An Insomniac’s Guide to the Best Pre-sleep Routine

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t slept well. Fortunately, that makes me an expert on all the ways you can improve your sleep. If you are struggling with troubled sleep, the number-one …


For as long as I can remember, I haven’t slept well. Fortunately, that makes me an expert on all the ways you can improve your sleep.

If you are struggling with troubled sleep, the number-one course of action I can recommend is altering your pre-sleep routine. What you do in the hours before you get into bed can have a significant effect on how easily and fully you fall asleep. Without further ado, here are my best tips and tricks for creating a routine that helps you drift off to dreamland night after night.

Exercise Regularly

An important component of sleep drive is energy depletion. As the body runs out of energy, it increases feelings of tiredness, which helps you fall asleep. To help push those feelings of tiredness, you should work to burn off any excess energy your body may be storing. That means fitting exercise into your routine. Experts advocate for about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day or at least 150 minutes per week; the type of exercise you engage in is less important than that you can make it an enjoyable habit.

Take a Magnesium Supplement in the Morning

Magnesium is not a trendy mineral, but it is an exceedingly important one. The body uses magnesium to regulate its muscular and nervous systems; when you are suffering from a magnesium deficiency, you might notice an increase in muscle twitches and spasms, pins-and-needles feelings and general tremors and shaking. Worst of all, even a small magnesium deficiency can make it more difficult for your nervous system to shut down at night, depriving you of a good night’s rest. Though many accessible foods have magnesium, I like to take a magnesium supplement in the morning to prevent any restless legs in the evening.

Stop Taking Stimulants After Noon

Different bodies process stimulants differently, but popular stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can remain in the bloodstream for hours after your last consumption. As long as those stimulating compounds are floating around your system, your body’s natural sedating tools will be less effective, and you will likely struggle to feel tired and fall asleep. Thus, it is safest to kick stimulants after noon, so your body has enough time to flush them before bedtime.

Turn off Your Brain 2 Hours Before Bedtime

As tempting as it might be to use every waking hour to get work done, your brain needs time to power off before it will be ready for sleep. If you are a workaholic, you should set an alarm for two hours before bedtime to get your body and brain away from difficult tasks. You might turn the television onto shows that have low cognitive demands or read books in genres you enjoy. You could also perform some basic household chores, like doing the dishes or folding the laundry. The key is to avoid pushing your brain to perform.

Turn Off Your Screens 1 Hour Before Bedtime

Screens emit a frequency of blue light that is similar to daylight from the sun, and because the circadian rhythm for sleep relies heavily on the depletion of this light, using screens right before bed can prevent you from feeling tired. About an hour before you want to drift off, you should shut off your screens and find an analog activity to keep you occupied, like reading books or newspapers or completing your extensive skincare regimen.

Take a Sleep Aid

Personally, I don’t take sleep aids; my sleep disorders are so complex that introducing substances has always resulted in a disastrous dependency. However, if your sleep troubles are new and relatively benign, you might benefit from taking a natural sleep aid at an extra strength dosage. You should schedule this in the last half hour or so before you hope for your head to hit the pillow.

Don’t Force Yourself to Sleep

The absolute worst way to improve your sleep is to put pressure on yourself to fall asleep at a specific time. You should try to avoid dwelling on the importance of sleep; stress around bedtime will only exacerbate your sleep issues and make it more difficult to drift off into dreamland. If you aren’t feeling sleepy, you should allow yourself to enjoy some light and inactive entertainment that does not involve screens, like a book or a podcast, for an hour or two. If you find your mind wandering, it might be time to try closing your eyes. It is imperative that you be gentle with yourself through this process, or else you will fail to find successful sleep.

The key to establishing a pre-sleep routine is consistency. It might take weeks or months before your routine delivers a full night of restful sleep — but once you wake up in the morning feeling awake and energized, all the effort you put into your routine will absolutely be worth it.

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