This No-Cost, 3-Step Nightly Ritual Is My Secret to Falling (and Staying) Asleep

published Jun 23, 2021
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If you’ve ever Googled a variation of “how to fall asleep faster” or “how to get a better night’s sleep,” then you’ve probably read the advice that establishing a bedtime routine is “one of the easiest steps you can take to enjoy better sleep,” and all it takes is developing a consistent set of habits done each night, about 30 to 60 minutes before going to sleep. 

In theory, a nighttime routine sounds easy, right? This is what I thought the first time I considered the idea after weeks of tossing and turning each night. And then I read one of the most common nighttime routine tips: No electronics in bed. As someone who had fallen into the habit of spending an hour (or sometimes more) on my phone each night before bed, this thought immediately made me anxious — itself a major signal that I needed to change some things ASAP.

In fact, endless, mindless scrolling on Instagram rarely made me feel good. Plus, it was almost always the thing that kept my eyes glued to my phone long after they should have been closed at night. In a way, acknowledging my hesitancy to put my phone (and laptop) out of reach each night finally pushed me to create and stick to a nighttime routine. I didn’t want to be glued to social media each night when I could be doing something else, especially if that was getting a good night’s sleep. I had to break the habit and replace it with others, and I figured a nighttime routine would help me do just that. Here are the three simple steps that make up my nighttime routine and finally helped me get a great night’s sleep.

No Phone After 9 p.m. (More or Less) 

One thing I learned fairly quickly is that if I lay down in bed with my phone before I put it on the charger, I’ll be there for at least 30 minutes. This is why I now make an effort not to bring it in bed at all at night, no matter what, even if I think I’ll just be on it for a moment. Though it takes a bit of practice, it works. 

Now, I charge my phone on a bookshelf across my bedroom each night, where I can see it, but can’t reach it without getting out of bed and walking across the room. (This is a good balance for me, though some people swear by putting their phone in a different room altogether.)

Once it’s on the charger, the phone is off-limits until the morning. I usually turn on Airplane mode to prevent notifications and remind myself that it’s time to wind down, and this helps, too. 

Lighting Candles 

Each night, I light a candle that I keep on top of my dresser (near my bed, but far enough away to not be a fire hazard) before I start my skin care and makeup removal. Something about the act of lighting a match, dimming the lights, and letting the candle’s pleasant scent fill the room lets my brain know that I’ve entered a different stage of the day. I usually leave the candle burning while I read for the next hour or so, and extinguish it before I turn out my reading lamp or any other lights.

If you tend to fall asleep in the middle of reading a book or tend to forget about candles, it’s probably good to find an alternative to this habit. Maybe there are some string lights you can turn on each evening as you get in bed, or you can apply some calming essential oils as a signal to your brain to wind down for the night.

Reading or Crosswords 

I’ve always been a big reader, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it harder and harder to make time for reading for pleasure. Now, I read about a book a week, mostly thanks to my nightly routine. 

Each night, I read for at least an hour before falling asleep. It clears my mind, distracts me from any anxiety, and ensures that I fall asleep gradually. It’s something I look forward to each and every night as a way to escape the stress and screens of the day and unwind. Reading before bed isn’t exactly revolutionary, but the habit of replacing phone time with reading a book is among the best life decisions I’ve ever made. On the few nights when I don’t read before bed — say I’m at a hotel or forget to bring a paperback to a friend’s house — the quality of my sleep is always worse, and my anxiety is always more intense.

If I don’t feel like reading for whatever reason, I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a book of New York Times crosswords by my bedside. And nothing, I mean nothing, can put me to sleep faster than one of those.  

Above all else, find what works for you.

If you’re thinking that a no-phone rule, some reading, and a candle is a pretty basic formula for getting better sleep, you might be right. That’s part of the beauty of it. But more than anything, it’s the consistency of the ritual that makes it work for me. I follow this formula every evening, no matter what. When I’m already relaxed, it puts me right to sleep, and it soothes me almost instantly whenever I’m stressed or anxious. What’s more, the ritual brings me joy and has reconnected me with my love of reading in a way that feels effortless.

If you think that a simple bedtime routine seems, well, too simple to actually work, take an expert’s advice. As Dr. Steven Gundry MD, the medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine and the author of “The Energy Paradox” tells Apartment Therapy, “Keeping to a consistent bedtime and, just as importantly, a consistent awakening time the next morning is one of the most important factors in keeping your circadian rhythm normal.”

Gundry says that daily routines impact a person’s bodily rhythms, which then affect just about everything. “If the circadian clock is out of whack, it causes the mitochondrial network to lose its rhythm and make less energy in the cells,” he explains. 

While I can’t say for sure how my mitochondrial network is faring, I can say that I now look forward to the end of each day as a time to prioritize myself, and that I sleep better now than I was in the past. I wake up after about eight or nine hours with no alarm, and I feel refreshed and ready to take on the day consistently. The fact that my nightly routine is easy enough to do anywhere and cost me exactly zero dollars to put together is just a bonus.