Unfortunately, we can't just press a button to fall asleep. While some people may be blessed with the ability to conk out as soon as their head hits the pillow, most of us have a personal wind-down time that we need to honor before bed—and according to family medicine doctor Robert Rountree, M.D., understanding yours can help you get a better night's sleep than ever.
Finding your personal wind-down time.
Rountree says that it takes the human mind a while to unwind. "At least an hour—probably two," he explained to mbg co-founder Jason Wachob during a recent virtual sleep summit. "I need two hours to unwind, two hours of doing things that are calm after dinner, like talking or reading."
To figure out how long it takes you to unwind, give yourself at least an hour and a half to start. So, if you'd like to get to sleep around 10 p.m. for example, start to do relaxing things around 8:30. When it comes time to go to bed, check in with yourself. Are you still a bit energized? Or maybe you were ready to get in bed by 9:30, indicating you need only an hour to wind down.
5 tips for unwinding.
Once you figure out how much time you should give yourself before bed, focus on a few soothing activities or self-care practices, such as the following:
1. Reading or journaling.
Rountree himself has taken to reading a good novel before bed, though you could read (or journal about) anything you want. The key is to choose something that's not too stimulating and, ideally, isn't on a screen. If you do have to look at your screen come nighttime, he recommends using blue-light blockers (whether glasses or through an app), but ultimately, technology is best avoided when winding down.
2. Take a magnesium supplement.
The deep and restorative sleep you've always dreamt about*
A magnesium supplement like mbg's magnesium+ fits well into wind-down time, as one published study has shown when you take two capsules 30 to 60 minutes before bed, the formula can reduce stress and calm neurotransmitter hyperactivity.* "Magnesium helps to calm the central nervous system, which helps to prepare the brain to turn off and also to keep it functioning at a calmer level throughout the night," Rountree previously told mbg.*
3. Take a bath or shower.
Rountree also recommends soaking in the tub before bed. The warmth will help relax your muscles and slow down your heart rate, preparing you to settle in. If you don't have a tub, a warm shower can be just as soothing! And, you can even add a few drops of lavender essential oil to really take it to the next level, which brings us to our next point...
4. Try aromatherapy.
Put your relaxing oil of choice in a diffuser, add it to your shower or bath, or dab a few drops on your wrist and neck (just be sure to dilute in a carrier oil) to help yourself unwind. Research has found smelling lavender oil, in particular, twice a week for just 20 minutes at a time both soothed the nervous system and improved sleep quality scores for women with insomnia.
5. Avoid alcohol.
If your wind-down is more of a "wine-down" routine, you might want to rethink that pre-bed glass. While it might help you fall asleep initially, research shows it can actually inhibit REM sleep, wake you up at night, and reduce your overall quality of sleep.
The bottom line.
If you're looking to fall asleep quickly—and stay asleep for the full eight to nine hours—it's important to factor in the time it takes to wind down, lest you be lying awake for over an hour. And when we fill that hour or so before bed with calming and restorative practices, we set ourselves up for a night of rejuvenating snoozing.