The Best Bedtime Routine for Adults According to a Sleep MD

The RISE app helps you create the optimal bedtime routine by telling you when to wind down and when to do certain sleep-promoting behaviors.
Updated
2023-10-17
16 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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What is an Optimal Bedtime Routine for Adults?

  • An effective bedtime routine for adults is a routine that includes relaxing activities in low light that help you de-stress and fall asleep faster. 
  • Spend 30 to 60 minutes before bed reading, listening to music, doing yoga, journaling, taking a warm shower or bath, or doing a breathing exercise.
  • The RISE app can help you create the best bedtime routine for you by reminding you when to do good sleep habits (known as sleep hygiene) that help you fall and stay asleep and telling you the ideal time to start your wind-down routine and when to head to bed, based on your own biology.

Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids. As an adult, a bedtime routine can help you fall asleep faster and get the sleep you need to feel your best each day. 

Below, we’ve rounded up the best science-backed activities to include in your bedtime routine and how you can use the RISE app to do them at the right time for your body.  

Heads-up: Wind-down routine is the more scientific term for a bedtime routine as this is exactly what you’re aiming to do: wind down. But we’ve used “bedtime routine” and “wind-down routine” interchangeably below.

A Sleep Doctor's Advice on the Best Bedtime Routine

To get a sleep expert’s take on bedtime routines, we spoke to Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu.

“About 30 to 60 minutes before bed, start doing a relaxing bedtime routine. This can involve reading, listening to music, taking a warm shower or bath, or journaling. Relaxing activities that give you some me-time can help you form positive associations with sleep. Make sure the lights are dimmed low (I like to use f.lux on my computer to reduce bllue light) and you’re not doing anything too exciting or stressful.”

Why Is a Bedtime Routine Important for Adults?

A bedtime routine can help adults (and kids) fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep. 

Here’s why: 

  • Having a set nightly routine at the same time each night can signal to your brain and body that the day is over and it’s time to wind down for sleep. It’ll make it easier to keep a consistent bedtime, which can help you fall asleep faster. (It’s normal to take 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. Taking more than 20 minutes to drift off could be a sign of insomnia, while falling asleep straight away can be a sign of sleep deprivation.)
  • Doing sleep-promoting activities before bed can help you get enough sleep overall, get consolidated sleep (unbroken sleep that’s more restorative), and keep your circadian rhythm (or body clock) in check, which in turn will help you feel more awake during the day and more sleepy at bedtime.
  • You can do calming activities before bed to activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” mode — opposite to the fight or flight mode. RISE users say stress and anxiety are their biggest challenges when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, so anything you can do to wind down will be useful to get better sleep.  
  • A routine can take the pressure off sleep. The more effort you put into sleep, the harder it can be to get it. With a nighttime routine, you can increase your chances of a good night’s rest, without forcing sleep or rushing it by crawling into bed straight away.

Here’s our list of evidence-backed bedtime routine activities that are proven to help you get enough consistently-timed restful sleep. 

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Set a Bedtime Alarm 

Whether you’re firing off some late-night work emails or engrossed in your latest Netflix show, it’s easy to stay up past your set bedtime accidentally. 

Setting a bedtime alarm can give you a gentle reminder when it’s time to start your pre-sleep routine. Ideally, you want to be going to bed at the same time each night and have a consistent sleep schedule to keep your circadian rhythm, or body clock, in check. This can help to keep your sleep-wake cycle on track, so you feel sleepy at bedtime.

Depending on how much time you have, set this alarm about 30 to 60 minutes before the time you want to get into bed, so you have plenty of time to unwind. 

To find out the best time to go to sleep, RISE can work out how much sleep you need and predict your Melatonin Window each evening. 

This is the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production (your sleep hormone) is at its highest, meaning it’s the best time to head to bed. 

RISE also predicts your circadian rhythm each day so you can see when your body naturally wants to wind down for bed. 

We’ve covered more on the best time to go to sleep here.  

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window
The RISE app can tell you the best time to go to bed.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window here.

Dim the Lights and Put on Blue Light Blocking Glasses 

Don’t sit under bright overhead lighting until it’s time to turn the lights out. Light suppresses melatonin.

About 90 minutes before bed, kick off your bedtime routine by dimming the lights and putting on blue-light blocking glasses. 

RISE can tell you when exactly you need to start limiting bright lights before bed. 

Turn Off Screens (or Use Them Wisely) 

Screens like your TV, laptop, and phone all emit blue light, which can keep you up and cause poor sleep. 

If you’re doing something stressful (like replying to tricky work emails) or exciting (like playing a video game), you might find it even harder to enter dreamland. And it’s easy to spend way too long scrolling on TikTok and not notice you’re awake past bedtime. 

Try switching off electronic devices about an hour or so before bed and doing some non-screen activities like reading. 

If you want to use screens, use them wisely. 

A 2022 study found screen time an hour before bed was linked to an earlier bedtime and — if it didn’t involve multitasking and took place in bed — resulted in more sleep time. 

Our top tips for using screens in your bedtime routine: 

  • Wear blue-light blocking glasses
  • Set a bedtime alarm 
  • Watch or consume relaxing content 
  • Chose one passive screen activity (like watching TV only — no scrolling on social media or checking email at the same time) 
  • Choose episodic programming (when a story is told in one episode) to avoid getting sucked into a Netflix binge

You can learn more about how to use screens before bed here.

Take a Warm Bath or Shower 

Your body temperature naturally drops as you fall asleep. To promote this drop in temperature and help you drift off, have a warm shower or bath as part of your nighttime routine. 

The warm water can increase blood flow to your hands and feet, helping your core body temperature drop. 

Even a foot bath can help. A 2023 study found immersing your feet in warm water can decrease your core body temperature.  

Don’t want to get wet at all? Sleeping with socks on can help your core body temperature drop. 

Expert tip: Co-founder and CEO of Rise Science Jeff Kahn takes a warm bath 90 minutes before bed to help wind down and cool down for sleep. 

Read a Book 

Reading is a common bedtime routine activity for a good reason. A 2021 study found reading a book in bed can help to improve subjective sleep quality (although there’s no set definition for sleep quality). 

Be sure to dim the lights as low as possible and read something relaxing and something that won’t keep you turning the pages all night. 

And if possible, read a physical book instead of one on an iPad. One study found reading on an iPad before bed decreased sleepiness and reduced deep sleep activity compared to reading a physical book.

Listen to Soothing Sounds, Music, or a Podcast 

Listening to music or a calming podcast while you get ready for bed can be a great way to unwind. Just make sure you’re not listening to anything too upbeat and excitative — save that for your morning routine

Once you’re ready to sleep, relaxing sleep sounds can help block out loud noises and promote relaxation. For example, a 2021 study found when participants in New York City listened to white noise, they fell asleep faster and woke up less often during the night. 

On the RISE app, you can listen to: 

We’ve rounded up the best sounds for sleep here. 

RISE app screenshot showing relaxation session reminder
The RISE app has soothing sounds and music to listen to before bed.

 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started here. 

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Practice Yoga or Do Some Stretches  

Intense exercise within an hour of bed can keep you awake, but gentle movement can help you unwind, destress, and drift off. 

Research shows exercises like yoga and tai chi can improve insomnia symptoms and sleep quality. Even some simple stretches can help your muscles relax from the day, and research shows pre-bed stretches can help reduce leg cramps at night

Check RISE to see when it’s best to go for a gentle physical activity over a high-intensity workout.  

Avoid Alcohol 

A nightcap may make you feel drowsy, but it’s not part of a healthy bedtime routine.

Research from 2019 shows alcohol can:

You can learn more about how alcohol affects sleep here. 

Avoid alcohol three to four hours before bed to stop it from disrupting your sleep. RISE can tell you when exactly to have your last alcoholic drink. 

Avoid Caffeine 

Caffeine does not belong in your bedtime routine. It sounds obvious, but you might enjoy a post-dinner espresso with friends or some dark chocolate for dessert and caffeine can last in your system for more than 12 hours.

A 2023 meta-analysis found caffeine can: 

  • Reduce your total sleep time 
  • Increase how long it takes to fall asleep 
  • Increase how long you’re awake during the night  
  • Reduce your deep sleep 
  • Increase your light sleep 

And the closer to bedtime you consume it, the more it cuts into your sleep time. 

The good news is one cup of black tea before bed wasn’t found to have a significant effect on sleep. Caffeine affects us all differently, though, so you may find this keeps you up. 

Expert tip: You can also sip a hot drink that’s caffeine-free like chamomile tea — a sleep aid our sleep advisor Dr. Chester Wu, who runs a sleep medicine and psychiatry practice, often recommends. 

In general, avoid caffeine about 12 hours before bed

RISE can tell you when exactly to have your final cup of coffee each day — which is one of the most popular features in the app. 

RISE app screenshot showing when to limit caffeine intake
The RISE app can tell you when to stop drinking coffee each day.

 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their limit caffeine reminder here.

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Have a Small Snack if You’re Hungry  

Hunger pangs can keep you up or wake you up in the night, but so can eating a large meal before bed. 

If you are hungry late at night, opt for a light snack like: 

  • Greek yogurt 
  • Cottage cheese
  • Fruit 
  • Peanut butter 

Avoid anything greasy, fatty, or fried as this could cause digestive issues that keep you awake. 

In general, aim to be done with dinner two to three hours before bed. 

We’ve covered more on when to stop eating before bed here and sleeping after eating here. RISE can tell you when to have your final meal each day. 

Do a Breathing Exercise 

Breathing exercises can help slow your body and brain down for sleep. They can activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, or your “rest and digest” mode. 

You can try: 

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: 2021 research shows diaphragmatic breathing helps to reduce anxiety, sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), and sleep disturbances in nurses. 
  • 4-7-8 breathing: A 2022 study shows the 4-7-8 breathing method can lower stress and anxiety in patients after surgery. 
  • Psychological sighing: A 2023 study — co-authored by our scientific advisor Jamie Zeitzer — shows psychological sighing can improve your mood and stress. 

You can learn more about these breathing exercises here.

Expert tip: Jamie Zeitzer, one of our sleep advisors and Co-Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University, likes to do the New York Times crossword to wind down before bed.

Beyond breathing exercises, you can also do relaxation exercises such as: 

  • Progressive muscle relaxation 
  • Meditation
  • Yoga nidra 

RISE can guide you through exercises like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation within the app.  

Journal or Brain Dump 

Journaling before bed can help you relax and destress.

You can also do a brain dump in which you jot down everything on your mind. This can be particularly helpful if you find racing thoughts or anxiety keep you awake. 

Not sure what to write about? Writing a to-do list for tomorrow is a good place to start. Research shows those who write a to-do list fall asleep significantly faster than those who write about tasks they’ve already done. 

Do your brain dump in RISE and the app will send you a reminder of everything you write down the next day.

Prepare Your Sleep Environment 

For the best sleep, you want your bedroom to be cool, dark, quiet, and well-ventilated. As part of your bedtime routine, prepare your sleep environment to get all four just right. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Cool: Set your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit or crack a window (make sure this doesn’t impact your air quality or noise levels too much). 
  • Dark: Draw the curtains (ideally blackout curtains), make sure there are no electronics emitting light, and get your eye mask ready to go.
  • Quiet: Get earplugs ready or set up a white noise machine or app to block out noises. You want your bedroom to be below 35 decibels, which is about the sound of a whisper. 
  • Well-ventilated: If the air quality and noise levels outside are good enough, crack a window. Use an air filter to remove particles and allergens from the air and use a humidifier or dehumidifier (the EPA says to aim for 30% to 50% humidity). You can learn more about how air quality affects your sleep here.

RISE can remind you to check your sleep environment before you crawl under the covers. 

How Long Do I Need for My Bedtime Routine?

Just like with kids, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for how long a bedtime routine for adults should be.

In general, try winding down an hour so before bed. If you don’t have that much time, even 10 to 20 minutes can help. You can also start certain pre-bed activities earlier, like dimming the lights 90 minutes before bed, avoiding alcohol three to four hours before bed, and avoiding caffeine about 12 hours before bed.

You can plan your perfect evening routine in RISE and the app will send you a reminder of when to start doing it when your body is winding down for the night. 

The length of your bedtime routine can also change. Some nights you’re more stressed, so might spend more time with a good book and your yoga mat. On other nights, you need to work late, so you can only squeeze in 15 minutes of breathing exercises. 

Expert tip: We all need a different amount of sleep and you’ll need more sleep if you haven’t been getting enough recently. One way to catch up is by going to bed a little earlier. To do that, you may have to change the length of your routine.

RISE uses a year’s worth of your phone use data and sleep science algorithms to work out your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need. 

When we looked at how much sleep 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up need, we found it ranged from five hours of sleep to 11 hours 30 minutes! 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need
The RISE app can work out how much sleep you need.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep need here

Nail Your Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep and More Energy With the RISE App

We’re all different, so what works for one person’s bedtime routine may not work for you. Experiment with different timings and activities to see what helps you achieve the main goal: getting enough sleep night after night. 

RISE tracks your sleep so you can see which pre-bed activities make a difference. 

RISE can also remind you when to do 20+ healthy sleep habits, to make falling and staying asleep easier, and predict your circadian rhythm each day, so you can see when your body naturally wants to wind down and sleep. 

You can also get a reminder of when to start your bedtime routine at the ideal time for your body each day.

Don’t just take our word for it — 80% of RISE users get more sleep within five days. And here’s what one user had to say about using RISE to change their daily routine to improve their sleep: 

“After using this for a few months I started noticing all the small things that significantly impact my sleep. Just becoming more aware of when’s the best time to drink caffeine, eat dinner, and get sunlight according to my circadian rhythm has helped my sleep quality tremendously...I now sleep better than ever and feel so much more productive throughout the day. Thank you RISE!!!”

Summary FAQs

What is a good bedtime routine for adults?

A good bedtime routine for adults can include reading, listening to music, journaling, taking a warm bath or shower, or doing breathing exercises. You want to do sleep-boosting behaviors like dimming the lights, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and making your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.

Is a bedtime routine important for adults?

Yes, a bedtime routine is important for adults. It can help you feel sleepy at bedtime, feel less stressed and anxious, fall asleep faster, and wake up less often in the night.

How to establish a bedtime routine for adults?

To establish a bedtime routine for adults, you can use the RISE app to find out how much sleep you need and when your body naturally wants to go to sleep. Then, set aside 30 to 60 minutes before bed to do relaxing sleep-promoting activities like reading, journaling, yoga, or taking a warm bath or shower.

What is the 3-2-1 bedtime method for better sleep?

The 3-2-1 bedtime method involves avoiding food and alcohol three hours before bed, work two hours before bed, and screens one hour before bed. The rule is sometimes also known as the 10-3-2-1-0 method, which also includes avoiding caffeine 10 hours before bed and hitting snooze 0 times in the morning.

Calming bedtime routine for anxiety?

A calming bedtime routine for anxiety can include reading, listening to calming music, journaling or doing a brain dump, taking a warm shower or bath, and doing a breathing exercise. Anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep, but sleep loss can make mental health issues like anxiety worse, so it’s important to take time to unwind before bed.

Bedtime routine for ADHD adults?

A bedtime routine for ADHD adults can include reading, listening to calming music, journaling or doing a brain dump, taking a warm shower or bath, and doing a breathing exercise. Try setting a bedtime alarm to help you get to bed on time — people with ADHD often experience a delayed body clock, meaning they may stay up later and later. People with ADHD also often experience sleep problems, but sleep problems can make ADHD worse, so it’s important to make time for a bedtime routine that helps you unwind and get enough sleep.

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