Kick Insomnia to the Curb: The Best Nighttime Routines for Better Sleep

May 15, 2021

Did you know that your quality of sleep is directly linked to how you spend your last few waking hours each night? It’s true—and there are certain nighttime routines for better sleep that you could be implementing right now for pretty quick results.

So, if you’re struggling to fall—or stay—asleep, you’re going to want to spend a few minutes with me and get some quick tips for getting the best sleep you’ve had in ages. Let’s dive in!


Why You’re Not Sleeping Well—Or At All!

As we’ve discussed before, there are two types of insomnia: short-term and chronic.

Short-term insomnia refers to brief sleeplessness that occurs in up to 20 percent of the population. It can last for up to three months.

Conversely, chronic insomnia refers to sleeplessness that happens at least three times a week and lasts longer than three months. It occurs in about 10 percent of the population.

Some of the top causes of both short-term and chronic insomnia include:

  • Stress
  • Medical conditions causing pain or discomfort
  • Psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression
  • Substance use
  • Keeping irregular sleep schedules
  • Environmental factors, such as noise, room temperature, a snoring partner, etc.
  • Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome

If you’d like to learn more about the causes of insomnia, click here.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: How can I get more restful sleep?

Let’s dive into my top nighttime routines for better sleep. I’ll share with you some of my top tried-and-true tips and tricks that I use at home (and also recommend to my patients who are struggling to fall and/or stay asleep).

Dr. Pingel’s Top Nighttime Routines for Better Sleep

Here are my top nighttime routines for better sleep. Check to see how many you’re already doing and which you should incorporate to improve your sleep.

1. Put down the smartphone.

One of my more important nighttime routines for better sleep involved my devices.

I make it a habit to turn off not just my smartphone but ALL electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Sometimes I shoot for one or two hours before bed. And I try to limit the total use per day as much as possible. Here’s why ….

According to a 2017 study, mobile phone use of five hours a day or more was associated with both shorter sleep duration and insomnia. [1]

Meanwhile, another study published in 2017 revealed that blue light exposure two hours before bed not only reduced the amount of time people slept but also left them feeling tired and struggling to focus the following morning. [2]

The takeaway here? The blue light impacts your cortisol rhythms, which impacts your circadian rhythm. The best thing you can do is limit your screen time and put your phone in a different room before going to bed so you’re not tempted to check it.

2. Stretch before bed and practice deep breathing. 

After putting down your smartphone, this routine is one of the most important nighttime routines for better sleep that I do every single night: I always spend a few minutes stretching and deep breathing before bedtime.

You’ll want to avoid more active exercise, such as cardio, at this time. That’s better for earlier in the day. If you do want to get in a quick workout, do a few yoga poses at bedtime. After all, yoga combines stretching and deep breathing beautifully.

And yoga has been shown to promote feelings of relaxation, which improves sleep.

According to a study on 120 seniors, practicing yoga for one week decreased the time it took them to fall asleep by an average of 10 minutes and increased their sleep time by a solid hour! [3]

Amazingly, those who stuck with the yoga protocol for at least six months reported feeling more rested in the morning.

If you’re looking for a few specific yoga poses to get started, check out my article on the best yoga poses for common conditions. And you can find some great and relaxing deep breathing exercises here, if you prefer to incorporate your own stretches.

3. Play relaxing music.

It’s important to get into a calm mindset in the hours before bedtime. Try to avoid heavy conversations, upsetting news, and even action movies that get your heart pumping.

To help me get into this mindset, one of my top nighttime routines for better sleep is to play soft, soothing music while I’m getting ready for bed. It helps me to relax and unwind before my head hits the pillow.

And research shows just how impactful music can be in helping you relax. According to a 2018 review of 37 studies, researchers found that listening to music helped reduce cortisol levels and improve sleep. [4]

Meanwhile, a 2019 study followed 27 women who listened to either relaxing music or a control text before a 90-minutes nap. The findings showed that the music improved sleep quality while the text did not. [5]

What type of music you choose is really up to you, but sometimes instrumental is best so you can focus on the melody instead of lyrics.

4. Tap into essential oils.

When it comes to the best nighttime routines for better sleep, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the power of essential oils. Sometimes, if I’ve had a really rough day, I’ll diffuse some oil in my bedroom to help me unwind.

One of the top oils to promote better sleep is lavender.

In fact, one study showed that when mothers used lavender aromatherapy during the postpartum period, it improved their sleep quality. [6]

Meanwhile, other studies have shown that lavender essential oil can help improve sleep for many people, including those who are in the ICU and older adults with dementia. They noted feeling more refreshed upon waking [78]

You can diffuse a bit of lavender oil or even put a drop or two on a cotton ball and place it inside your pillow case. It’s a simple and easy trick to help promote a good night’s sleep.

5. Focus on the mind-body connection.

Finally, this is one of my top nighttime routines for better sleep if you’ve had a particularly trying day: Focus on the mind-body connection.

How? I like to do some gratitude journaling by picking the top three stressors of my day and reframing them into positives. And research has shown that practicing gratitude and reframing negative events is incredibly helpful for promoting better sleep.

According to a 2009 study, people who practice gratitude reported better sleep quality and sleep duration. Plus, they feel asleep faster and had less daytime dysfunction. [9]

Need some help getting started? Check out my article on how to reframe your situation and practice gratitude, which includes five tips you can use today!

Here’s a simple shortened list to help you remember some of the major nighttime routines for better sleep. Give them a try and be on your way to sweet dreams and productive mornings.


Nighttime routines for better sleep - Dr. Pingel


Key Takeaways

  • There are certain nighttime routines for better sleep that you could be implementing right now for pretty quick results.
  • To set yourself up for a good night's sleep, turn off your electronics, avoid heavy conversations and replace them with happy thoughts and soothing music, and consider practicing yoga or stretching combined with deep breathing.
  • If you've had a particularly hard day, you can also try using lavender oil and journaling thoughts of gratitude.
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