Medically reviewed on January 9, 2022. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Sometimes, it can feel like everything in our lives is scheduled. Work, appointments, time with loved ones—each part of the day is carefully planned out to fit in a 24-hour period.
Yet, when you finally put work to rest, actually falling asleep isn’t always easy. This phenomenon is known as bedtime procrastination, and it basically means taking back your free time at night. While spending some much-needed alone time can be a good thing, you don’t want it to interfere with your precious sleeping hours, which is why it’s so essential to create a sleep schedule and to stick to it .
A proper sleep schedule can lead to better rest, more energy in the morning, and Improved mental and physical health. If you’re struggling to fit your 8 hours in each night, continue reading for tips on creating and maintaining a sleep routine to help form good sleep habits.
Your body has its own internal clock that manages everything from your energy levels to your hunger cues. This internal clock is known as your circadian rhythms, which run on a 24-hour cycle and are most prominent when it comes to sleep and wakefulness. Essentially, your circadian rhythms ensure that you feel alert and focused when you need to and relaxed and tired when you need to .
Light exposure is one of the most integral components of your circadian rhythms. When your eyes and skin are exposed to light, your brain gets the signal to be awake and aware. As the day progresses to evening and night, the light diminishes, and your brain sends signals to your body to relax and get ready for sleep .
If circadian rhythms are so dependent on light, why does a sleep routine matter? The fact is that humans have come a long way since the evolution of our prehistoric ancestors. That doesn’t mean that sunlight isn’t an important factor for your internal clock, but we live in enclosed homes, operate in enclosed buildings, and are constantly surrounded by artificial light. Time zones and seasons mean that sunrise and sunset sometimes don’t align with your schedule, all of which can interfere with the light you’re exposed to .
Humans are creatures of habit and routine. Through repetition, physical and emotional cues, and responses to those cues, we learn and develop patterns of behavior that suit our daily existence. Sleep is no different. A consistent, healthy sleep routine helps you develop habits that eventually become a cue for your body and brain to wind down and prepare for slumber. Over time, those habits allow you to fall asleep quickly and easily, stay asleep through the night, and wake up without having to hit the snooze button. That all equates to more stable sleep patterns, which result in better health in your waking life .
Some people hear “sleep routine,” and they imagine many strange steps or excessive pre-planning. In reality, a sleep routine simply means going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. You can add to that equation to make the process easier and more restful for you, but that is a sleep routine in its most basic format. It’s about supporting your natural circadian rhythms and maintaining a regular sleep schedule .
Unfortunately, even the most basic sleep routine can come with difficulties. It can be easy for people to fight off their tiredness at night, whether they are out with friends or simply wanting to stay up later for the sake of it. By fighting sleepiness at night, you’re actually fighting your circadian rhythms. Similarly, when you allow yourself to stay in bed for longer, even after waking up, you’re fighting your internal clock. In both cases, you train your body to fight sleep and wakefulness.
Even if you’re not actively fighting sleep, a stable sleep schedule can get thrown off by numerous factors, including:
Beyond sleep schedule, a poor sleep routine can have effects well beyond your bed. Poor sleep patterns contribute to expansive issues throughout the body. Sleep allows your brain and body to rejuvenate and repair. Physical healing, memory consolidation, information storage, and metabolic regulation all occur while you’re asleep, and all of those happen to be important components of being awake .
There is no singular sleep routine. What works for one person may not work for you. In general, you want to change your habits to support your sleep quality and improve your overall sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene means setting yourself up to have the best night of sleep each night.
Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time is a great start, but here are some other things you may want to consider.
As mentioned, your circadian rhythms depend on light exposure, and are all managed by the hormone melatonin. At night, darkness causes the body to produce and secrete more melatonin, making you tired and signaling that it’s time to sleep. In the day, the sunlight keeps melatonin production down, ensuring that you are alert and awake .
Too much light at night can interfere with melatonin production, preventing you from feeling sleepy. That light can come from any source, but these days, the most common culprits are screens. The glow from TV screens and devices is enough to keep you up. Avoid anything with a screen at least an hour before your bedtime .
If your room is too dark in the morning, your body can have trouble getting out of bed. Opening your blinds and letting more sunlight into your home can get melatonin levels back down and help you stay awake in the day.
Eating too soon before bedtime can contribute to sleep issues. Eating tends to trigger the release of insulin, which is also linked to your circadian rhythms . Essentially, eating sends signals to the brain that you should be awake, which can interfere with your ability to sleep .
Most experts recommend eating at least three hours before you go to bed. If you are hungry around bedtime, opt for a small snack that is low in carbs and sugar .
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cup of coffee, but make sure that you are getting caffeine earlier in the day. Caffeine has a half-life of about four to six hours in the body. That means it takes up to six hours to break down half of the caffeine you consume. That also means that the cup of joe you enjoyed in the late afternoon can still exert its stimulant effects as you are lying in bed. That effect can become more defined the more caffeine that you drink .
Set a hard cutoff point for your caffeine consumption during the day. Generally, you shouldn’t consume caffeine after 2-3 pm. If your sleep isn’t getting any better, you may want to cut back on your total caffeine consumption .
It can be hard to sleep if your bedroom feels uncomfortable and uninviting. Make your sleeping environment your perfect sleep zone. If possible, opt for a good-quality mattress, pillow, and sheets. Be aware of how your room smells, and consider using incense or an aroma diffuser to get your room smelling as pleasant as possible.
A hot, stuffy room can make sleep difficult. Aside from the physical discomfort, heat has been shown to increase wakefulness while reducing REM and slow-wave sleep. There’s not a universal, perfect temperature for everyone, but you should aim for a cool but comfortable environment .
Physical and mental relaxation are the keys to winding down and getting to sleep easier. You can’t sleep if your mind is active. Everyone has different ways to relax, but experiment with:
Anxiety and stress hormones can also impact your relaxation and sleep quality. Learning how to sleep with anxiety, how to reduce stress hormones, and the difference between cortisol vs. adrenaline hormones may help improve sleeping patterns.
Reserve your bed for sleep and sex. Nothing else. It’s common for people to watch TV, play games, or even do work in bed during the day. Over time, your brain will associate your bed as a place for watching TV, working, or doing anything other than sleeping. If possible, leave your bed alone entirely in the daytime.
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