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sleep / wellness

How to Wind Down Before Bed

by BetterSleep
Jun 15 2022 • 5 min read
Last Updated on Aug 27 2022

Relaxing before bed isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some nights it feels like the more we try to relax, the more stressed out we become. And as well-intentioned as your loved one may be when they say “just don’t be so stressed,” we all know (unfortunately) it doesn’t work like that.

Taking the time to relax and unwind before bed has been shown to improve sleep quality. For years people have been trying to crack the secret of how to relieve stress and relax before bed. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there are many different techniques that can help you relax and get better sleep. Keep reading to find the one that’s best for you!

Why is it important to unwind before bed?

If you work late or are out with friends, it can be hard to find the time to relax before bed. All this stress and busyness means you don’t have time to turn your brain “off” before bed. Going to bed with a hyper-aroused brain (i.e., thinking about what you need to do, the next day, your plans, and more) interferes with how well you can get to sleep and stay asleep. It’s essential to create arelaxing bedtime routine to help signal to your body that you’re about to go to sleep.

Did you know:Relaxing before bed improves sleep quality and is even used as a way to treat insomnia.

How long should you wind down before bed?

A good bedtime routine is all about consistency. Aim to start yours anywhere from30 minutes to 2 hours before you usually go to bed. You know what is realistic for you - stick with that!

How do I mentally wind down before bed?

There are many different ways you can choose to wind down before bed. From meditation all the way to journaling. Each practice is a great way to let yourself relax, help get good quality sleep, and improve your sleep health.

Nighttime Meditation

Meditation boasts a variety of benefits at all times of the day, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, you should try a quick meditation into your nighttime routine.Meditation helps people fall asleep twice as fast and preserve deep sleep. It’s alsobeen shown to increase melatonin (a hormone your brain produces in response to darkness, it helps with sleep), activate parts of your brain that control sleep, and decrease blood pressure.

Meditation can look like sitting mindfully for a couple of minutes and focusing on your breath, or it can range to an hour-long deep sleep-guided meditation. If you get especially anxious at night, it may help to find a guided meditation specifically for anxiety and sleep. These guided meditations mean you can simply listen to the cues to get your body into a state of relaxation. You can also usesleep mantras (focusing all your attention and energy on saying one phrase) to help your brain focus andprogressive muscle relaxation to relax your body from head to toe.

Read a book

A study from the University of Sussex in 2009 found that readingreduced stress levels by 68 percent. According toMental Health First Aid, just six minutes of undisturbed reading is enough to distract your mind from your worries.

So the next time you find yourself dealing with worrying thoughts, try picking up a book and getting lost in it - you never know, it might just help you fall asleep.

Steer clear of caffeine

According to the National Sleep Foundation, caffeine is a natural psychoactive substance. The effects usually occur 30-60 minutes after we consume caffeine. It works by blocking adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a chemical that promotes sleep, it builds up throughout the day as we’re awake, and as adenosine is built up, we become sleepier and sleepier.

Caffeine effectively prevents this from happening by blocking the process. It makes us more alert.

It also interferes with our 24-hour circadian melatonin rhythms. This is because adenosine works to contribute to this 24-hour process. Consuming caffeine, especially close to bedtime, can stimulate the nervous system and inhibit adenosine from taking full effect.

In return, this can create wakefulness at night, preventing you from getting a good night’s rest. It’s best to reduce your caffeine intake 3 to 7 hours before going to bed, so it doesn’t impact your sleep quality.

Listen to music

Music has been shown to soothe the automatic nervous system (the system that helps you relax by slowing your breathing, lowering your heart rate, and reducing your blood pressure), helping you get into a relaxed state for sleep. Make sure you steer clear of heavy metal music or songs that stir powerful emotions.Sleep Foundation says most studies say that songs with 60 to 80 BPM (beats per minute) are best. If you don’t feel like making your own, browse through free pre-curated sleep playlists online.

Deep breathing

Taking slow and deep breaths might be one of the best ways to relax your body. It engages your body’s natural relaxation response. There are different forms of deep breathing that can help, some of which include:

  • 4-7-8 breathing technique - during this deep breathing practice, you follow 3 simple steps. At first, inhale deeply through your nose for about 4 seconds. Then, hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds. From there, exhale through your mouth for another 8 seconds. It may feel uncomfortable and different at first, but as you practice, you’ll get used to it. This is a great way to relax your body and clear your mind.
  • Simple breathing exercise - instead of following a pattern of 4-7-8, you can try doing a similar technique that allows you to breathe at your own pace. Simply breath deeply through your nose at a time frame comfortable to you, and exhale through your mouth when ready.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This technique involves a little bit of focus on guidance. It allows you to release the physical tension and stress you may be experiencing.

To do a progressive muscle relaxation, follow these 10 steps:

  • Step one - start by lying down or sitting in a comfortable position. Allow your body to relax and take five deep breaths.
  • Step two - tense your toes, hold them in place, then let go.
  • Step three - tense the muscles in your calves, hold them, then let go.
  • Step four - squeeze your thigh muscles, hold, then let go.
  • Step five - clench your hands, pause for a few moments, and then let go.
  • Step six - tense and flex your arms, hold for a few seconds, then let go.
  • Step seven - contract or flex your abdominal muscles, hold them, then let go.
  • Step eight - squeeze or flex your chest, hold it in place, and then release.
  • Step nine - bring your shoulders up high to your ears, pause for a moment, then let go.
  • Step ten - scrunch your face, hold it, then let go.

The idea is to tense areas of your body for about 5 seconds, then exhale and allow that area to relax for another 20 seconds before you move on to the next. This helps release tension and can bring your body into a relaxed state.

Take a warm bath or shower

A warm bath or shower can help stimulate blood flow to the feet and hands. Researchers theorize that this effect can help heat to escape the body more quickly.

Your body’s internal temperature naturally shifts based on your 24-hour circadian rhythm. It works to cool down naturally as you get closer to bedtime. It cools itself by expanding blood vessels and allowing heat to escape from your feet and hands to naturally bring down your core body temperature.

Taking a warm shower or bath may speed up this process and help you reach a cooler core temperature that’s more ideal for getting a good night’s rest.


Journalling may be a great way to release the day’s emotions and stress. It can also serve as an excellent method for planning your day ahead. Bedtime worry is actually a significant reason people deal with sleep latency (the inability to fall asleep in a specific time frame).

In a study, researchers found that those who created a to-do list before bed every night fell asleep faster than those who wrote out activities they’ve already completed. This backs up the idea that bedtime worry causes sleep latency, and planning your day the night prior might be a great way to relieve this stress.

Winding down for sleep throughout the day

It’s important to wind down directly before sleep, but it’s equally important to know the things you can do and avoid throughout the day to help you unwind at night.


Exercise is said to help with sleep by reducing sleep onset (the time it takes to start falling asleep). It may also improve sleep in indirect ways. Exercise is a great way to reduce the likelihood of excessive weight gain; this, in return, can make a person less likely to develop symptoms of sleep apnea.

However, with all this said, is it a good idea to work out before bed? It may be best to avoid working out close to bedtime as physical activity can increase heart rate, adrenaline levels, and body temperature. The topic is a controversial one, and there’s much debate as to if exercising before bed really does impact it negatively.

It’s best to avoid exercising directly before bed and aim to do it at least 3 hours before your nighttime routine. This gives you time to unwind and creates a large gap between your exercise time and bedtime.

Avoiding naps

If you’re a nap lover yourself, this might break your heart. A short nap every day shouldn’t harm your sleep if you don’t already experience sleep insomnia. However, it’s best to avoid long or frequent naps every day to capitalize on your sleep and get a better night’s sleep.

It’s crucial to avoid naps later in the afternoon and evening. It’s best practice to take your naps at 3 pm or earlier. This gives your body ample time to unwind and prepare itself for sleep at night.


Winding down before bed is both a science and a discipline. It can be easy to fall off track from a nighttime routine. Still, it’s essential to remain consistent, especially if you want to continuously reap the benefits of getting a continuous good night’s sleep.

Getting enough high-quality sleep can help you:

  • Avoid sickness
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get along with people better
  • Reduce stress and improve your mood
  • Gain clarity and do better at work and at school
  • Lower your risk of serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease

Overall, getting enough sleep is important. And learning how to relax before bed can be a powerful way to create more high-quality sleep. There’s a wealth of different methods to choose from when it comes to winding down before bedtime. And meditation is one that can serve you in more ways than one. If you’re looking to build a meditation habit, try out BetterSleeps guided meditations for free today!

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