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How to build a perfect wind-down routine

by Dr. Jason Ong

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This post by sleep scientist Dr. Jason C. Ong is part of our Sleep Health course. You can experience the full 14-day course with a subscription to the Headspace app.

Sleep thrives on a regular routine. Building a great, consistent wind-down routine for the end of your day is the very best way to train your body to know that it’s time for bed. This will increase your chance of sleepiness, and make drifting off so much easier.

As always, consistency is key. If you’re using Sleep by Headspace, you can set up a notification that will give you a gentle nudge, letting you know it’s time to start winding down. Ideally, this should begin sometime before you get into bed and be your signal that it’s time to stop working and let go of the day.

Now comes the fun part: set aside an hour or so for your wind-down activities. These should be things that are enjoyable in their own right, rather than activities you think will make you sleepy. They shouldn’t be too stimulating, of course: activities like reading, knitting, or listening to calming music are just the ticket. It’s best to approach your wind down with an attitude of “non-striving,” the kind we practice in meditation. That means not focusing on the outcome, just experiencing an enjoyment of what you’re doing for its own sake. This will help you to shed the day’s worries, and prepare your mind and body for sleep to naturally take place.

It may be a good idea to reduce screen time during this period — even dimming the lights in your house can help your brain to recognize that it’s getting close to bedtime. Building a sleep routine like this can be a real gift to yourself. It’s the end of the day, after all, so you deserve a little reward.

Dr. Jason Ong

Dr. Jason Ong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine's Center of Circadian and Sleep Medicine. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and completed a fellowship in Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Stanford University. Dr. Ong’s overall purpose is to help people sleep better without using drugs. His research lab is supported by the National Institutes of Health, with projects using mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for sleep disorders. In addition to his research interests, Dr. Ong also has a clinical practice where he uses mindfulness and behavioral approaches to help people with insomnia and hypersomnia.

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