An activity which consumes a third of our lives is surely worth doing well and, generally, doing something well needs some preparation. Preparing to sleep well doesn’t just happen the moment you go to bed, you should be getting ready for an hour or so before. 

If you develop an evening wind-down routine you can powerfully influence how you sleep, and how you feel when you wake in the morning. 

From routine…

With that in mind, it’s worth considering that your pre-bed routine as essential to a good night’s sleep. You may already have a regular set of habits before bed (e.g. a warm drink, undress, clean teeth, nighttime reading). A routine like this signals ‘time for bed’ and prepares mind and body for sleep, and some people might consider this a ritual, but it isn’t.

Though the term is often used to describe an unvarying routine, as in “My morning ritual of greeting the boss”, properly used ‘ritual’ is something else. 

…to ritual

Rather than an automatic sequence carried out without thinking, a ritual is “a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order” (OED). Whereas routine means you don’t have to think about it, a bedtime ritual is deliberate, purposeful, and mindful. The intent behind it is what makes it a ritual.

Rituals have been used since the dawn of time and, as far as we know, by all human cultures. One of the main aims of ritual is to facilitate change or mark a transition. As this happens they fulfil a deep need in us. They may only be symbolic, but rituals prepare us psychologically for what is to come.

A transition

Rituals allow us to complete things in a prescribed way. An effective bedtime ritual marks the transition from day to night, from activity to rest, and so it prepares you for sleep. Used consciously, a it can help with temporary ‘letting go’ of daily cares and concerns to be able to rest more fully. It provides a space for you to focus on yourself and to reflect.  

Conscious and unconscious reflection is a key aspect of any ritual. Your choice of actions (exercise, breathing, bathing for example) are less important than the conscious intent behind them (e.g. “I’m winding down, preparing for a good night’s sleep”, or “I’m emptying my mind to prepare for untroubled sleep).

How to…

A bedtime ritual can evolve out of a sequence of activities, but the more deliberate and specific you are in setting out your routine and sticking to it mindfully, the better it will serve you. The exercises below illustrate how you might do this. 

Many people have a pre-bed routine, maybe you already do. Shaping these habits to harness the power of ritual will enable you to improve both the quality of your sleep and the benefit you derive from it.

Rituals allow us to complete things in a prescribed way. “Often people will say something like “my bedtime ritual is to take a bath, brush my teeth, read for a while and then try and go to sleep the same time each night when I can.” While it is tempting to call that a ritual, it really isn’t.”

A ritual is defined as “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” A sleep rituals isn’t religious but it can provide a sacred moment to help prepare your mind and body for sleep.

“Research shows that specificity around rituals increases their effectiveness, which is why saying “I go to bed around the same time each night when I can is not as effective as saying “I’ll be in bed each night, ready for sleep at 10pm,” and then doing it. Sure, it takes a bit of work, some grit, and repetition to be consistent, but the payoff is better, more restful sleep.”

The Sleep Well Plan

The Sleep Well Plan is my online course to help you beat insomnia and restore natural, healthy sleep.