10 techniques to help you relax before going to bed

Poor sleep contributes to poorer performance in every other facet of your life. Let's look at ways to improve the quality of your sleep

Woman reading a book in order to relax before going to bed

There are a number of factors which can contribute to insomnia or poor sleep, and stress before going to bed is a big one. Part of a good sleep hygiene practice includes understanding your stressors and having effective ways to release tension and relax before going to bed. There is some trial and error involved in this—what works for one person may not work for you. However, considering that the vast majority of people today are sleep deprived, it’s clear that something has to be done.

Poor sleep contributes to poorer performance in every other facet of your life. If you feel fatigued throughout the day, as if you didn’t get proper sleep when you wake up, or otherwise suspect that you’re not getting the quality of sleep you need, tension and stress might be the driving force behind this struggle. There are a few ways you can address tension with minimal effort. Let’s look at them.

10 techniques to help you relax before going to bed

1. Stop looking at screens and avoid entertainment

Not only does looking at screens stress your eyes, there’s a good chance the content you’re consuming is also creating tension. For example, if you’re indulging in content that increases your heart rate or builds tension, it will make falling asleep difficult. It might be a suspense television show, the news (which is almost always bad), or even browsing social media. Avoiding screens entirely at least two hours before bedtime is the recommended strategy for a great night’s sleep. You’ll also want to avoid any type of entertainment that can worry you or otherwise increase your heart rate—like reading that horror novel (see #7 below).

2. Put your legs up the wall

Legs-up-the-wall pose, also known as the Viparita Karani asana, is a deeply relaxing and restorative yoga pose. We are rarely in an inverted state where the heart is above the head. More aggressive inversions aren’t suitable for getting sleepy, but this ultra gentle version is just perfect to help you prepare for sleep. Doing this pose right before bedtime can induce a good night’s sleep by subtly reversing the blood flow. If your feet and legs get tingly, that’s normal. Make it part of your bedtime routine and soon your body will take it as a cue that it’s time for bed. You could even try the Chandra Namaskar — it helps you unwind after a long, tiring day.

3. Keep your phone/devices away from the bed

A bedroom with zero electronic devices is ideal but if you must have your phone around, keep it away and out of reach. Having your phone or electronic devices within reach will tempt you to sneak a peek before bed. Invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock, or put your phone on silent in another room where you can still hear an alarm. This can be an effective way of forcing yourself to get out of bed to go turn off the alarm in the other room. Also, the blue light that screens emit interferes with your sleep cycles.

4. Avoid excessive drinking, especially before bedtime

Have you noticed that on nights of heavy drinking you don’t sleep well? That’s because alcohol actually affects the body’s natural sleep cycle. Alcohol is a depressant that may make you feel sleepy initially, but wreaks havoc on the quality of your sleep. If you suspect that you’re struggling with alcohol use or abuse, find a treatment resource near you.

5. Exercise at a time that’s right for you

There’s no perfect time to exercise. Some people feel energised after a workout while others feel exhausted. If exercising makes you sleepy, it makes sense to get in that workout before bedtime. Just make sure you allow your body sufficient time to cool down and stretch, before hitting the sack. As a bonus, for many people the evening is the only time they really get to go to the gym.

6. Take a hot bath with aromatherapy

For many people, showers are energising while baths are relaxing. A bath can be part of a healthy sleep hygiene routine, especially if you infuse it with essential oils. Lavender is a well-known sleep aid and can be used as an essential oil in the bath and/or sprayed on your pillow. There are studies that have established that lavender improved sleep quality among participants, including those suffering from insomnia.

7. Read a nice book

Books have a unique quality in that they transport you into a different world, helping you disconnect with your troubles. Reading a good book is one of the time-tested ways to relax before going to bed. Just one caveat: you must avoid books that will provoke your senses or disturb you emotionally. Also, avoid reading on screens (see #1 above); old-fashioned books are the best. Devices such as the Kindle are OK too — they don’t hurt the eyes and are mostly distraction-free.

8. Avoid caffeinated drinks after 4pm

Coffee and tea are consumed by billions around the world for its various benefits on the mind and body. However, because of its stimulating effects, caffeine tends to interfere with your sleep quality. According to one study, those who drank caffeinated beverages up to six hours before sleep had markedly poor sleep quality. So post 4pm, it’s best to avoid anything that contains caffeine.

9. Eat your last meal at least three hours before sleep

Eating too close to bedtime can cause you heartburn and acid reflux, ruining your sleep quality in the process. Besides, the process of digestion itself can interfere with your sleep. Ideally you should stop eating at least three hours before going to bed.

10. Meditate for a few minutes

Meditation is among the most effective ways to reduce stress and relax before going to bed. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system which helps lower your heart rate and slows down your breathing and, in turn, improves the prospect of high quality sleep.

Follow these simple but powerful techniques and you’ll start sleeping like a baby.

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri is a counseling therapist, a wellbeing consultant and a teacher of mindfulness. He is also a writer-editor and has written on topics ranging from strategic marketing and business management to art, culture and even philosophy. His more than 1500 published stories—articles, interviews, full-length features—have appeared in some of the leading newspapers and magazines of India. He is the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed self-improvement book based on powerful ideas of some of the greatest thought leaders. Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".

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