Tucking the kids in for the night is one (somewhat overly romanticized) parenting duty everyone expects. Brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading books, singing lullabies, giving last hugs and snuggles … it’s such a normalized part of child care that there are stacks of children’s books, such as the classics Goodnight Moon and I’ll Love You Forever, dedicated to this practice.
With kids, we get it. Most of us understand that having a consistent bedtime routine is important for small children who need sleep to grow, learn and behave well during the day. Yet, the benefits of a regular bedtime routine don’t vanish when we reach adulthood.
Human beings of all ages do best with consistent bedtime routines. The consistency can actually have short and long term implications for the next day, personal success and even lifelong health.
Benefits of Bedtime Routines Beyond Childhood
A consistent bedtime routine helps babies and toddlers to develop an association of the daily rhythm of sleep, teaching them how to respond to sleep signals. It also provides dedicated connecting time with caregivers and essentially lays a foundation for good sleep habits, lowering stress for kids and parents.
As kids mature into teens and then adults, the basic benefits remain: supporting daily rhythm, recognizing the body’s sleep needs, and hopefully allowing for emotional connection with people in the home and a chance to destress. Other benefits emerge, too. Take a look:
A regular bedtime routine is an important way to support an adolescent’s maturing body and mind. It creates a cushion between the activities of the day and the time for sleep and:
Provides structure and limits (and associates routine with quality sleep)
Helps teens identify personal preferences for sleep readiness
Increases the likelihood of getting restorative sleep
Supports positive school experience and learning capabilities
Eases mood and stress issues
Whether talking about adults with the many obligations of “adulting” or senior citizens who may find themselves with a less harried schedule than before, a bedtime routine provides a simple yet valuable structure to close the day. This assists with:
Sleep is when the brain cleans itself, dumps its waste, files and stores memories, and makes sense of the information it received during the day. A consistent bedtime routine sets the brain up for success with its nightly duties by signaling to your brain to switch gears. Cortisol levels drop, melatonin production ramps up, and other relaxing and sleep supportive chemicals begin flowing in the body.
If you have a regular bedtime that you stick to for the most part, your brain begins preparing for sleep a full hour or two before your regular bedtime. This doesn’t work as well if your bedtime is often fluctuating, and it can take your brain longer to recognize sleep signals.
What Makes a Good Bedtime Routine for Adults
A simple and consistent approach will have a greater impact than an involved and irregular one. Humans are creatures of habit but a habit sticks best if it is not too involved. Here are some ideas – just keep in mind that, while some steps can be shuffled around, you should try to keep the last 20 minutes (or 2-3 steps) before bedtime the same.
Pick a Time
Pick a set time to start your bedtime routine that allows you to be in bed 5-10 minutes before the time you want to be asleep. Remember, the last 20 minutes is the most critical time to keep the routine rock solid, so plan backward from there to find your start time.
Have a Snack
Eating a full meal before bed isn’t recommended but a light snack can be just the ticket to calming your brain and fueling your body for a long stretch of sleep. Just choose wisely – some foods will make it harder to sleep than others – and keep the portion size small.
Get Some Physical Activity
Outside of the 60 minute window before bed, getting in some physical activity as a final release of tension can be a game changer. Adults may find that a brief evening stroll around the neighborhood or folding laundry is enough to encourage rest later. Too much high-energy activity can release chemicals in the brain that interfere with sleep, so a balance is key.
Take a Bath
Brushing teeth, doing your skin care routines emptying your bladder, etc. can provide physically tangible prompts to release the day and move into resting mode. Bathing at night may also be helpful, warming up the body to relax it and then cooling it down to encourage sleep.
Reflect on the Day
Making space for reflection as part of your winding down process can help avoid lying in bed stressing over what happened that day. Sharing the highlights and lowlights of the day with the family or a partner, journaling, thinking back through the experiences of the day and noting any feelings or concerns sets your brain up for better sleep.
You should also try looking ahead to the next day and reviewing what’s planned or needs to be done before you climb into bed. By creating a list, discussing the schedule, and addressing any concerns, you may help lower anxiety and stress.
The people we care about and are close to can trigger a release of relaxing, calming, and bonding chemicals that tell our brain we are safe and loved. Cuddling, holding, and sitting close to them as part of the bedtime routine is another way our brains may relax. Finding ways for physical and emotional connection as part of the bedtime routine may also strengthen these relationships by making them a priority.
Set Up the Space
Make a calm, cozy sleep environment for yourself. Dim the lighting, draw window coverings, put away distractions such as laptops or those to-do lists, fluff your pillows, turn on white noise, refresh calming scents. Do whatever works for you. You can also try using a humidifier or adjusting the thermostat to between 60-71º F.
Enjoy a Quiet Activity
Do something pleasurable just for the pleasure of it. Read a book, do a puzzle, draw, knit, listen to relaxing music you enjoy, etc. Quiet activities that are repetitive or centering can actually help our brains and bodies begin to relax. Just set a timer so you don’t lose track of time and miss your bedtime!
Prepare your Body Before Climbing into Bed
Deep breathing and stretching right before physically lying down gives a final relax and release message to the whole body. You can also release body tension by massaging tight areas, rubbing your feet, using pressure points to challenge areas of tension, gently squeezing your arms, etc.
A good bedtime routine may be as unique as the individual using it. Night time routines can fluctuate over time, too, through different ages and stages of life and as jobs and circumstances change. An effective bedtime routine doesn’t have to be set in stone, and don’t worry about the occasional late evening out. But, remember, the best bedtime routine is one that works, so if you notice your sleep quality changing for the worse, it may be time to reexamine your routine.
Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer, speaker and relationship and parenting coach, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of wereallhumanhere.com, freelance writer and mom. Jessica lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and co-parents her 8 daughters with her husband of 25 years.