Can't sleep? Here's 13 tried and tested nightly sleep rituals that work

nightly sleep rituals that work
13 nightly sleep rituals that workTara Moore

Can’t sleep? While it’s perfectly normal to have the occasional bad night, if you regularly struggle to bank adequate shut-eye, insomnia can start to take its toll on your mental and physical health.

Body temperature, lighting and caffeine are just some of the triggers that can lead to disrupted slumber. So, what can you do to improve your kip? We speak to the experts and reveal the latest sleep-inducing products to help you hack your way back to snoozeville.

What to do when you can't sleep

Up late at night wondering 'why can't I sleep?' If you’ve ever undertaken any type of positive lifestyle overhaul, you will know the secret to maintaining good health involves routine. Everything from marathon running to strength training and even hitting your five-a-day veg quota requires consistent practice to be a success. But it's a little known fact that your sleep can also benefit from a schedule too.

‘When it comes to sleep, keeping regular helpful routines is everything,’ says Dr Guy Meadows, Co-Founder and Clinical Lead at Sleep School. ‘Going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday can help to keep the body clock on time, strengthening the link between the night time and sleep.’

Consistency is the key to good sleep

From meditating to taking a bath, sticking to the same routine each night can trigger a kind of Pavlovian response, so you can teach your brain to associate certain rituals with falling asleep.

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can also help keep all of your daily health drills in check, including when you eat, train and work. ‘This in turn helps to keep the body clock on time, setting us up for better sleep,’ explains Dr Meadows. ‘Keeping regular sleep habits is therefore one of the most powerful health providing behaviours that we can perform.’

13 sleep rituals to help you snooze

You don't have to follow every single step to succeed. To give yourself the best chance of getting some quality shut-eye, create a nightly routine that suits your lifestyle, and stick to it. ‘Start with a one or two rituals for a couple of weeks, and then bring in more or experiment with alternatives,’ suggests Dr Kat Lederle, Sleep Scientist and Head of Sleep Health at Somnia.

‘Aim for consistency over intensity,’ agrees Dr Meadows. ‘You’re far better off doing just one new sleep habit every day for the next year, rather than lots of new habits for just a short period of time.’

Here at WH we’ve had success with the following sleep rituals, but the perfect night time routine will look different for everyone. Try a few and see what works for you.

1. Rise and shine

Are you a night owl or an early bird? Studies have found that exposure to natural light in the morning can reset your sleep-wake cycle and help you kip better at night, so getting up early can benefit you at bedtime. ‘Light helps to keep your body clock in synch with the external 24-hour day,' explains Dr Lederle, 'as it knows when the day has started and can run the daily programme in the right order.'

The good news is if you’re a fan of the snooze button or it’s still dark when you need to wake up, you can fake it! Sunrise alarm clocks come with a bulb that mimics the dawn, using increasing amounts of light to gently rouse you from slumber. Just like a normal alarm clock, you can set it to wake you at a specific time and you can even choose how long it takes to reach maximum brightness. We love the Lumie Bodyclock, which also has a fading sunset setting to help you wind down at bedtime.

2. Train early

The next step to setting your sleep schedule is to consider your current routine. Do you exercise at night? Studies suggest that getting your sweat on after dark could seriously compromise your slumber. If you prefer to train in the evenings, ensure you do your workout a minimum of two hours before bed, as an increase in body temperature can stimulate your nervous system, which will likely result in disrupted sleep. If you struggle to find time, consider switching your evening workout for a low impact activity such as yoga or Pilates instead.

3. Create a sleep nest

To improve sleep hygiene and set your mind and your body up for slumber, treat your bedroom like a sanctuary. Start by banning screens from the room, dimming the lights and investing in quality bedlinen. Creating a cosy nest will send cues to your brain that it’s bedtime, plus you’ll be comfier too!

Natural fibres are more breathable, which can help you to maintain a steady body temperature throughout the night and boost your chances of achieving restorative sleep. There are a few simple products you can buy to upgrade your boudoir straight away and transform your space into a mini oasis that will soon lull you to sleep.

4. Try guided sleep meditation

It's common knowledge that meditation can help you cope with stress and mental health. But did you know that nightly guided meditation can set you up for sleep too? Studies have found that by using breathing techniques and focusing the mind’s attention to the present moment, meditation can actually induce physiological responses such as a lowered heart rate, controlled breathing and enhanced melatonin levels, all of which is conducive to sleep.

If you’re not sure where to start, download the app Headspace and opt for sleep-based guided meditation. This can help you relax your body and mind and set you up for slumber.

5. Wind down

Tried everything and still wondering why you can't switch off? To ease yourself into sleep mode, set aside some time each evening to chill out before heading to bed.

‘Start with any activity that helps you to relax and switch your mind from work to home life,’ says Dr Lederle. ‘Try reading a book or learning a new language. Whatever it is, allow yourself to wind down. We are human beings and not machines. We need time to slow down.’

6. Dim the lights

Everyone has a circadian rhythm, which works like an internal clock to set your 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. This is directly influenced by environmental cues such as daylight and nightfall. Our brains are hardwired to associate darkness with sleep and we produce more melatonin (the sleep hormone) as the night draws in. But studies have shown that bright lighting at bedtime can suppress melatonin.

To help you to achieve restorative sleep and maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, make sure you spend time in natural daylight during the day and dim the lights during the evening. Even the blue glare from phones and laptops can disrupt your ability to wind down, so resist the nightly doom scroll at least two hours before bedtime and turn down all the lights.

7. Write a gratitude list

A recent study found that writing a diary before bed can decrease distractions and overthinking, enabling you to fall asleep faster. If you’re not a great wordsmith, you could try writing a gratitude list. To get started, try the following:

  • Practice gratitude: 'Simply spend a few minutes at the end of the day in bed thinking about the events, people or places that you’re grateful for in your life that day,' suggests Dr Meadows.

  • Pause for thought: 'Whatever comes to mind, see if you can clearly identify why it is that you are grateful for it and pause to notice how the feeling of appreciation feels.'

  • Think positive: 'Scientific research tells us that actively reflecting on what we’re grateful for in life helps us have a more positive mindset,' adds Dr Meadows. 'This helps us relax, both mentally and emotionally, and can have a very positive effect on our sleep.'

8. Take a bath

To set yourself up for sleep, make bath time part of your nightly routine. But a long soak in the tub is more than just relaxing! A study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews found that bathing before you hit the hay could help you drift off sooner too.

Hot water actually helps lower your body’s core temperature, which in turn signals to the brain that it’s time for bed. This aids the natural circadian process and increase your chances of not only falling asleep quickly, but also of experiencing better quality shut-eye too.

9. Pleasure yourself

Say what? You heard it here first folks. Indulging in a spot of self-pleasure either solo or with a partner can boost your chances of dozing off.

'Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone is released through touch, physical intimacy, and sex, giving us that warm fuzzy feeling,' explains Kate Moyle, in-house sex and relationship expert for Lelo. 'Oxytocin has been shown in research to have a positive impact on stress and anxiety which in turn, contributes to better sleep.'

If you're flying solo, the next time you struggle to switch off at night, reach for your favourite vibrator. 'The release of oxytocin alongside other neurochemicals including prolactin helps us to feel relaxed and calm which is why many of us find it so easy to fall asleep directly after sex, masturbation and orgasm,' adds Moyle.

We're big fans of Ricky's Ultimate Wand Massager Vibrator for helping us relax at bedtime. It delivers delightful rumbly vibrations, plus it's multi-functional, so you can use one end as a clit stimulator and then flip it round to pinpoint your G-spot. If this doesn't lull you to sleep, at least you'll be smiling in the early hours.

Best sex toys for a sleep-inducing orgasm

10. Try aromatherapy

Essential oils have been used for centuries to promote relaxation, with good reason. Have you ever noticed a scent that provokes a memory? Our sense of smell is directly linked to the amygdala, the brain’s centre for memory and emotion. In the same way that certain smells might remind you of a summer holiday or an old boyfriend, aromatherapy can send cues to your unconscious mind.

So, if you inhale particular scents at the right time every night, your brain will know it’s time to switch off and go to sleep.

11. Adjust the temperature

Room temperature plays a vital role in sleep hygiene and can have a significant impact on your sleep quality. It’s actually normal to experience a slight dip in your core temperature at bedtime, so try kipping in a slightly cooler room and see if it helps you to drift off.

According to the Sleep Foundation the ideal room temperature for snoozing is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius) so open a window, experiment with duvet tog ratings, or invest in a bedside fan to help you hit the sweet spot.

12. Use white noise

If you’ve ever suffered at the hands of noisy neighbours, you will know how much sound (or the blissful absence of it) can impact your sleep quality. But did you know that gentle hubbub might actually help you drift off too? White noise effectively drowns out other sounds, which can be helpful for people who live in noisy environments such as shared housing or inner-city flats.

We're big fans of this Yogasleep Multi Sound Machine that comes with 24 curated sounds and a night light.

13. Stick to your routine

To keep your circadian rhythm in check, repeat your sleep rituals at a similar time every night and try to wake up at the same time every day. The more you integrate your drills into your daily schedule, the more your body will begin to associate these habits with bedtime.

To get the most from your routine, consistency is key. ‘Constantly changing when we sleep, such as changing the size and timing of the sleep opportunity we offer our body, will increase the risk of physical and mental health problems,’ says Dr Lederle.

Once you’ve found a sleep ritual that helps you to drop off, stick with it for at least eight weeks. A 2009 study found that it takes more than two months for a new behaviour to become automatic, so consistency is key. Sweet dreams!

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