S1:E15 | What can I do to relax before bed? 21 Ideas

podcast season 1 wind down wind down time
What can I do to relax before bed? 21 Ideas podcast

Do you ever wonder what you should actually be doing in your time before bed to help you to wind down? Well today, we have it covered in this episode with 21 ideas and a few caveats on how to use them.

So let’s go. 

Hello and welcome to The Sleep Seekers Podcast, I’m your host, Emma Ashford. 

In today's episode, we will continue with our theme of your evening wind down time - that wonderful time that, when we get it right, transitions us nicely from the waking state to the sleeping state and sets us up for great sleep.

The aim of wind down time is to put an end to the day and transition our mind and body towards sleep - essentially to relax. Sleep is not a switch. Think of going to sleep like landing a plane - it is a gradual transition, a gradual decent in terms of what’s happening in your mind and what’s happening in your body. So our wind down activities need to help us to do this - to relax the mind and the body. 


So then the question becomes … so what do I do to relax? What can I do?

And lots of people get this wrong because what they think they do to relax, is not actually relaxing the system at all. There is a whole other podcast on distraction vs relaxation which I will link in the show notes which will be useful to consider here. 


So, in this episode, I’m going to give you 21 ideas of things you could do with your wind down time to help you to relax before bed and I will also give you some caveats to some of these ideas - because everything can be helpful or not helpful depending on how we do it and how we use it.  

The other thing to be aware of is that not all 21 of these ideas will be relevant to you and you will almost certainly not like all of them as options for you. That’s fine. That is why wind down time is individual to you and why the wind down course I teach focuses on helping you to design the wind down time that works for you. 

 That said, sometimes we resist what we need the most

And if you feel you struggle to relax at all, no matter what you do, this is a sign that you have more work to do - and thats fine. At Sleep Seekers, thats all part of daily business because these are the things that make sleep so challenging. 


So, lets get into the 21 ideas … 

1→ Reading - Fiction, not work related. Something that won’t get your brain spinning too much. Can be something you are interested in but you have to be able to put it down.  

Reading is my staple wind down activity. I will usually do something else first but then my immediate time before sleep is usually spent reading. 


2→ Journalling / wind down journal / gratitude journalling - Journaling can be a great way to out an end to your day and can be a great way to clear your mind. There is even research to suggest that it can help you to get a better nights sleep. 

You could do stream of consciousness journaling where you just write on the page whatever is in your head without any filters. 

You could journal on a question such as ‘what went well for me today’ or ‘what am I proud of for today’. 

You could use the wind down journal I created that gives you a section to complete for all the best prompts to do in the evenings before bed on one nice and easy page (find the links to my wind down journal in the show notes)

You could focus on gratitude journaling which again has research showing how beneficial this is to do just before bed. There is also a section for this in the wind down journal I created for exactly this reason. 

Whichever way you choose, journalling can be a really good addition to your wind down time. 


Stretching - A lovely way to use your body before bed. Might be good to create a stretching plan before you start so you know what you will be doing. That way it doesn’t take any brain power and you can just go with the flow. Combine with deep breathing for a real winner.


4→ Spa music - Playing music you associate with a relaxing environment is a great way to help yourself relax. If you do this regularly, your brain is also likely to start to associate the music with wind down time which will be a lovely benefit. You could also combine this with stretching. 


5→ At home facial / manicure - If this is the kind of thing you find relaxing, it could be a really good option for you. Set the time aside and make this is really nice experience for yourself. Bonus points for relaxing music, lighting candles etc. Probably not a nightly option but perhaps once a week would be great. Or perhaps a shorter version every day and a full version once a week.


6→ Have a bath - the one we always tend to associate with what you ‘should’ do before sleep. It is talked about so much because when you get out of a warm bath and your temperature drops, this mimics the natural drop in temperature that happens as you drop off to sleep so it can be helpful in getting to sleep. Regardless, if you find having a warm bath relaxing, it’s a great thing to do as part of your wind down time. 


7 - Watch TV - This tends to be the mainstay of most peoples wind down time and to be fair it features a lot in mine too. Lots of people talk about watching a bit of TV before bed and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But, some caveats. This should be something you want to watch and you intentionally choose rather than just channel hopping. You should make sure that you are relaxing and not just distracting. Refer to a whole episode on this - you will find the link in the show notes. If you are just distracting it is far better to do something else that will help you to better relax. It should also be something that doesn’t either interest you too much and get your brain ticking or feel too stressful. When I want to watch something that is full of suspense (for me it tends to be crime dramas), I choose the evenings to do this when it makes the most sense and I have time to read for a bit longer before sleep if needed. 


8 - Listen to a calming playlist - choose music that is full of good feeling for you. Perhaps good relaxing memories from holidays or perhaps music you find soothing and calming. Have a look at playlists that already exist or create your own.  


9 - Colouring in - For some people, there was no better invention than the adult colouring book. If you find this relaxing, its a perfect wind down activity and it can be combined with some of the other ideas if you like. 


10 - Catch up on your favourite blog / vlog - Sometimes there is nothing that feels like a bigger treat than catching up on your favourite blog or vlog. It can give a great sense of 'me time' and really be something to look forward to. So get comfortable and indulge. Ideally this would be something digestible within your wind down time … don’t leave yourself hanging as this could make it harder to switch off for sleep. 


11 - Listen to a podcast - Similar to a blog or vlog, it can feel like a great treat to catch up with your favourite podcast. There are some great ones out there. Again, don’t let this be anything too ‘thinky’ as we are trying to help your mind to calm down, not rev it up. You might like to listen to a podcast while having a bath or doing your at home facial. 


12 - Watch the sunset - perhaps more of a summer activity, depending on where you live but there is no simpler pleasure than watching the sun set. If this is available for you, enjoy it. You could be doing deep breathing at the same time. What better way to put an end to your day than actually watching the physical end of the day … sounds like bliss. 


13 - Connect with a friend - this is one of the options that will divide people and opinion. Some people will find speaking to a friend, perhaps on the phone or online really relaxing and comforting. Others will find that it takes energy and gets the mind ticking over. If it works for you as a relaxing activity, then do it but stick to safe subjects that are less likely to interfere in your sleep. 


14 - Play an instrument - again for some this will be the best wind down option, for others it will be irrelevant. I have worked with lots of people whose idea of true relaxation before bed has been to quietly play the guitar or have a tinkle on the piano. If it works, it works and you should do it. 


15 - Meditation / Guided Relaxation - This is an important one as these activities directly positively influence your mind and help it to cool down before sleep. However, this is one of those I was talking about earlier. Often we resist what we need the most. If you find meditation or guided relaxation to be frustrating or that you cant concentrate on it or you think there is no point because your mind wanders off, this is usually a really good sign that this is a skill you need to learn. You need to persist. You need to tame and train your brain. There is a guided relaxation included in The Sleep Optimiser Programme and there are lots of apps available these days to help - Calm and Headspace being amongst the best. 


16 - Relaxing tea - Some people love to drink relaxing teas in the evening. If it works for you, this can be a great idea. Just be careful it doesn’t lead you to needing the loo more in the night. You might need to have it early in your wind down time and leave a gap so you aren’t going to sleep on a full bladder. 


17 - Connect with a partner - Often last thing in the evening is the only real time we get to see our partners. Between work and kids and other commitments, it can be easy to miss each other all day. So spending time with a partner as part of your wind down time can be really nice, really comforting and very grounding for moving into the night time. Try to consider being intentional about this - it is the quality of time that matters here rather than quantity so think about how you can spend quality time together and still prioritise your sleep. 


18 - Yoga - Another really lovely, calming option before bed. Again, it’s good to be prepared before you start this as part of your wind down routine. Decide what you want to do or find a plan or video to follow. Ideally find a bedtime sequence designed by someone who knows that they are doing so you know you are using the most calming options to end your day.  


19 - Breathing exercises - there is nothing more powerful than a breathing exercise. We talk a lot about breathing in The Sleep Optimiser Programme as it is such a powerful tool for sleep. There is no better way to transition your body towards night time and sleep. You can do a breathing exercise just as you get into bed, last thing before sleep or during many of the other activities we have discussed in this episode. This one is really worth investing your time and energy to incorporate into your wind down time. 


20 - Tidy up - Sometimes a tidy up can be really relaxing and a great way to put an end to your day. But, as part of your wind down time this does not mean manically rushing around tidying up. This means having a slow and steady potter, putting things back into their rightful place and giving you a sense of order before bed. I tend to like to do this but only before I then do something else relaxing, at least reading as I mentioned earlier. 


21 - Do a jigsaw - Another lovely way to relax for some. A jigsaw can become almost meditative, you can get into the flow and exclude any other thoughts. You could put some music on, enjoy your calming tea and make it a lovely experience for yourself. 


So there you have it … 21 ideas to help you to relax during that all important wind down time. 

Bonus points for any of the above if you light candles, lower the lights and wear your comfiest clothes. 

 As I said, for me, I might do other things as part of my wind down time but I would almost always come back to the anchors of the wind down journal and then reading directly before sleep. 

 You could also consider where these ideas would sit within your wind down pyramid - if you don’t know about the wind down pyramid yet I will link to the episode all about it in the show notes. For me for example, watching TV would be at the bottom and meditation would be at the top. The wind down journal is consistent throughout. 

There are many other episodes within this wind down series you might find helpful to refer to as part of your considerations and I will link to the ones I have mentioned in the show notes. 


If you are interested in going deeper into designing your wind down time and learning how to best prepare your mind and body for a great nights sleep, take a look my Evening Wind Down Routine Programme or for a comprehensive look at optimising your sleep through the whole night (and day) have a look at The Sleep Optimiser Programme. All the links are in the show notes.


Tag me on social media to let me know if there is anything you would add to this list. I always find it interesting to know what helps you to relax before bed.