How to Build a Better Sleep Routine

Want to unlock your best rest yet? From morning rituals to daytime habits and evening prep, our science-backed sleep schedule has you covered.

sleep routine

Whether it’s the lure of a late-night TikTok scroll or the urge to squeeze in ‘just one more’ episode on Netflix, there are a lot of things that can stand in the way of a good night’s kip.

But getting eight hours of peaceful slumber isn’t just a luxury. Research has found that sleep affects nearly every facet of our health, and is linked to a lower risk of early death.

So how can we set the stage for better sleep? From sunrise to sunset, these small steps will help you to feel refreshed, recharged, and ready for anything. No coffee needed.

7am: Let there be light

A healthy night’s sleep starts the moment you wake up. Your body’s circadian rhythm - the internal clock that regulates when you feel tired and when you feel awake - loves routine. “No matter how tired you feel in the morning, getting up at the same time each day anchors the body clock and keeps us in a good sleep schedule,” says sleep coach Tracy Hannigan.

While it’s tempting to start firefighting your inbox from bed, getting outside for a morning stroll can set you up for sleep success. “Natural sunlight hits the suprachiasmatic nucleus at the back of the eye, which signals to the body that it’s time to wake up and be alert,” notes sleep specialist Ed Gorst. “Bolstering this sleep-wake system with daylight doesn’t just help us to feel energized in the morning; it can bring on that tired, sleepy feeling later at night too.”

9am: Make sure you have breakfast

Speaking of the early hours, Hannigan says that skipping breakfast is often a bad idea too. “The sleep and digestive systems are tightly matched, and eating helps our body to identify the time of day.” Jump starting the digestive system is another signal that wakefulness is happening, so make sure to line your stomach with something nutritious, whether it’s a bowl of overnight oats or a Huel Ready-to-drink if you’re on-the-go.

Eating early can have further benefits beyond just sleep. A 2019 study on 66 young, healthy adults found that those that ate breakfast didn’t just have better sleep quality, but they also reported happier moods and healthier food choices too.

12pm: Curate your Instagram feed

If you’re the type of person that spends their lunch break scrolling on social media, it might be time for a seasonal feed cull. ​​Hannigan says that constant exposure to content that makes you feel inadequate, anxious, or self-conscious can negatively impact your mental wellbeing: “Negative Instagram posts can have a lasting effect on our stress levels throughout the day, making it harder to relax and unwind.”

In fact, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media usage and an increased risk for depression and anxiety. “It’s important to set some boundaries with your social media accounts by choosing content that makes you feel positive and inspired,” urges Hannigan.

Midday is also a good time to switch to decaf drinks. Caffeine can stick around in your system for up to 10 hours after you drink it, so that 3pm flat white can really mess up your plans for an early night. “Even if coffee doesn’t stop you from sleeping, it can impinge on your sleep quality, so you’ll find you wake up feeling tired and less refreshed,” says Gorst.

5pm: Close the laptop (and don’t check emails on your phone)

The boundaries between work and home have blurred in recent years, so it's all the more important to give your brain a hard finish. Switching off from ‘work mode’ doesn’t have to involve a commute from an office though. “Put your laptop in a drawer, have a shower, light a candle - create your own ritual that signals to your brain that you’ve unplugged,” suggests Hannigan.

That said, when it comes to a bedtime routine, she says we shouldn’t be *too* strict on ourselves. “If our nightly routine becomes a task list, it can fuel fear of not sleeping well, that can compound sleeping difficulties.”

Instead, have a rotation of different low energy, screen-free hobbies to pick up in the evening. “It could be painting, repotting your plants or gentle yoga - but ideally it should be something that feels entirely different from work,” she notes. If curling a good book is your jam, try switching out the heavy non-fiction for a bit of light escapism. “At night, we really want to avoid psychological arousal, so avoid books that ask big questions about life and death and opt for those that are a little less mentally engaging.”

9pm: Listen to someone whisper

Or any other satisfyingly soft sound. The theory? This kind of gentle, repetitive noise triggers Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) – a tingling, deeply relaxing sensation which may encourage sleepiness in some people.

While there’s little peer-reviewed research into the benefits of ASMR for sleep, many internet users anecdotally report that it helps them to drift off at night. If you’re not sure where to get started, YouTube is full of free ASMR content, from simple whispering videos to elaborate Harry Potter role-plays.

10pm: Slip on some socks

When you’re tossing and turning at night, you could try warming up your feet. A team of Swiss researchers found keeping your feet toasty can help to promote better sleep. It’s thought that increasing the blood flow to the toes encourages heat loss through the rest of the body. When our core temperature drops, it signals that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Finally, if sleep is becoming a regular headache, Gorst urges you to visit your GP for support and further treatment. “Don't try to muscle it out - just go get some help,” he stresses. “A third of adults will struggle with insomnia at some point in their life, so you’re not alone and sleep can always get better.”

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