How to get into a sleep routine and why it’s important
Remember being a child and having a strict sleep routine every night to gear you up for bedtime? You were probably told (or bribed) to go to bed around the same time every night, and in the end (despite some nights of kicking and screaming) you slept like a log.
Why is it that when we get older, our routines seem to get waylaid by “adult” distractions like Netflix, social media, or work? Why do we value these “tasks” when we know that quality sleep and our sleep routines are fundamental to our health and wellbeing?
In this guide, we show you how to get into a good sleep routine and why getting into the habit of sleep is the rocket fuel to your wellbeing.
Why is a sleep routine important?
Simply because we’re designed to have one. Our body’s sleep and wake schedules are far more than just going to sleep and waking up when we want to. We have an internal sleep mechanism that controls it – our circadian rhythm. This is your body clock that tells your body when it’s time to wake up and when to start settling down at the end of the day. Your sleep cycle is closely linked to light in your environment, so your internal clock helps you naturally feel more awake during daylight hours and more tired at night.
Sticking to the same sleep routine (and cues of your body) every night helps your body find its natural rhythm. But many of us don’t prioritise this, which can throw off our internal clock. If you are constantly changing the time you go to bed and wake up, your body starts to find it more difficult to take its cues. This can cause an imbalance in your emotional and physical abilities, and even lead to health issues down the line.
Irritability, drowsiness, mood swings, concentration and memory problems, headaches, and a decline in cognitive skills plus restless sleep can all be effects of a poor sleep routine, and if we want increased longevity and health as we age, a sleep routine which leads to peaceful sleep is a must.
5 tips for creating a healthy sleep routine
Like any good habit, creating a healthy sleep routine takes time and practise. Good sleep behaviour is key in cutting out the sneaky habits that may follow you to bed.
Follow these tips, and you’ll be a sleep-pro in no time!
1. Limit nap time
As wonderful as napping is (and its amazing cognitive benefits), it’s best to avoid taking a nap when priming your body into a sleep routine. But if you have to (because we get it, life, work, etc.), don’t nap for too long, or else you’ll find it even harder to get to sleep later on. The best time to nap is shortly after lunch, but before 3pm, and keep the nap to 20 minutes.
2. Reduce screen time
Having an electronic curfew is vital in getting z’s. Using any electronic devices before bed can make it difficult to sleep as the blue light emitted from these devices lessens melatonin production (the hormone responsible for your sleep). Turn off all devices at least 1 hour before bed and pick up a good book to help you drift off instead.
3. Be consistent
Like all habits, getting into a bedtime routine requires consistency. It’s difficult for your body to settle into a sleep and wake routine if you’re constantly changing the goalposts. Pick a time for bed and stick to it (even on weekends). You may be tempted to have a late-night or sleep in, but while you’re getting into the rhythm of your new sleep ways, be consistent.
Figuring out how much sleep you need can help you budget for your sleep needs by calculating what time you should go to sleep and what time you should wake up. But always give yourself some buffer time to wind down and complete your sleep ritual.
4. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
Caffeine and alcohol are banished to the backyard until your sleep routine is perfected. (Ok, not totally banished, but kept at a minimum consumed state). We know that during those mid-afternoon slumps, you may be tempted to sip on some caffeine, but this can cause long-term sleep deprivation, especially if your sleep routine is out of whack.
The same goes for alcohol. While a nightcap can induce drowsiness for some, the effects during sleep are less than ideal. It can cause you to wake up frequently during the night and stop you from reaching all the vital sleep stages that help rejuvenate and restore your body.
5. Create a bedtime ritual
Looking forward to bedtime is half the battle, won. Make your pre-bed ritual a relaxing and coveted affair. Half an hour before lights out do something to de-stress and relax. This could be running a bath, listening to soothing sleep music, sleep meditation, or sipping on some sleep tea. This will help signal to your body that it is time for bed, increasing melatonin production, which will make it much easier to slip into sleep.
What disrupts a sleep routine?
A variety of things can throw off your sleep routine. If you’re a shift worker and you’re changing from day to night work, or even trying to cycle back into a regular one. Often shift workers will develop sleep disorders as it takes them a lot longer to cycle back into a regular sleep routine.
If you’re a frequent traveller and are constantly crossing time zones, then jetlag will be your culprit. Or if your job is more demanding than usual and you’re staying up later than you should for prolonged periods of time, you are throwing your body clock out of its consistent sleep time.
How many hours of sleep do you need per day?
The recommended hours of sleep for an adult are between 7-9 hours each night. However, it differs as we age. Making sure you schedule your required sleeping hours a night helps your body go through all the stages of sleep that contribute to you feeling rested and replenished for the day ahead.
Sleep routines, just like our waking routines, should form a part of our daily lives. After all, we can’t perform at our best without good, quality sleep. That’s why we live by the rule: “For great days, get great sleep.”