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Brandon Peters, M.D.

30 Days to Better Sleep: Create a Relaxing Buffer Zone with Sleep Rituals

By January 9, 2013

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Okay, so you don't need a bed made out of pillows to get to sleep. Nevertheless, you can sleep better by creating a relaxing buffer zone prior to trying to sleep. As part of this, you can incorporate sleep rituals that will put your mind to ease and help you fall asleep.

One of the first tasks is to draw a line in the sand. Let's face it, your day will never end. You will always have more work to do, another chore to complete, just one more thing to take care of. Even if you are not working, you might not be ready to go to bed. If your evening is your "me time", there are endless TV programs or movies to watch, sports to play, books to read, and hobbies to indulge. If you let these pastimes creep into your devoted sleep time, there will be no end to the sacrifice. Once you have elected to make sleep a priority, you must start by concluding your day and transitioning towards sleep.

Many people find it helpful to create an artificial closure to the day. This is accomplished by selecting a time that you pronounce to be the end of your day. If you want to go to bed at 10 PM, you might select 8 PM as the time that works best for you. You want to allow yourself several hours to relax. As part of this, you must put aside your work. Those e-mail responses can wait until tomorrow. It's the time to turn off your phone. You have permission to ignore those unfinished tasks. You are only human, and your day has come to its close.

How should you fill the several hours before going to sleep? Try to indulge in an activity that you find relaxing. This activity should not be stimulating; nothing that gets your heart racing or your blood boiling. Pick something that, in the buffet of life, is oatmeal. Many people enjoy reading, taking a bath, stretching, or listening to music. You should probably avoid exposure to light, especially from screens such as your tablet or laptop computers. If possible, it is best to have some time completely free of electronics. This is time that will help you unwind and transition towards sleep.

Once you have identified activities that you find relaxing, make this a habit. Just as children benefit from a nightly bedtime routine, your body will appreciate a consistent transition to sleep. These "sleep rituals" will mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare you for the transition to sleep. Ultimately, it will make it easier for you to crawl into bed and fall asleep quickly. This can be especially helpful if you have insomnia.

Another useful tip is to make this buffer zone free from anxiety and stress. As part of this, it can be helpful to schedule a "worry time" earlier in the day. By focusing your energy on relaxation and rest in the hours before bedtime, you will sleep better and wake feeling refreshed.

Check out the entire series, "How to Sleep Better in 30 Days."

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