If your bedtime routine involves rage-tweeting about the news, catching up on Facebook, or binge-watching 13 Reasons Why, sorry: science says you’re doing it wrong. You may feel like some screen time is a great way to chill out before bed, but research tells us the opposite: not only does it keep our brains alert, making it hard to actually relax, but the blue light coming from your phone, tablet, computer, and TV reduces your production of melatonin, the hormone that makes it easier to fall (and stay) asleep.
If you can’t imagine a bedtime routine without screen time, don’t worry, you’re not alone: one study found that 90 percent of us use our gadgets within an hour of going to bed at least a few times a week. So what are the other 10 percent doing instead? Unwind screen-free by adding some of these ideas to your PM routine:
Sorry, reading tweets doesn’t count — and neither does reading anything on an e-reader that emits light, since it’ll disrupt sleep the same way your phone or tablet does. But reading a paper book or magazine can be a great way to relax before bed. Researchers have found that reading reduces stress levels by 68 percent, slowing down heart rate and easing muscle tension. And before you protest that you don’t have time read every day, the study found that just six minutes of silent reading was enough to relax the body.
It’s not just for Thanksgiving! Making a point to think grateful thoughts any day of the year can be great for us… and that includes our sleep, too. One study exploring the link between the two found that when participants wrote down a list of things they were grateful for before bed, it only took three weeks before they slept longer and better.
Break out the leggings: A national survey of almost 35,000 adults found that more than 55 percent of yoga practitioners reported better sleep, while over 85 percent reported reduced stress. You don’t have to be a pro to get the benefits. Using a calming yoga breathing technique is half of the equation. Try one called Ujjayi Breath — just inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale while keeping your mouth closed, concentrating on constricting the back of your throat as if you’re silently saying “ha.” Pair the technique with restorative poses like Wide-Knee Child’s Pose and Legs Up the Wall Pose can help you relive some of the tension from your day.
Whether you opt for a shower or bath, just make sure you make it a warm one. When you step out of the bathroom, your body will get to work on lowering your temperature, which slows down heart rate and breathing — and gets you in snooze mode. You’ll also get some muscle tension relief from the warm water dilating your blood vessels, which helps to tell your body it’s time to start unwinding.
Stressing over tomorrow’s to-do list or getting worked up over a work conflict before bed? Close your eyes and take 10. Experts have found that regularly meditating — for just 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day — induces anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes in the body that counteract the effects of stress. Simply focusing on your breathing as you silently repeat a word to yourself can relax you if it breaks your train of everyday thought, Herbert Benson, MD tells the American Psychological Association.
It’s not just repeating a word during meditation that can help you slow down in the evening. Repetitive physical activities can have the same effect through progressive muscle relaxation, according to Dr. Benson. Just keep the activity low-key — think arts and crafts, not pushups and crunches. Crafts like knitting and crocheting are perfect, thanks to the repetitive needlework, he tells the New York Times. Get past the learning curve and you’ll reap the benefits of lower heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels.