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Why Wind-Down Time Before Bed is Essential

Updated: May 21, 2023

Are you in the habit of packing your days? And do you ever do homework, try to meet a work deadline, or even pay bills right up until it’s time for you to go to sleep?

If you are someone who pushes to get things done up until bedtime, you may have noticed that this can impact your sleep. Winding down before bed can improve your sleep quality and help you feel more rested throughout the day. Creating a wind-down routine before bed can be an effective tool for managing insomnia and promoting healthy sleep habits.

What is wind-down time?

Wind downtime is the period before bed when you intentionally shift your focus away from stimulating activities and towards relaxation. It's a time to unwind, slow down, and get ready for sleep.

Wind-down time can include any quiet activity like reading, watching tv (as long as it’s calming content), doing a puzzle, or anything that’s not stressful or too stimulating. Things like journaling, meditation, and breathing exercises can be especially helpful for calming the nervous system prior to bed.

It's important to give yourself at least 1-2 hours of time to relax before bed. Winding down helps you transition from the “to-dos” of the day to relaxation time. If you expect your brain to go full speed during the day and then be ready for bed without winding down, it will often be more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. By engaging in calming activities and avoiding stimulating ones, wind-down time can help regulate your body's natural sleep-wake cycle and increase your chances of falling asleep quickly and easily.

Benefits of wind down time

1. Stress Reduction: Winding down before sleep can help reduce stress levels. When you're stressed, your body produces cortisol and adrenaline, which keep you awake. By taking time to wind down and relax before bed, you can reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels, allowing your body and brain to relax.

2. Improves Sleep Quality: When you wind down before going to bed, you can reduce hyper-arousal, which means that your fight-or-flight system is overactivated. Research shows that winding down can ease a busy mind and lead to less time falling asleep and less time awake overnight. This helps improve the quality of your sleep, allowing you to wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

3. Enhances Memory Consolidation: During sleep, your brain consolidates memories and strengthens connections between neurons. When you wind down before bed, you're giving your brain time to process and consolidate the information you learned during the day.

Winding down combined with insomnia therapy

In combination with insomnia therapy, wind-down time can be an even more powerful tool for improving your sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) can help you identify what thoughts and behaviors may be leading to sleep problems.

CBT-i focuses on setting up a structured routine around sleep and helps to increase your need for sleep, leading your body to naturally feel sleepy.

By setting a consistent bedtime and wake time, using your bed only for sleep, and reducing time spent in bed you encourage your body’s natural sleep drive. When you combine CBT-i with wind-down time before bed, your sleep can improve.

Overall, winding down before bed is a crucial part of maintaining good sleep habits and promoting optimal health and well-being. So, take some time each night to wind down and relax before bed, and you'll be setting yourself up for a better day tomorrow!


For more articles about sleep, check out A Guide to Better Sleep.

Annie Miller is a psychotherapist and owner of DC Metro Therapy, a practice outside of Washington DC.

Annie helps people reset their sleep and rewire their responses to chronic pain and trauma through evidence-based therapies and nervous system regulation tools.

You can find out more about Annie and her work on IG and through her website.

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