We all know that we should aim for between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, something science tells us is optimum for most adults. But while duration is one aspect, Sleep Specialist Dr Rebecca Robbins says focusing on our bedtime routine is far more important and often more productive. We speak to Dr Robbins about her own nighttime routine, why it’s so important, and the critical role it plays in ensuring she gets a good night’s sleep.
It is a myth that we can be working or watching television or scrolling social media one moment, then hope to fall asleep instantly the next. Instead, falling asleep is a process, and we want to set ourselves up for success by adding time to relax and unwind before bed. This time out can be as little as 15 minutes away from stressful screen use (i.e. scary shows, stressful news, social media). Still, ideally, we spend around 30 minutes indulging in relaxing activities, like taking a warm bath, reading a few pages in a book, doing gentle yoga poses, or practising a relaxation exercise. Adding these moments of relaxation into our typical day will set us up for success, increasing the chance we can fall asleep into restful slumber when our bedtime rolls around, instead of spending time tossing and turning.
“It is easy for work deadlines to crop up and hinder my ability to practice my bedtime routine, and that is OK. I need to remind myself that my sleep will not be perfect every night”
My bedtime routine is a buffer between my busy day and my sleep, two fundamentally different activities. It’s a time that allows me to slip into a more relaxing mindset, preparing me for sleep. My routine is, to take a warm shower, read a few pages in a book, turn off the lights, practice progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and releasing muscles from the toes to the face), and then drift off to sleep.
It’s essential that my bedtime routine includes things I love. When I have the time, I love to take a warm bath, but I will take a warm shower instead if time is tight.
It is easy for work deadlines to crop up and hinder my ability to practice my bedtime routine, and that is OK. I need to remind myself that my sleep will not be perfect every night. When faced with stressful experiences, my sleep can suffer. However, the most important thing is for me to realise my stress signals. Being mindful of these signals helps me respond to them in a healthy way, such as adding meditation to my bedtime routine to counteract those stress responses, increasing my chance of a restful night’s sleep.
I try to replicate my bedtime routine that I practise at home when I’m on the road. It helps to increase my chances of falling asleep and maintaining healthy sleep. While naturally, there will be differences, I bring things with me when I travel to comfort me and remind me of home. For instance, no matter where I am in the world, I will make sure to make time for a warm shower or bath before bed. Also, I have a hand cream with lavender that I use before bedtime at home or while travelling. I also always travel with my eye mask and earplugs. These two elements give me tremendous peace of mind, knowing that noise or light in my new environment will not disrupt my sleep.
“The secret is, when you stick to a strict bedtime and wake-up time, you actually need less sleep because your sleep becomes so efficient”
Just as children need to set bedtimes, so should adults. Falling asleep at the same time and waking up at the same time, that’s everything. It allows the body to work with – rather than fight – its natural circadian rhythm, our body’s internal 24-hour clock that controls the timings of every organ system and bodily process. If we stick to a schedule, our body learns when to expect sleep and wakefulness.
It means an end to staying up late and weekend lie-ins. Any more than an hour’s difference from your regular schedule and you will actually impose jetlag-like symptoms on your brain. Instead, a disciplined approach will make your sleep more productive. The secret is, when you stick to a strict bedtime and wake-up time, you actually need less sleep because your sleep becomes so efficient.
According to studies, spending time on a calming routine before bed helps us fall asleep quicker. The time before bed is very much part of our sleep routine. People often think that they can switch from going a million miles an hour to sleep instantly, and it doesn’t happen that way.
The key is to feel comforted and secure – be that a bath or an audiobook. It’s all the things we do for our children when we put them to bed but have got out of doing it for ourselves. Comfort is something we all crave as human beings; it allows us to slip into a sound sleep at night.
One way to help yourself wind down is to practice meditating. All of us encounter stress — it’s part of our everyday life — and how we deal with it impacts our sleep. Research suggests that meditation can help improve insomnia as well as sleep quality for those with healthy sleep.
Our partnership with Dr Rebecca Robbins explores all areas of our health, from immunity and anti-ageing to performance and brain function, which can all be impacted by sleep. Please read our article with Dr Robbins on The Importance of Quality Sleep.