We’re all searching for better sleep. Sleep experts tell us that in most cases consistent sleep comes from consistent habits. Wind-down time is one of those habits to nurture for better sleep. And you’ll find its rewarding on its own.

Habits create systems for us that, as Gretchen Rubin observes in Better than Before, allow us to live on “auto-pilot”.  A good habit is the opposite of a ball and chain, it frees us up to attend to what’s most important. Consistent habits are nurtured – at least for me – with “a spoonful of sugar”, from the inside out. That’s why I love scheduling in wind-down time. Wind-down time – like my miracle morning and bedtime routine – is something I look forward to every day.

There’s a built-in reward to good habits. Well-prepared meals are usually nutritious as well as delicious. And when they’re shared with the good company of family and friends, improve our relationships and make memories.

Sleep is a perfect example of a habit that has a built-in reward. It’s critical for our health and happiness.

Here’s what consistent, sufficient sleep does for us:

  • Decreases the possibility of diseases
  • Decreases the possibility of accidents and life-threatening incidents due to drowsiness
  • Nurtures daily health
  • Keeps brain functions in tune such as the ability to learn, memory, and problem-solving abilities
  • Amplifies creativity and attention span
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Keeps our moods balanced and thereby our relationships balanced

Considering all those rewards from a habit that is essential – and free! – it’s worth scheduling in an extra habit like wind-down time that supports better sleep. And, like well-prepared meals, the wind-down time habit will bring its own rewards.

What is wind-down time?

Slowing down – winding down – is as much a part of life as speed and being productive. Wind-down time is that time when we begin the transition from daily activities and make the transition for sleep. It makes sense: you don’t down-shift from fourth gear into first or neutral. Every early childhood teacher knows how important it is to plan for classroom transitions to avoid meltdowns on a massive scale. We successfully use “cue songs” and ritual to help the children move from free play to circle time.

Think of wind-down time this way: it’s natural and hard-wired into the rhythm our days. Most humans adjust to sunlight, waking up when the sun comes up. Before the invention of the electric light, we’d sleep when the sun went down. And we’d slow down at dusk, preparing for sleep. It didn’t have to be a “habit” – wind-down time was just part of life. But in the twenty-first century, nearly 140 years after the invention of the light bulb and a few decades into international Internet use, we have to plan for wind-down time.  When you plan for this intentional calm time, you set the tone for the night…and better sleep. During wind-down time you can listen to your body, relate to the people (or pets!) around you, and set the stage for a stress- and anxiety-free evening.

Dr. Amy Johnson says this about “doing” and anxiety in this post:

“Doing more doesn’t outsmart anxiety. Anxiety is created by the misunderstanding that we have to do more to begin with. Slowing down and coming back home within ourselves is how anxiety goes away.”

“Coming back home within ourselves” sounds like a pretty great thing to schedule in a day. A healthy habit for ourselves and our kids.

When is wind-down time?

Wind-down time begins 1 ½ to 2 hours before lights out for the youngest member of the family. If you’re not certain when the best lights out time is, get the Bedtime Blueprint which has two pdfs: one to determine how many hours of sleep are recommended by the National Sleep Association and another that gives you everything you need to know to plan for sleep, bedtime, and wind-down time habits in one place. You can get it here.

Here’s why the wind-down time habit has its own rewards: 

Everyone benefits. Parents stop working, setting up important boundaries when it comes to “being” and “doing”. Families relate to each other – or enjoy personal projects in a kind of family “parallel play”. Kids learn to get involved in activities such as reading, puzzles, or even calm and gentle movement. Everyone gets the important messages that they are not their work or their grades, they are in a supportive caring environment, and slowing down for sleep is important.

“The truth is, you don’t break a bad habit; you replace it with a good one.” Denis Waitley

Take stock of your family’s evening habits. They’re there and they might be in the form of habits like continuing work (for adults), or getting distracted by screen time, or stressing about the next day. None of these are going to help everyone sleep. So it’s time to replace those habits with the better one of wind-down time.

And wind-down time doesn’t have to look like Little House on the Prairie. You can do some yoga, plan and prepare lunches for the next day, take a short walk, or get everyone involved with making plans for the next family adventure.

Adults may benefit the most: when wind-down time and bedtime routines are in place and consistent, the kids are sleeping and you get an extra hour or two in your evening.

Wind-down time isn’t just a habit that nets better sleep, it’s an attitude that you can cultivate all day long. Kate Hanley has consistently offered an important message about choosing calm over anxiety. She is the “Ambassador of Chill” and her books are field guides with practical short exercises for calm and clarity. Books like Stress Less make the habit of chill easy.

Do these things for an effective wind-down time:

  • Plan for it!  Get the free “Done for You!” bedtime chart by clicking here and never have to think about when to start bedtime or turn the lights out. Extra credit if you spend 12 minutes and watch Laura Vanderkam’s Ted Talk on time management here.
  • Dim the lights
  • Choose your sounds! Put on gentle music and ditch the dance tunes.
  • Turn off the screens: televisions, tablets, and smart phones. If this seems scary and drastic to you, just plan your screen time for a different time of the day or week.
  • Encourage everyone to speak a little softer, enjoy silence. Open a window and have everyone identify 3 different sounds.

Wind-down time is one of those healthy habits that encourages better sleep and nurtures a lifetime of memories and family connections.

To help the kiddos really drift off to sleep, get the free Put the Day to Bed guided meditation and illustrated book here.