be produced to a sufficient amount to allow for it to have an effect, your heart rate needs to slow down enough to allow your brain to recognize it and produce a different brainwave, and you need to relax enough to lower cortisol and allow for serotonin to be produced to give you a feeling of safety to be able to close your eyes to fall asleep; and, finally you need to have built up enough adenosine to make you actually feel sleepy,” explains Michael Breus, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.

Here, sleep experts share the nighttime routine that they say can help you fall asleep and even boost your health.

1. Deep breathing or meditation

Deep breathing exercises or meditation can help you focus on your breath and teach you how to be in the present moment, both of which can help you fall asleep, according to Peter Polos, M.D., Ph.D., a sleep medicine specialist and expert for Sleep Number. “Deep breathing stimulates the body’s physical relaxation response and may help to reduce stress, slow heart rate and lower blood pressure,” he says. “Meditation can enhance self-awareness and can provide a break from the day’s stressors, which may support better emotional health.” Even starting with 5 minutes a night and gradually increasing as needed can make a big difference, he points out.

2. Reading

Reading has long been a before-bed practice but, in recent decades, with the influx of new technologies, it has fallen a bit to the wayside. It still remains, however, a wonderful wind-down ritual, according to Dr. Schweig. “Reading a calming book can be a soothing way to transition into sleep as it offers an escape, helping separate the challenges of the day from the restfulness of the night,” he says. Reading a print book is the most optimal, since the lack of blue light can promote a greater sense of sleepiness, an e-reader provides the same stress-relieving benefits, according to Dr. Polos.

3. Yoga

This ancient bodily practice can help calm your mind before bed, both relieving physical tension and promoting relaxation. “Many of us have sedentary lives, which leads to stiffness that can exacerbate stress and discomfort,” says Dr. Schweig. “Targeting areas that might be tense like the neck, shoulders, or back, can ease muscle tightness, which also helps the body reduce mental stress—both of which are critical to a good night’s sleep.” Check out Aaptiv’s yoga offerings here.

4. Pour a cup of tea

Drinking a cup of non-caffeinated tea may help get you in the mood for sleep—especially if you opt for a variety that’s known to help promote restfulness, such as chamomile tea, valerian tea and peppermint tea. Dr. Polos recommends making  it a ritual by using a favorite cup and pouring yourself a cup at the same time every night.

5. Write in a journal

Journaling, or jotting down your thoughts, feelings, experiences or life reflections in physical form, can help give you a sense of presentness and mindfulness, notes Dr. Polos. “Journaling provides an outlet for processing emotions, reducing stress and enhancing self-awareness,” he says. “This activity can help declutter your mind and provide an emotional release.” He recommends setting aside 10-15 minutes and starting with single prompts, like recounting the day’s events or making a list of what you’re grateful for. Keep the journal by your bed so you can remember to keep it part of your pre-bed ritual.

6. Take a warm bath

A warm bath (or shower) can help soothe your body by relaxing your muscles. “Taking a warm bath or shower 1-2 hours before bed helps to lower your core body temperature, an important signal to your body that it’s time to prepare for bed,” says Dr. Schweig. “The heat from the warm water releases body heat and naturally cools the body by 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit which  initiates good sleep and helps maintain deep sleep.”

Health Sleep


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