How to Relax Before Bed and Prepare for a Good Night’s Sleep

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10 Relaxing Things to Do Before Bed That Will Send You Peacefully Off to Dreamland

Relaxing things to do before bed woman lying on bed

I was in grade 8 when I had my first real encounter with sleeping problems. Night after night, I struggled to go to sleep. And even when I did, I would wake up a few short hours later, thinking I had never slept at all. Then I’d toss and turn in exasperation for the rest of the night, ceaselessly wrestling with the invisible monster that barred me from entering the dreamland I so craved.

Thankfully, that bout of insomnia lasted for only a few short months. But it would not be the last time I feel the wrath of sleeplessness.

Over the years, I’ve had countless episodes of insomnia—some mild and short-lived, others more severe and stubborn. The worst one struck during those months after I was first diagnosed with cancer.

But there is a silver lining here.

After so many nights of tossing and turning, I’ve learned a thing or two about sleep and what it takes to have a good one. And as a result, I haven’t had insomnia—in fact, I’ve been having some of the best sleep I’ve ever had—for a long time now.

What’s my “secret” to a good night sleep’s sleep?

It starts with having a relaxing bedtime routine.

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Contents

 

 

The Benefits of Having a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

 

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What is a “bedtime routine”?

In a nutshell, it’s a series of activities you do, before bed. The purpose of these activities is to calm you down and get you ready for sleep.

But why do we even need a bedtime routine?

As much as we glorify spontaneity, humans need structure and consistency. Research has shown that routines are not only important for a child’s development, but they also play a critical role in our health and wellbeing throughout our lives.

And when we have structure in our daily lives, we feel a greater sense of predictability and control—this, in turn, reduces anxiety and stress.

From my own personal experience, a relaxing bedtime routine not only prepares my body and mind for optimal sleep, but also gives me a reassuring sense of comfort. 

But too many of us either don’t have a bedtime routine, or engage in the wrong activities before bed—we do things that, instead of winding us down for a good night’s sleep, have the opposite effect on us.

 

What NOT to Do Before Bed

Are you doing one or more of the following things before bed? Beware, these activities will rob you of a good night’s rest.

1. Check Emails or Social Media

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to delay sleep just to respond to an “urgent” email or check out another funny cat video someone posted.

Sounds familiar?

It’s a well-known fact that technology disrupts our sleeping pattern.

 

Image of someone's Gmail account

 

2. Eat a Big Meal

Sure, eating a hamburger (or my vice—noodles) before bed feels satisfying in that moment, but you’ll be paying for it with acid reflux and horrible sleep.

 

3. Exercise

Getting your heart rate up is something you should do regularly if you want a healthy body and mind. Just not before bed. 

 

4. Drink Lots of Fluids

Frequent bathroom trips during the night are no fun!

 

woman drinking water from a glass

 

5. Plan Your Next Day

I got that client meeting in the morning, then have to pick up the dry-cleaning at lunch. Oh, I’m almost out of soap. And do I need more spaghetti while I’m at it?

Once you go down this rabbit hole good luck shutting your mind off.

 

Now that you’ve seen what activities you should keep out of your bedtime routine, I’m going to give you my list of the best relaxing things to do before bed for a good night’s sleep.

 

10 Relaxing Bedtime Activities to Ensure a Good Night’s Sleep

 

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1. A Warm Foot Bath

Foot baths are extremely popular among the Japanese and Chinese—both cultures believe that the root of our health starts with our feet.

Just ask any Chinese grandma what’s her secret to a good night’s sleep, and she’ll for sure point you in the direction of the basin she uses for her nightly foot baths.

After trying it for myself, I can see why the humble foot bath has such a revered status in these ancient cultures. Not only does it help you unwind, but it also does wonders for tired, achy feet. 

All you need is 10-15 minutes every night, and a basin deep enough to soak your whole feet.

Here’s one of the bestselling foot bath massagers on Amazon:

 

 

2. Deep Breathing

High blood pressure, anxiety, and stress are some of the biggest causes of insomnia.

The good news is there’s one thing we can all do to combat all three of them at once:

Breathing.

Not those shallow, quick, almost indiscernible breaths almost all of us are guilty of taking when we’re stuck in traffic, typing away at our desks, or standing in line at the grocery—breathing that you put zero effort or thought into.

No, I’m talking about deep, slow, and conscious breathing.

Deep breathing that involves not just our chest, but our belly (also called diaphragmatic breathing), has been shown to be effective in lowering our heartbeat and stabilizing our blood pressure. All of which help improve our sleep quality.

In my opinion, deep breathing is the best thing you can do to calm down—at any time, not just before sleep. If you’ve only got time to do one relaxing activity before bed, make it deep breathing.

Now here’s a simple breathing exercise I like to do for a few minutes every night in bed:

Lie down on your back and place both hands on your belly. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. You should feel the rising of your belly with your hands. At the top of your breath, hold for 4 seconds. Then slowly exhale for 4 seconds and feel your belly falling into your spine. Once you’ve let out all the air, pause your breath for another 4 seconds. And repeat.

To learn more about the powerful effects of breathing and for more deep breathing exercises, check out my favourite book on the subject called “Breathe” by the breathing expert Dr. Belisa Vranich.

 

3. Spending Time With Your Furry Companion

Pets can melt more than just our hearts—they can melt away our stress too. Studies show that simply interacting with an animal is enough to reduce stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Sounds like a recipe for a good night’s sleep to me!

This is why I always spend at least 10 minutes playing with or petting my cats before bed each night. So if you have a pet, put down your phone and spend more time with them before going to sleep.

 

petting my cat Dong Dong

 

4. Gentle Stretching

Studies show that stretching can help with symptoms of insomnia and improve sleep quality. It’s one of the best things to do before bed to help you sleep.

Here’s a 5-minute gentle stretch I like to do every night in bed:

 

 

5. Visualization

When I had my bone-marrow transplant over 12 years ago, I relied on visualization to get me through some of the toughest days of the whole experience. In my mind’s eye, I would picture myself healing one cell at a time, and my diseased body was slowly being replaced by a renewed, healthy one. My recovery was so smooth and so swift that it made waves amongst the doctors and fellow patients at the time. 

And now, visualization is part of my bedtime routine. It’s incredibly effective at curbing rumination and reducing anxiety. I would lie on the bed and picture myself sitting on a rock next to a gentle stream and my body relaxing inch by inch. If an anxious thought rams into my head, I would transform it into a leaf in my mind and send it floating down the water. 

Give this visualization exercise a try tonight and you’ll see why it deserves a place in your bedtime routine.

 

6. Mindfulness Meditation

Research shows that a mindfulness meditation practice can improve sleep quality for sufferers of chronic insomnia.

What is mindfulness meditation?

With mindfulness meditation, you focus your attention on your breath and the present moment—what you experience with your senses and the feelings in your body and mind in the here and now. Not only is it a relaxing thing to do before bed, but it’s also a great way to “check-in” with yourself every night.

Not sure how to get started? Check out my favourite free meditation app: “Insight Timer”. It’s got tons of guided mindfulness meditation ranging from just 5 minutes to half an hour.

 

relaxing things to do before bed meditation

 

7. Acupressure

Acupressure is an ancient health practice with roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s simple, effective, and safe enough for anyone to do at home.

The method is pretty straightforward—apply pressure to a targeted point on your body for a few seconds each time, massage the area a little bit, and repeat for a few minutes each day.

And you don’t need any special tool except your fingers. But if you have sharp nails, then you’re better off using either a capped fat Sharpie marker or an acupressure pen.

Here’s an acupressure point I always massage for a few minutes each night before bed—it’s called the “Great Surge”.

This point is great for alleviating stress, insomnia and anxiety. It’s located on your foot between your big toe and second toe, in the hollow area just below the large foot bone.

You can watch me give a demo on how to apply acupressure to the “Great Surge” point in this video below (demo starts at the 1:40 mark):

 

 

8. Listen to Relaxing Music

According to Thomas Dickson, a researcher in the science of music for sleep at UNSW in Sydney Australia, listening to music for 45 minutes at bedtime for about a month has been shown to positively impact sleep patterns.

Not just any music though, his study showed that the best music for sleep have these features:

  • Lower frequencies
  • Slow and sustained duration of musical notes
  • Little to no rhythm (I guess House music would be a no-no)

Something like this soothing piece on Youtube would be a great choice to listen to 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime.

 

9. Read a Light-Hearted Book

While you’re listening to some relaxing tunes, why not curl up on the sofa with a book and a plushy blanket? You’ll feel all cozy and ready for sleep in no time!

Just make sure the book is light-hearted. So don’t read a suspense that’ll make you want to keep turning the page till dawn, or a horror story that’ll make you wonder if someone (or some thing) is under your bed.

Instead, choose something like this beautifully illustrated bedtime stories book for adults.

 

10. Journal

Last but not least, consider including journaling in your bedtime routine. It is one of the simplest and most effective wind-down activities before bed.

Although a small study conducted at Baylor University suggests that jotting down your to-do list before bed can help you fall asleep faster, my personal experience with journaling “to-do lists” at night hasn’t been great. In fact, thinking about what I needed to do the next day right before going bed actually increased my anxiety and made it hard for me to stop my mind from yapping.

So instead of writing to-do lists, I recommend using one of these journal prompts I came up with. And for more tips on journaling, check out my article on how to start (and keep) a journaling habit.

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Final Words on How to Relax Before Bed

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, the culprit could be your current bedtime routine—or lack of one. I hope that this article has given you some ideas on how to start a bedtime routine that will set you up for a good night’s rest.

Which one of these relaxing things to do before bed are you going to try tonight? Tell me about your experience in the comment section below!

 

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Recommended Articles in Health and Mental Wellbeing:

3 Instant Relaxation Techniquest to Help You Calm Down Now

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Healthy Morning Routines to Help You Start Your Day Right

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