Tame Restless Sleep by Sticking to Routine

by Blake Herzog

There’s no universally accepted definition for restless sleep, but those who live with it know what it feels like.

Staring at the wall or ceiling for what feels like hours while trying to fall asleep. Waking up to go to the bathroom, or for no reason except for the anxious to-do lists pinballing through your brain. The night takes forever to tick by because you’re still about 49% awake.

And the nagging sleepiness during the day.

Along with addressing any underlying physical or mental health issues that could be undermining your sleep, the best thing you can do to improve the quality of your slumber is to establish and stick to some routines and rituals around bedtime and waking up.

It’s not always fun if you’ve been freewheeling it since college, but the long-term benefits will very much be worth it.

  • Keep a consistent wake up/bedtime schedule — Going to bed and getting out of it needs to be aligned with your circadian rhythms, which for the majority of people means rising with or soon after the sun and going to bed around 10 p.m. However, if your cycle or work schedule tends to run a bit earlier or later it’s usually not a problem to work around it.

This does include weekends.

  • Run to the light in the morning — Getting a good dose of sunshine or bright light as soon as possible after you wake up helps to shut down the melatonin that’s (hopefully) been making you tired enough to sleep throughout the night.

Giving yourself a clean break from it helps keep you alert during the day and ready for the melatonin when it begins to flow again in the evening.

  • Do the opposite at night — Recommendations for turning away from all screened devices from TV to your smartwatch range from 30 minutes to three hours, so you have a wide window to play within. Start by shutting everything down 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime and work backward from that if it doesn’t seem to be enough.

The blue light emitted by these devices counteracts any melatonin that’s starting to pool within your brain.

  • Work in a workout — Exercising in daylight helps set the stage for sleeping soundly at night, whether it’s early in the morning or later in the day. Some experts recommend a midday or early afternoon session for optimizing the quality of your sleep, but if that’s not practical it’s important to get it done at some point, for this and all the other reasons.

Do it outside when you can and wrap it up 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime so it won’t impede your getting to rest and sleep.

  • Build rituals — Warm baths and reading before bed, meditation and stretching after waking up, and skin care reinforce the other regimens you’re establishing.