Do you have a morning ritual? More likely than not, you do. And that little routine each morning lays the foundations for your day ahead. But what about the little rituals before bed?
The truth is, getting a great night’s sleep requires a little preparation. Just like our morning rituals, the hours before bed are critically important to ensure a good night’s rest.
So how should you be winding down? Keep reading to find out.
6 hours before bed: Cut the caffeine and cigarettes
In an ideal world, we would all be temples of health and the idea of stimulants would be offensive to us. But we’re only human and drugs are a powerful temptress.
Although caffeine and cigarettes fall low on the totem pole, they both have notable impacts on our brain and bodies. Both nicotine and caffeine have similarly fast-acting effects.
They rapidly flood our bodies - Nicotine takes around 10 to 20 seconds to reach the brain, caffeine takes a little longer at around 30 minutes - and give us the desired pick-me-up we were hoping for.
Although both of these psychoactive stimulants impact us quickly, their effects linger in the body for hours.
On average, it will take 5 to 6 hours for caffeine to be half as effective. That means a 4 pm cup o’ joe will still be swirling around your noggin at 10 pm. For cigarettes, it takes a whopping one to three days for your body to process it out.
So the first step to a good night’s sleep is kicking the bad habits. Ideally altogether but at least for 6 hours before you go to sleep. This gives your body a little buffer time so it can return to some level of baseline before you are ready to hit the hay.
4 hours: No more alcohol
A glass of vino, a pint of bitter, a shot of vodka - it’s a pastime that goes back millions of years and one much-loved in Great Britain. More than 50% of adults (that's about 30 million people) consume alcohol at least once a week and those numbers are increasing.
It’s long been thought that alcohol aids sleep. In fact, until recent decades, babies even used to be prescribed a small amount of whisky to help them sleep when teething. But thanks to science, we now know better.
Nearly 30 different studies have come to the same conclusion: Alcohol inhibits sleep. Although it does help you fall asleep faster, it reduces REM sleep. That’s the sleep where you dream and is the most restorative phase of sleep.
Missing out on REM sleep is the leading cause of daytime fatigue, increased risk of inflammatory illnesses, obesity, heart disease and memory problems to name just a few.
If you are losing out on this important sleep once in a while, it’s not ideal but you can manage. But if you are drinking multiple times per week, that is when you start to see the compounding increase in the above illnesses and symptoms.
That’s before we even factor in that alcohol is also a diuretic. Meaning it will make you much more likely that your bladder will wake you up during the night demanding a trip to the bathroom.
Now you don’t need to be a puritan, you can enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with dinner. But it shouldn’t be to excess and always aim to leave a few hours before you go to bed to allow your body time to process it.
2 hours: Stop eating, and no vigorous exercise
When we go to sleep each night it might seem like we switch off but behind the scenes, our bodies come to life and a beautiful dance begins.
The processes that were occurring during the day - like daytime hormones, our digestive tract and our metabolism - are decreased or slowed. And the real magic begins: Our body temperature drops, brain cells begin to regenerate, muscles start to repair, neural pathways are strengthened or broken.
For this dance to occur, we have to clear the dance floor, so to speak.
When we do vigorous exercise, it raises our body temperature, increases up our heart rate, stimulates our nervous system and diverts blood flow from the rest of our body (such as our stomach). Which is the opposite of what we need for the above process to take place.
Furthermore, when we eat close to bedtime, our metabolism has already begun to slow to prepare for sleep. So our ‘sleepy’ metabolism and digestive tract can’t move food through as efficiently as during the day and this can lead to poor sleep quality and weight gain.
But allowing just two hours of no food or vigorous exercise before bed is enough time to prevent it from impacting your sleep.
1 hour: Dim the lights & turn off all screens
Before the invention of lightbulbs, humans would generally build their days around the sun. They woke by natural sunlight and would finish work as the sunset.
But since the invention of the incandescent lightbulb by Thomas Edison, we have seen increasing pressure to hand over our evenings and work longer hours. Edison prided himself on sleeping only 3 to 4 hours a night, once stating, “Sleep is a criminal waste of time, inherited from our cave days”. I’m not sure Edison and I would have been friends!
Like most creatures in the animal kingdom, humans run on an internal body clock. This process regulates our alertness and sleepiness throughout a 24-hour cycle. For this process to run smoothly we need both light and total darkness. Which was easy enough until artificial light entered the scene.
Now we have to actively work hard to recreate the darkness and support our circadian rhythm. If we don’t then both our days and nights suffer seriously.
Although blue light emitted from televisions, laptops and phone screens is often named as the villain in sleep loss but the truth is that all unnatural light beyond a certain time is damaging to our sleep.
We need at least an hour of dim light before bed to send cues to our brain that it is almost time for rest.
Consider adding dimmer switches or lamps with multiple settings. A cheaper alternative is switching to lower wattage bulbs in a handful of lamps around your house.
30 Minutes: Start your bedtime routine
Sleep Siren’s reason for being: the bedtime routine. It’s much more than just business though.
Any parents reading this will know the importance of a bedtime routine. The bath, massage, bottle, book - each component helps your child wind down further and sets the scene for a good night’s sleep.
That's because our brains crave habit. They seek it out day-to-day and if it isn’t there, they create it. Keeping consistent routines helps our brain know what’s coming next.
By creating a consistent and achievable routine for yourself each night, you give your brain a helping hand in knowing sleep is imminent. Try to find products that calm your spirits, that you truly look forward to using. That way you’re more likely to stick to your new routine.
If you have any questions or need support with your new bedtime routine, you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org