We’re all familiar with the timeless fairytale Sleeping Beauty, but “beauty sleep” is far from fiction. (It’s true—nowadays, even scientists will tell you failing to get enough solid shuteye can wreak havoc on the body.) Of course, sleep does a whole lot more for our bodies than just keeping wrinkles at bay (although that’s a pretty great benefit). Plenty of research reveals that without sleep, the mind deteriorates at a rapid pace. Sleep is when our brains develop new memories, subconsciously process the prior day’s events, and remove harmful toxins. In a way, you can consider sleeping your mind and body’s own personal rejuvenating vacation each and every night.
It’s clear that sleep is important, but for countless people, it’s also elusive. Both the CDC and National Sleep Foundation recommend adults sleep for at least seven hours nightly. Unfortunately, insomnia rates are reportedly sky-high since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study published in Sleep Medicine even estimates an astounding 37% increase in clinical insomnia rates since 2020.
If there’s a silver lining to be found in all of this, it’s that you’re not alone if you’ve been staring at your bedroom ceiling more often lately. Still, that knowledge will likely hold little comfort after night three or four of poor sleep.
So, what can you do to get back to some truly restful, rejuvenating slumber that will help you feel younger? We spoke with a number of accredited sleep coaches and specialists, and one habit kept coming up over and over: It’s key to create a personalized, relaxing bedtime routine that will help ease your mind to sleep and signal to your body it’s time to let go of the day’s tensions.
“In the clinic, we advocate a ‘buffer zone’ or wind-down routine of 30 to 45 minutes to put space between the day and bedtime,” explains Dan Ford BA, MA, PGDipCBT (Dist), MISCP, Regd NZPsB, a sleep psychologist at The Better Sleep Clinic.
It won’t happen overnight, but finding the right recipe for nighttime relaxation is well worth the extra effort or needed schedule adjustments. Your habitual, relaxing routine will help you fall and stay asleep—and you’ll wake up each morning feeling incredibly refreshed, restored, and yes, even younger!
Perhaps the best part is that you get to choose how you prepare for sleep and enter your relaxing “buffer zone.” Read on to learn some further suggestions from sleep specialists on how to create the perfect sleep buffer zone. And for more, check out Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton’s Sleep Routines—Revealed.
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Everyone has their own nighttime routine, and the notion of changing yours may seem unpleasant at first. Just remember—if you’re not sleeping well, your usual routine is failing you and it’s time for a change.
You’ve probably heard that meditation is a great way to unwind, but clearing your mind of thoughts from the day isn’t an easy task. Instead, you may want to try a few minutes of yoga each night before bed, where you can focus on your breathing and stretch it out.
“One helpful and often overlooked self-care activity that can be put in the routine before bed is gentle yoga, along with yoga music. We especially advocate yoga for those [who] find their mind is too busy to tolerate mindfulness,” Ford says. “When combined with the benefits of improved mental health, cognitive function, and lower risk of falls that yoga offers older adults (as well as improved flexibility), we see gentle yoga before bed as a great option for older adults looking to sleep better and feel younger.”
Add “relaxing play” to your wind-down routine
Yoga isn’t for everyone, so don’t fret if you fall into that category. There are plenty of other ways to create a nighttime buffer zone that works for you. Proper Sleep Coach Kelly Day O’Brien, NBC-HWC tells us that the key to a successful bedtime routine is to stimulate the mind without over-exciting it.
Any activity such as reading, drawing, or a simple puzzle will hold your attention while simultaneously allowing you to take a breath and relax. Before you know it, your eyes will be closing all by themselves.
“A good strategy that can help people feel younger is to participate in relaxing ‘play’ in the evening. Puzzles, board games, simple crafts (coloring, drawing, Play-Doh) can engage the brain without being over-activating—which can be a good component to the wind-down routine. In my experience with clients, tapping into ‘play’ can evoke pleasant childhood memories and foster joy and vitality,” O’Brien notes.
Avoid screens as much as possible
No matter what you choose to do while enjoying your sleep buffer zone, the sleep specialists we spoke to agreed that it’s so important to avoid stimulating screens as much as possible. Netflix, smartphones, and social media do a great job of holding your attention, but they’re the visual equivalent of chugging an energy drink before bed.
“One strategy that can help people feel younger is to avoid watching television or using electronic devices in bed. The blue light from these screens can interfere with the body’s natural production of melatonin, which is essential for a good night’s sleep. Instead, try reading a book or listening to music before going to bed,” explains Robert Pagano, a certified sleep science coach at Sleepline.
Make sure your bedroom is a cozy, calming oasis
While what you choose to do during your sleep buffer zone is of course important, it’s also essential to make sure your sleeping environment is similarly supportive.
“Creating your perfect sleep-inducing bedroom is important for getting high-quality sleep that makes you feel energized and youthful. The environment we sleep in has a huge impact on our ability to fall and stay asleep,” adds Stephen Light, a certified sleep science coach at Nolah Mattress.
Generally, it’s a good idea to ensure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Consider thicker curtains, and perhaps even a white-noise machine or earplugs, if necessary.
“Make sure there’s no stressful clutter or mess, and choose a mattress and bedding that’s cozy, breathable, and supportive. Ultimately, you’re looking to create a sanctuary that your brain heavily associates with sleep,” Light concludes.