3 Critical Things To Do Before You Go To Bed (And What NOT To Do)

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3 Critical Things To Do Before You Go To Bed

things to do before you go to bed

Do you have trouble unwinding at the end of the day? Perhaps you feel tired at bed time but then struggle to go to sleep as you had hoped. Or you might be doing some things that you think should help you go to bed but are getting frustrated because they’re not working. I believe there is a set of three critical things to do before you go to bed, to help you get the best sleep possible.

Those three things are:

  1. Helping Your Mind Unwind
  2. Helping Your Body Unwind
  3. Setting The Scene For A Good Sleep

In this article I’ll take you through some ideas to help you do all three things. I’ve even got a suggested nighttime routine for those of you who would like an extra hand! I think it’s just as important to talk about what NOT to to before you go to bed. After all, you don’t want to unwittingly sabotage all the good stuff you’ve been doing. I’ve therefore also got a list of things you should avoid before you go to bed if you want a great night’s sleep.

All the information in this article is general suggestions, or things I have found work well for me. Everyone is going to be different in finding what helps them sleep best. This is why I’ve given you quite a lot of different things you can do so you can trial them and tailor the suggestions to yourself and your situation.

1: Help Your Mind Unwind

I know that for me personally, it is impossible to go to sleep without a reasonably clear mind. If I have a million things buzzing around in my head from the day, or if I’m thinking about what I’ve got to do tomorrow, I will struggle to nod off. Here are some things you can do to help calm and quiet your mind – which in my opinion can be the key to unlocking a night of sound sleep.

  • Keep A Journal To Clear Your Mind Of The Busy Day You’ve Had. If stresses from the day are going around in your head, or maybe emotions you’re feeling from it, or maybe even just reliving some moments, it can really stop you from going to sleep. Writing about your day in a journal and putting all those thoughts on to paper can work wonders for clearing them from your mind. It’s not going to be a stress or emotional magic bullet, but I know from my own experience that just getting things out of my head and down onto paper can really quiet my mind and put me in a better zone for sleep. TIP: keep a beautiful notebook and a nice pen beside your bed. Maybe even place it on your pillow if you think you might forget to do it. You’ll find out why I don’t recommend keeping an electronic journal later in the article.
  • Make A To-Do List To Prepare Yourself For The Busy Day Ahead. Similar to journaling, having a to do list with all the tasks, meetings, pick ups, cooking, etc, etc, written down can help calm your mind. It’s quite freeing to be able to lie in bed without having to think about everything you have to do tomorrow and worrying if you’re going to forget something: if you’ve made a to do list you know it’s all recorded somewhere. TIP: I WOULD recommend doing this electronically, maybe on your phone or tablet. Why? so you can carry it around with you through the day and check things off your list as you go. The timing of when you use your electronic device to do this matters though, more on that later.
  •  Meditate. Meditation can be a great tool to help calm your mind for sleep, and also help you go to sleep! You can either meditate to relax before you get into bed, or you can try meditating once you’re already in bed to help you drift off to sleep. I’ve written a whole article about mediating for sleep, you can find it here.
  •  Read A Book. If you’re like me (and most people) you like to relax and enjoy some peaceful free time in the evening. Television is the go-to for many of us, but it can be quite loud and the light from the screen can keep us awake. Reading a book is a more peaceful way to unwind, and there’s nothing quite like getting lost in a good book or audio book. I suggest you turn the television off and pick your book up about an 30 minutes to an hour before you want to go to sleep

2: Help Your Body Unwind

yoga before bed

As well as helping your mind unwind, there are some simple things you can do to help your body unwind too. Some of these are as simple as thinking about your lighting through to doing some yoga before you turn in for the night.

  • Check Your Lighting. The type of light we use has an effect on our body making us start to feel sleepy. Harsh LED lights and blue lights from electronic screens are proven to stop us from getting sleepy. It’s best to dim harsh lights in the hour or so before you go to bed, and either put your phone/tablet/laptop away or use some sort of screen protection such as a light filtering app if you “must” use your device. You can read more about the effect light has on your sleep in this incredibly informative article from Harvard.
  •  Be Careful When You Eat. Having a very large meal right before bed might make you feel drowsy initially, but it can disrupt your sleep. You’re best to eat your dinner at least 4 hours before you go to bed so your digestive system isn’t working overtime at the moment you’re trying to nod off. If you get hungry right before bed having a simple snack that is going to fill the gap without having to eat a lot such as a glass of milk or a piece of bread with peanut butter is a good idea.
  •  Have A Bath Or Shower. Not only can the cleansing and hot water relax you, taking a bath or shower before bed has another benefit. It may sound counter intuitive, but it can cool you down! Our body temperature naturally drops a little while we are asleep, and you can kick start that process, especially if you live in a warmer climate, by taking this simple step before bed.
  • Do Some Gentle Yoga Or Stretching. While vigorous exercise would ramp up your heart rate and keep you awake for hours, doing gentle exercises that help to relax your muscles and prepare them for a long period of lying down can really help your sleep. I love yoga, but I am not an expert in it. Here is a 7 minute video of yoga you can do right before bed from my favorite online yoga teacher, Adriene:

3: Check Your Sleeping Environment

The final step in things you need to do before you go to bed is to make sure that your bedroom or sleeping environment is actually set up for a good sleep. You don’t want to have spent your evening meditating, eating carefully, journaling and making your to-do list only to walk into a room that jolts your senses and stops you sleeping.

  • Make The Room Cool And Dark. As I mentioned above, our body temperature drops a little as we sleep, and having a cooler bedroom can help you drop off to sleep more easily. You may want to make sure you have opened a window or turned on a fan or air conditioner a few hours before you go to bed.
  • Make Your Bed Look Inviting. It feels a lot nicer to get into a nicely made bed than it does to get into an unmade bed. If you have to faff around making your bed just as you need to get in it, it’s not going to be very relaxing for you! Peacefully slipping into a bed that has been nicely made or turned down is a much more relaxing experience.
  • Keep Screens Out Of Your Bedroom. As I explained above, the light emitted from electronic screens can really interfere with a good night’s sleep. If you find yourself wandering towards your bedroom with your phone or tablet in your hand, back away slowly! Don’t take these devices into your bedroom if you can avoid it. I never have my phone in my bedroom. If I need an alarm, I don’t use my phone but have a cheap digital alarm clock that lives in my bedside drawer.

Suggested Evening Timeline For A Good Night’s Sleep

If you’re looking for a timeline of what a good evening leading up to a good night’s sleep looks like, take a look at this. You can follow it as loosely or as closely as you like. By no means is it what I do every day, it is an “ideal world” scenario for those of you who want to do everything possible to help you go to sleep. I’m going to base this on someone who likes to eat an evening meal, have a few hours of relax time, then go to bed around 10pm with the aim of getting 8 hours sleep.

  • Eat dinner by 7pm
  • Write your to-do list for the next day
  • Relax for a while, maybe watch some TV or whatever you like to do
  • At 9pm, put your phone down, dim your lights, and go check your bedroom is set up how you want it
  • Read a book for a while, or do some yoga or stretches
  • Have a quick snack if you need one
  • Have a bath or shower
  • Get into bed and write in your journal, meditate, read, or simply drift off to sleep
coffee before bed

What NOT To Do Before You Go To Bed

While it’s incredibly important to do all the right things before you go to bed if you want to have a good night’s sleep, you don’t want to sabotage efforts by adding stimulation into your evening. Things to avoid before going to bed include:

  • Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that we usually use to help keep us alert (hello, morning coffee) so it should be no big surprise that having caffeine at bed time is not a good idea. But when should you have that last cup of joe? Research suggests it takes around 6 hours for the caffeine you eat or drink to be half cleared from your system. This means you don’t want to have it any later than 4pm AT THE LATEST. I like to have my second and final coffee of the day at 2pm, just so I’ve got a bit of leeway. It may be a surprise for some of you to hear that chocolate contains caffeine. Chocolate is something we should really be keeping as a very special treat anyway, but if you’ve been eating half a block at night and wondering why you can’t sleep, that could be your answer.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol is another stimulant. If you drink a lot of alcohol across the evening you may well feel sleepy and go to bed easily, but your sleep will be terrible quality.
  • Hard Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and gets our heart rate up. This is great if we want to rev up our energy levels and feel full of zest. However, it also means that if you do something vigorous such as a HIIT class or a run in the evening, you might well find it is harder to go to sleep than if you had done that same class in the morning.

Do you have a routine you follow before you go to bed, or something that helps you unwind? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what helps you set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.


Emily Johnstone

Emily is the creator and owner of bestmattressforyou.com. Emily's scientific background gives her an analytical, critical, and discerning eye to bring unbiased, thorough, and helpful content to the site. Your good sleep is her top priority. Find out more about Emily and bestmattressforyou.com here.