Natural Bedtime Rituals for the Best Night’s Sleep

Not getting enough sleep doesn’t just make you cranky and lethargic the next day; over time, it can also lead to serious diseases like obesity and depression, says Dr. Aunna Pourang, MD, of Lotus East-West Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif. To make sure you’re logging enough Zzz’s, we asked Dr. Pourang to help us create a timeline of everything you need to know for a good night’s rest.

6 AM
Rise and shine! While it’s not mandatory that you set your alarm for 6 AM, Dr. Pourang says it’s important to establish a consistent routine, going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Her recommendation is a 6 AM wakeup and 10 PM bedtime, giving you a solid eight hours of slumber. (Adults should aim to sleep seven to nine hours a night, according to the latest recommendation from the National Sleep Foundation.)

2 PM [or 8 hours before bed]
Go ahead and savor your last cup of coffee or can of soda. “Caffeine’s effects can last for several hours—it has a half life of five to six hours,” says Dr. Pourang, who also suggests limiting your caffeinated beverages.

4-6 PM [or 4-6 hours before bed]
Decompress from your day with a little light exercise—even a 15 to 20 minute walk will do.

6 PM [4 hours before bed]
Enjoy a well-balanced dinner. Just steer clear of super-sized meals, as well as overly fatty or spicy foods and refined sugars. “These foods can cause reflux and indigestion and interfere with sleep,” says Dr. Pourang. Also, limit how much you drink, which could also interfere with restful sleep cycles, says Dr. Pourang.

7 PM [or 3 hours before bed]
No more food or snacks after this time, says Dr. Pourang.

8 PM [or 2 hours before bed]
Avoid exercising and drinking excess fluids, which can disrupt your sleep when nature calls in the middle of the night. If you’re parched before bed or throughout the night, it could mean that you haven’t been drinking enough water during the day.

9 PM [or 1 hour before bed]
Time to start powering down—both you and your devices. Dr. Pourang suggests taking at least 30 minutes before bed to unwind. That means no Internet, no TV, no smartphones. And if there’s anything that’s weighing on your mind, write it down. Just don’t do it in bed. “The bed is for sleep and sex only,” says Dr. Pourang. Even reading in bed can “prevent you from feeling your bed is a resting place.”

Other ways to help you relax pre-bedtime? Dr. Pourang suggests a warm shower or bath, a simple yoga pose or two (like child’s pose and forward bends), or a 15-minute meditation.

10 PM [or bedtime]
In addition to having comfy pillows and bedding, you should also set your thermostat to between 65 and 68 degrees, a range that experts say is optimal for sleeping. Also, make sure your room is cozy and clean. “Treating your room as a sanctuary makes it easier to sleep at night,” says Dr. Pourang. Sweet dreams!

Bonus tip: While counting sheep may be meditative for some (similar to repeating a mantra), researchers from Oxford University found that imagining a relaxing scene—like a beach or meadow—was more effective, with people falling to sleep 20 minutes faster.

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