8 Healthy Habits You Should Always Do at Night
There's more to do before hitting the sack than brushing your teeth and washing your face. We asked experts what to do before bedtime.
What to do before bed
If you’re craving a good night’s sleep, start by avoiding things that sabotage your sleep like caffeine, big meals, and even serious conversations. Instead, before bed, opt for the following habits to set yourself up for relaxing, successful slumber.
Brushing your teeth and flossing are important steps in maintaining a cavity-free mouth, but that’s not all you should be doing for healthy teeth, according to Scott B. Eisen, DDS at Catonsville Dental Care. “While we sleep, we produce less saliva and our mouths become dry,” he warns. “Saliva is the body’s natural neutralizer of the cavity-causing acids that are byproducts of the food and bacteria we neglect around our teeth and gums.”
So use a mouthwash. While not a replacement for brushing and flossing, mouthwash is a healthy defense against bacteria and plaque. “Using an antiseptic or fluoridated mouthwash at night can help maximize the benefits of the rinse, without them being quickly washed away by food and drink,” says Dr. Eisen. The type of mouthwash will depend on your specific needs. “Antiseptic rinses, like Listerine, reduce oral bacteria and plaque and help prevent gingivitis. Fluoride rinses, like ACT, can help remineralize enamel and reduce sensitivity in people who are at a higher risk for cavities,” says Dr. Eisen.
Go to bed at the same time every night
Yep, even on the weekends. A lot of important things go on in your body and mind while you’re snoozing, so it’s important to keep a consistent sleep schedule. “Long-term health depends on the regeneration that occurs during deep sleep,” says Jacqueline Blakely, naturopathic doctor at Holtorf Medical Group. Hormones secreted during sleep stimulate important functions such as liver cleansing, muscle building, tissue regeneration, the breakdown of fat stores, and normalization of blood sugar. “Sleeping at odd hours and at different times messes up our natural sleep cycle,” says Blakely. When you go to bed at the same time and wake at the same time, it trains your body for sleep.
Snack on this combo
Fiber, protein, and healthy fats are what you should always eat for a bedtime snack says Jillian Michaels, health and wellness expert, and creator of the Jillian Michaels App. “These foods promote satiety and contain tryptophan which aids in better sleep and better mood,” says Michaels. Her go-to snacks are: turkey, lettuce, and tomato roll-ups, a handful of dry-roasted or raw almonds, organic Greek yogurt and a handful of blueberries, hummus and veggies, organic string cheese, or a hard-boiled egg.
Steer clear of sugar, starch, or fried and fatty foods combos at night. “Be sure to avoid starches and sugars as those drive up insulin levels, causing restless sleep and interference with the bodies release of HGH, our immunity-boosting, anti-aging, fat-burning hormone,” says Michaels. Fried or fatty foods can result in delayed gastric emptying and could lead to an upset tummy or bloating, causing more tossing and turning instead of snoozing, says Steven Bentley, MD, a retired emergency physician. Fermented foods produce gas and bloating as well. “It’s important to refrain from these foods so that you avoid stomach aches and pain,” says Bentley.
Do some easy yoga
If you sit all day, chances are your hips and hamstrings are tight by evening. “The tension in these tissues compounds over time and plays a significant contributing role in back and hip pain,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight. To get relief try these some bedtime yoga poses.
Cruikshank recommends two in particular. With the supine hamstring pose, lie on your back and loop a towel or strap around the ball of your right foot, then extend your leg in front of you. (The key is to find a gentle stretch where your low back and hips can still relax.) Bend the raised leg if your leg is lower than the height of your hips. This will put a little slack on your hamstrings so you can relax. Take a few deep breaths to unwind as you stay for 30 to 60 seconds then repeat on the left side.
With the figure four pose, lie on your back with your feet on the floor. Take your right ankle and place it on your left knee. If you feel a stretch in your hips here simply stay put, otherwise you can draw your left leg in toward you and grab the back of your left thigh or your left shin. Relax your head and shoulders as you lean your torso back into the floor. Take a few deep breaths as you relax your low back and hips here. Stay for 1 to 2 minutes then repeat on the second side. (Here are 9 more easy yoga poses you can try at night.)
Magnesium carries a lot of clout. It’s responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, yet many of us aren’t getting enough of this essential mineral. Small studies have shown that magnesium might help as a sleep aid. A 2017 study published in Nutrients found that magnesium increases the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. GABA helps relax your mind and calm your thinking so you can fall asleep. If you take magnesium, you might want to consider taking it before bed to see if it helps relax your body and mind.
Cut back on booze
We know it may be a buzz kill (pun intended), but according to Blakely, alcohol is full of sugar and can make for a lousy night of sleep. “Alcohol may seem like it helps you fall asleep, but it doesn’t allow for a restful night. Studies have shown that alcohol can disrupt neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate sleep cycles like REM, your deep sleep cycle,” says Blakely. If you’re menopausal, booze before bed can worsen night sweats and hot flashes. “Skip the beer and try a tea with hops. Hops are calming on the nervous system and can provide a restful night sleep.” (Need help? Here’s how to easily cut back on alcohol.)
Cut back on caffeine (yep, dark chocolate too)
Always avoid caffeine, including dark chocolate, soda, and coffee in the evening. Caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it could take a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. The cup you had at 8:00 this morning could leave as much as 25 percent of the caffeine in your body at 8:00 tonight, depending on your body chemistry and genetics. That coveted piece of dark chocolate whispering to you after dinner? Sure, it’s full of healthy benefits but Michael Breus, PhD of SleepScore Labs and author of The Power of When says think twice. When a two-ounce chunk of 70 percent dark chocolate has 70 milligrams of caffeine—about the same as a shot of espresso—that’s not exactly a nighttime drink. “Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine after 2:00 p.m.,” says Breus.
You can power down, as Breus calls it, by lowering your body temp, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This downshift should occur the hour before bedtime and includes three 20-minute sections: First 20 minutes: “Do things you must get done. If you don’t you will think about them while you’re trying to fall asleep,” says Breus. These may include making a to-do list for the morning, journaling, and preparing for tomorrow in whatever way may make your morning run smoother. Second 20 minutes: “Do your nightly hygiene routine, which may include taking a hot bath or shower-in a dimly lit room, or one with the special sleep bulbs which filter out blue wavelength light,” suggests Breus. Final 20 minutes: Do relaxing activities such as light stretching or reading a book—no electronics. Have casual conversations with friends and family. You can play cards or games, just make sure you don’t get too excited or competitive. Meditate, pray or read scripture. Then it’s off to snoozeland.
Next, here are 19 things you should be doing all day long to ensure a better night’s sleep.
- Scott B. Eisen, DDS at Catonsville Dental Care
- Jacqueline Blakely, naturopathic doctor at Holtorf Medical Group
- Jillian Michaels, health and wellness expert, and creator of the Jillian Michaels App
- Steven Bentley, MD, a retired emergency physician
- Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight
- Michael Breus, PhD, of SleepScore Labs and author of The Power of When