Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg is the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children’s Sleep Center. She, of course, is an expert on children’s sleep, but her advice can help adults, too, because the principles are mostly the same.
Dr. Scnheeberg often counsels parents on developing a consistent bedtime routine to help youngsters get to sleep, and she said it can help parents, too.
“It’s really smart to have a routine, because then your body knows, “Oh, when [you do] these three things, [you’re] ready to go to sleep,” she said, “It’s like a conditioned response, so to speak. Like Pavlov’s dog.”
There are things you can do well before the bedtime routine to help your chances as well. Dr. Schneeberg said exercise will help, mostly regardless of when, so long as it isn’t too close to bedtime. She recommended about three hours before bedtime as the optimal time. Dr. Schneeberg also said a warm bath about two hours before bedtime can act as a cheat code to help bring on drowsiness.
“If you heat your body, as it cools, you get drowsy. Think about the last time you got out of a hot tub. You probably felt drowsy fairly soon after,” Dr. Schneeberg said, “so a warm bath can almost work like a sleeping pill, and it’s a lot healthier.”
Speaking of sleeping pills, she said melatonin shouldn’t replace healthy sleep habits, but it can be effectively used two ways – as a higher dose around bedtime to promote sleepiness, or as a lower dose around dinner time to help set your body clock to tell it sleep will be coming soon.
If you make it into bed and still find your mind racing, Dr. Schneeberg said you should try to fall asleep, but rather distract your brain.
“I love any kind of distraction that is really quiet and pleasant, so listening to a podcast, listening to an audiobook, reading a book. You could read on an e-reader if it’s on the night setting with the black background and white letters. I always tell people to remember it because it’s like stars in the sky, and then you can read as long as you like until you’re drowsy,” she said.
Lastly, if you still didn’t sleep well, a nap the next day is fine, as long as you nap before 4pm (assuming a normal bedtime) and only for about a half hour.