How To Power Down Before Sleep

Are you having a tough time winding down from your day when you hit the sack at night? Sleep expert Dr. Michael J. Breus offers some tips on how you can prepare both body and mind for a good night’s sleep.

Q: Why do we need to power down before we go to bed?

A: The biggest thing people forget is that sleep is not an on/off switch. You don’t just go in, turn off the lights and say, “I’m going to sleep now.” You have to allow your body to slowly pull your foot off the gas and slowly put your foot on the brake. There’s a process that has to occur. Naturally speaking, the body should take somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you fall asleep faster than that, it’s a good sign that you’re sleep deprived.

Q: What kinds of mental and physical activities commonly get in the way of our brain and body being ready for sleep?

A: I think some of the biggest ones are Internet use, manual chores before bed, and doing anything that’s physical. Another one you could add is any type of emotional conversation. You want to avoid those things right before bed.

Q: How about the TV? Should you avoid that before bed?

A: I have a problem with the Internet, but I’m one of the few that will say that TV is OK. Some people need television to help distract them and keep them from thinking too much. When you get in bed and turn out the lights, it’s often the first time in the day when you have a chance to reflect on your day and your life and what’s going on. It can be a very anxiety-provoking time. If some people want to watch TV to help them relax and fall asleep, that’s fine – as long as they have a TV timer.

Q: Can you suggest a pre-bed routine that can help prepare us for sleep?

A: Absolutely. I have a “Power Down Hour” that I suggest to people. It’s 20 minutes of doing the things that have to get done – like getting backpacks ready for school, finding shoes or laying out clothes for the morning. Then 20 minutes for hygiene – brushing your teeth and washing your face, preferably in a dimly-lit bathroom so your brain can start to realize that it’s time to get ready for bed. And then 20 minutes of meditation, relaxation or reading while in bed.

Q: Is there anything we can do earlier in the day to increase our quality of sleep?

A: One of the biggest things is exercise; people who exercise on a regular basis have deeper, more refreshing sleeps. The other thing is trying to eliminate caffeine from your diet by around 2:30 pm. I often have people do something I call “caffeine fading,” where they have their most caffeinated beverage in the early morning hours and then they slowly move to less and less caffeine until they’re caffeine-free by 2:30pm.