Your mind races. The clock torments you as each minute clicks on, and you continue to calculate how each second you’re awake is affecting how much sleep you’ll get tonight, therefore ruining your day tomorrow.
If this sounds familiar, you can count yourself among the estimated 25 percent of American adults who report occasionally not getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And then there’s the 10 percent that suffer from chronic insomnia disorder, when sleeplessness strikes at least three times a week for several months straight.
The good news: Research shows that bedtime rituals can be helpful for insomnia sufferers. We talked to sleep and happiness experts to find out just what you should be doing when you so desperately want to hit the hay — but can’t.
7 Nighttime Rituals to Fight Insomnia
The key to these tips, says Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making Breaking Habits, is to try them before you have trouble sleeping. That way your body becomes accustomed to the rituals and associates them with sleep when you need them most.
1. Set a bedtime alarm.
That’s right — an alarm to go to sleep. “The problem many people have with sleep,” Rubin says, “is that people wait to be tired and stay up too late.” She suggests selecting a distinct tone to signify that it’s time for you to begin preparing for bedtime. (Think: wind chimes or bird’s chirping, rather than the blaring fire alarm ringtone that rattles you awake each morning.)
2. Brush your teeth.
It sounds so obvious, right? But there’s a reason behind this other than, you know, your good oral health. “It’s something you’ve done before bed your whole life, so it’s already associated with going to sleep,” says Dr. Steve Orma, insomnia and anxiety specialist and author of Stop Worrying and Go to Sleep.
Plus, Rubin adds, often nighttime rituals include snacking — and you’re probably not noshing on carrots late at night! Sugary bites will cause a blood sugar spike, and a freshly cleaned mouth will help you call it quits before temptation strikes.
3. Dim the lights.
Turn off your lamps an hour before bed, recommends Dr. Orma. “This will cue your body that it’s nighttime and increase the release of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep.”The same holds true for your favorite gadget. Studies have shown that blue light from devices like smartphones and tablets can disrupt your body’s melatonin-making process, which is the hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep.
4. Listen to a bedtime story.
That’s right, nighttime stories are not just for kids anymore! They work for children because they help them relax and lull them to sleep. So why wouldn’t adults try them? Dr. Orma recommends this tactic to distract your mind from the rumination that leads to anxiety. Instead, you’ll be refocusing that energy on something more pleasant. The app Calm or podcast Sleep with Me are among Dr. Orma’s favorite resources for bedtime stories.
5. Read yourself to sleep.
You always say you don’t have enough time to read, right? Just before bedtime is the perfect opportunity, says Dr. Orma. It focuses — and thus, fatigues — your mind. Pro tips: Make sure what you’re reading is only somewhat interesting and non-stimulating. (Sorry, no 50 Shades of Grey here!) You’ll also want to make sure you’re not reading on your Kindle or iPad, as light-emitting e-readers negatively affect sleep by disrupting circadian rhythms.
6. Clean up.
No, this isn’t time to scour your house, but those clothes you have draped over your chair? Take 10 minutes to put them away, says Rubin, to help you feel a sort of closure to the day. “It’s symbolically putting things into place,” she says. “Plus, it feels so much nicer when you wake up in the morning to a clean home.” Feng shui experts would agree, too.
7. Get chill.
If you’ve ever shared a bed or a room with someone, you know how contentious room temperature can be. Turns out there’s a reason for that. If it’s too hot or too cold, says Dr. Orma, it can disturb your sleep. “The ideal sleep temperature,” he says, “has been shown to be about 65 degrees Farenheit.”
Want more tips to fight insomnia and get better quality zzz’s? Check out this research-backed infographic from On Stride.