How to Relax Before Bed: 6 Ways to Wind Down
Written by Maisie Bygraves on Aug 09, 2021.
Scientifically fact checked by Nick Witton, Sleep Scientist.
How do you relax before bedtime? Do you mellow into a movie? Have your own relaxation techniques for sleep? Sip on chamomile tea? Or is it a little less chilled in your house before bed? Perhaps you’ve got kids to entertain, a parent to look after or some lively dogs that need walking.
If relaxation before bed doesn’t really exist in your household, then we may have a few game-changing ways for you to wind down and relax before bed.
You’ve probably guessed by now that wind down time before bed is pretty crucial when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Feeling calm and getting into a relaxed bedtime routine prepares you physically and mentally for whenever your head hits the pillow.
We know that life can get in the way of relaxation and there’s not much that you can do about it, so that’s why our 5 simple ways to wind down and relax before bedtime are really rather doable - even if you’ve got a houseful.
The importance of wind down time
If you head to bed in a stressed or energetic state, the likelihood of falling asleep quickly and easily can be very low, because physical and especially mental stimulation before you sleep can cause cognitive arousal and keep you awake.
An effective way to quieten a busy mind and cognitive arousal is to create a good wind down routine each night.
ZME Science explains how a busy mind also known as cognitive arousal can be “ten times more likely” to be chosen by the patient as the main reason they’re having difficulty sleeping and suffering from insomnia. More so than physical arousal or feeling tense and restless.
So if you can create a pre-bedtime wind down routine that deters cognitive arousal, then you’ll be winning.
How long should you wind down before bed?
There are many schools of thought around this question. It is dependent on your schedule and how much time you can realistically dedicate to the wind down. Aim for an hour, two hours or even three hours - whatever you can spare.
In an ideal world we’d aim to dedicate at least two hours to winding down before bed, but anything is better than nothing, so do what you can.
6 ways to relax before bed
- Avoid alcohol before bed.
- Dim the blue lights electronic devices.
- Have a warm bath or shower.
- Tune into Kokoon’s Spotify playlist.
- Do some yoga and stretching.
- Try deep breathing.
1. Avoid alcohol before bed
A glass of something boozy can impact your ability to relax and sleep at night. Alcohol can increase your heart rate before bed and act as a stimulant and a sedative, keeping you awake for longer. Although alcohol can make you feel relaxed and sleepy, it can cause your sleep quality and time to decrease. It’s also a diuretic and will cause frequent night-time trips to the bathroom, resulting in broken sleep throughout the night.
Sleep Foundation says “research has shown sleepers who drink large amounts of alcohol before going to bed are often prone to delayed sleep onset, meaning they need more time to fall asleep”. Alcohol blocks REM sleep, which is often considered the most restorative type of sleep.
The best way to alleviate any sleep disturbance is to avoid alcohol at least 4 hours before bed or ideally avoid it all together. (Easier said than done, we know…)
Instead, switch the booze for a hot cup of chamomile or your favourite bedtime tea. Chamomile is full of a sleep-inducing antioxidant called apigenin that can help to initiate sleep and some scientists believe also alleviate anxiety.
How to make a delicious chamomile tea
- Grab a chamomile tea bag (psst, they’re naturally caffeine free).
- Pop it in some hot water, let it brew for 3+ minutes and add a dash of cold water.
- Blissfully sip away for ultimate relaxation.
If you can’t avoid drinking alcohol (perhaps you have an event or a birthday do to attend) then try to counteract its stimulating side effects by unwinding with Kokoon’s noise-masking Nightbuds and relaxation audio on the MyKokoon app.
Just download the MyKokoon app and browse our array of calming, sleep-inducing audio.
2. Dim any blue lights and electronic devices
Artificial light and blue lights inhibit melatonin production (the hormone that facilitates the onset of sleep). And unfortunately blue lights are hard to escape as they’re pretty much everywhere.
What you can do, however, is take a few small steps to get the lighting right in your own house and decrease your blue light exposure.
Harvard Medical describes how “at night, (artificial) light throws the body's biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack”. This can lead to a poor night’s sleep, fatigue and other negative health implications.
Artificial lights inside our homes include LED light bulbs, blue lights and electronic devices such as computers, phones and TV screens.
So what can you do to improve the situation?
Take these 4 steps:
- At the time you’d usually start turning on the lights, try turning on side lamps instead of main overhead lights.
- If you can swap some of your bedroom bulbs for red lights or a dimmer switch with warm white lighting, this will minimise blue light exposure.
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses.
- Remember that it’ll take time for you and your eyes to adjust to living life on the dark side, but your sleep will seriously reap the benefits.
3. Have a warm bath or shower
A warm bath or shower can help you to unwind and relax before bed. It’s probably one of the simplest techniques you can use to feel a little zen before you hit the hay.
Pentucket Medical explains how having a warm bath can help your blood flow more easily and how it gives you time and space to breathe more deeply and slowly - getting the oxygen in your body flowing.
How to enjoy a bath
- Try to find a time where there are very few distractions, preferably one to two hours before bed..
- Run the bath high enough so it covers your torso and legs.
- Add some bath salts and essential oils. Lavender is best.
- Sit back, relax and breathe deeply.
Whilst having a warm bath and soaking in essential oils and bath salts, take this time to listen to Kokoon’s Spotify playlists. You’ll find meditations that’ll help you relax during the day and at bedtime.
Our storyscapes offer a 360℃ sound experience that allows you to feel as though you’re part of the sounds you’re listening to. And they’re the perfect antidote to a stressful day.
You can also tune into our selection of coloured noise audio which can mask external disturbances. Choose from the sounds of rain or a tranquil summer meadow.
How to listen on Spotify
- Download Spotify or open your Spotify app.
- Search for Kokoon (look out for our logo).
- Have a browse of our audio options.
- Find and listen to our Storyscapes to get you started.
5. Yoga and stretching
The idea of doing a full-on yoga class before bed can seem daunting and time consuming, so too can progressive muscle relaxation, so how about just a few stretches (which you’d do in a yoga class) to help you relax and unwind before bed?
Stretching just before getting into bed can be stress relieving and calming. Specialist physical therapist S. Alva says "stretching before bed helps your body rejuvenate itself during sleep". It also relieves muscle tension and improves blood flow - all things that’ll improve your night ahead.
2 stretches to do tonight
- Lie on your back and stretch each limb out by reaching your arms as far as they’ll go.
- Then do the same with your legs, by pointing your toes and legs as far as they’ll go.
- Stretch each limb like this at least 4 times until they start to feel less tense.
- Turn over to your front and lie flat with your head tilted to one side.
- Now very gently lift your arms and legs in the air simultaneously, just a fraction. Don’t over stretch.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. You should feel a soothing release in your back, shoulders and other parts of your body.
- Do this up to 8 times to feel the benefits of this stretch.
Both stretches should loosen any trapped tension accrued throughout the day that might be hindering your ability to relax and wind down before bed.
Straight after stretching, grab your Nightbuds and tune into our audio track Constellations. It’ll help relieve even more tension and create a state of total calm with its mystical tones.
How to listen to the MyKokoon app
- Head to your app store.
- Download MyKokoon and follow the instructions.
- Browse our relaxation and sleep audio.
- Find Constellations and listen in.
6. Deep breathing
A few simple breathing techniques before bed can help you unwind and feel ready to hit the hay. One study compared 30 minutes of slow-paced breathing with 30 minutes of interacting with social media and found that “slow-paced breathing appears a promising cost-effective technique to improve subjective sleep quality and cardiovascular function during sleep in young healthy individuals”. Especially when compared to interacting with social media.
And the best thing is that slow-paced deep breathing exercises are easy to do.
How does deep breathing work?
It works by slowing your breathing rate so you can unwind and feel relaxed before bed. The 4-7-8 breathing technique can help you nod off within minutes.
How to do the 4-7-8 breathing technique
- Breathe in for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Breathe out/exhale for 8 seconds.
Do this up to 10 times whilst you’re lying in bed or until you feel relaxed or fall asleep.
Taking your wind down time to the next level
If you want to take your wind down to the next level there are so many different techniques you can try, but we recommend not overwhelming yourself with too many initially.
Try all 6 relaxation and wind down techniques on different nights and then pick your favourite(s). You can also try even more techniques such as exercising in the day, mindfulness meditation and cutting out caffeine before midday.
The best way to monitor how effective your relaxation and wind down routine is by treating yourself to a pair of Nightbuds from Kokoon. MyKokoon and Nightbuds monitor your sleep each night, to see how well you slept, how long you slept for and it gives you a sleep efficiency percentage which looks at time spent in bed vs time asleep.
Why? Well, it’s the most holistic metric to help overcome sleeplessness. Any mark around 80% will mean your pre-sleep relaxation techniques and quality of sleep are effective.
Start your journey to a better night’s sleep with these 6 relaxation techniques and with Kokoon’s Nightbuds today.