Set a bedtime alarm, cue up a yummy scent and put away your phone.

Jessica Migala
September 01, 2020
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Good sleep can be hard to come by. Despite the fact that the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults sleep between seven to nine hours per night, 35% of adults log less than that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's no secret that these past six months have made it even tougher to prioritize sleep amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Stress may keep you up at night, work-from-home tends to become work-at-all-hours-from-home (especially if you lack child care), and the news cycle has a way of infusing worrying thoughts into your head before you hit the hay. All that adds up to restless sleep.

The fortunate news is that there are before-bed habits you can work on (read: break) to help you get more sleep. "My goal is to help people fall in love with the process of going to bed," says Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. It starts, she says, with asking yourself: How do I want to feel tomorrow? Refreshed, right? And to get there, there are five habits you should stop tonight so you can rule the day tomorrow.

1. Skip the social media scroll

It's easy to tell yourself that you'll check in with social media for a few minutes before bed. Soon enough, 45 minutes fly by and you're still up. "Your ability to restrain yourself and make the healthy choice degrades each additional minute you're awake," says Robbins. Meaning: You'll keep on scrolling because your judgment is just not there. What's particularly activating about social media is that it's often a curated reflection of a stylized part of an influencer's day—and you may not feel like you measure up when sporting pj's with no makeup in bed, says Robbins. Don't even start—and you won't have to try to kick yourself off.

2. Avoid answering emails—if possible

WFH has its benefits (no commute, working in yoga pants), but it also has a tendency to make work bleed into home life even more than before. Ideally, you would stay off your computer or phone to finish up emails before bed, but if leaving those on your to-do list keeps you awake with worry, you may be better off addressing them, says Robbins. In that case, she recommends downloading a program called f.lux, which changes the colors in your screen from activating, circadian-rhythm-disrupting cool blues to warmer reds and oranges. You can set this program to automatically follow the sunrise and sunset according to your location, so you don't have to remember to turn it on every night.

3. Don't leave stressed thoughts in your head

Worries and stressors stick around in your brain and act as a block to getting to sleep. "If you have a running to-do list, various thoughts flying through your head, and toss and turn routinely, you'll want to get those thoughts out of your head before bed," says Robbins. She recommends keeping a stack of notecards on your bedside table and writing down your to-dos, things to remember or even worries before tucking in. "There's nothing you can do about many things at night. Why stress about it?" she says.

4. Forgetting a bedtime alarm

"We're all so devoted to the morning alarm, but I encourage people to flip their thinking and focus on the bedtime alarm," says Robbins. Meaning: set a bedtime and stick to it. If you have to get up at 7 a.m., for instance, count back seven or eight hours. So, 11 p.m. becomes your "fall asleep time." You'll need a half-hour to fit in a bedtime routine (relaxation, teeth brushing, worry writing), so start to wind down at 10:30 p.m. To help make that happen, Robbins suggests setting your alarm for that time, which will help pull you away from whatever you're doing and allow you to make a conscious decision to go to bed. (Instead of, say, watching one more episode or answering three more emails.)

5. Hopping right into bed

Doing something relaxing puts space between daytime and night, which can help flip the switch in your brain that cues you to sleep, says Robbins. What do you find therapeutic? Self-massage? Stretching? Aromatherapy? Lavender and chamomile are inherently relaxing, but any fragrance can work. You can put an essential oil in a diffuser or spend a bit more money on a fancier cream in a scent you're obsessed with, she suggests. Fragrances can act as a strong trigger for your brain. After enough nights of using it, it will become an automatic trigger that tells you it's time to go to bed. Sleep tight.

Bottom line

Getting a good night's sleep doesn't need to be as difficult as it is. If you're currently doing any of these sleep-disrupting habits, change up your routine to make for a more relaxing night and more restful night of sleep.