How to Sleep Like a Baby as an Adult: Steal the Bedtime Routine of a Toddler

The always-on work culture, ping phones, Netflix “watch the next episode” button, and general life stress made it difficult to get a good night’s sleep before the pandemic. Then Covid struck. Even if you were lucky enough to escape the virus, you may have fallen victim to a nationwide epidemic of pandemic disorder-induced insomnia.

The pandemic has ruined our sleep

“In a study conducted in March and April 2020 in 49 countries, 40 percent of people said their sleep was worse than before the pandemic. Participant use of sleeping pills increased by 20 percent,” reports a chilling but hardly surprising Vox article detailing the virus’ toll on the nation’s sleep.

We’re approaching the second year of the coronavirus, but experts say many people’s sleep is still disrupted. I have seen evidence of this myself. Stories about how to sleep well got a lot of interest this year. No wonder I – and countless other authors – have been pestering experts and scouring the internet for every possible sleep hack and cure for insomnia.

Many of these breathing exercises and calming routines are useful. Definitely give them a try and see if they work for you. But according to one doctor, you don’t need fancy techniques or the latest sleep app to get a deep, restful sleep. You just have to steal a toddler’s bedtime routine.

The solution is the same whether you are 3 or 43 years old

The same simple principles that help get anxious, overstimulated 3-year-olds to get the sleep they desperately need also work for anxious, overstimulated adults, argued pediatric emergency medicine physician Dr. Hasan Merali in popular science recently. You can probably skip the hot milk and teddy bears, but Merali claims that research shows the essential pillars of a good bedtime routine for toddlers work just as well when they’re 43 as they do when they’re 3.

  1. Set a fixed bedtime. “There is high-quality data showing that regular bedtimes help improve sleep in young children. This is equally important for adults,” stresses Merali.

  2. Take a hot bath (or shower). “A comprehensive study published in 2019 looked at 13 different studies in adults and found that scheduling a hot bath or shower an hour or two before a planned bedtime significantly reduced the time it took to fall asleep,” reports Merali. Our body temperature naturally drops before bed. A hot shower dilates your blood vessels and speeds up this process.

  3. Apply lotion. This isn’t to keep your skin soft (although that might be a nice bonus). “In a study in which 76 infants were randomized to receive a bedtime massage with lotion, a massage without lotion, or no massage, it was the infants who had a lotion massage that experienced longer periods of sleep,” says Merali . You probably don’t have a masseuse at home, but you can mimic some of these effects by applying lotion to yourself.

  4. Engage in a quiet activity. Bill Gates always reads before bed. Science suggests that it not only expands your mind, but also helps ensure restful sleep. “Researchers found that language-based bedtime routines were associated with longer nights of sleep,” Merali writes of a large study involving children, adding that “adults have also been shown to benefit from reading.”

No sane adult would try to snatch a toddler away from an exciting activity one minute and tuck them into bed the next. The result would be a lot of misery all around. And yet we routinely attempt to do just that to ourselves, jumping straight from Twitter doomscrolling, tiresome work emails, or stimulating TV to trying to check in for the night.

No wonder the results are so often disastrous. We know that a good night’s sleep for children requires a thoughtful transition from the hustle and bustle of the day. Adults would sleep better if they remembered that the same principle applies to them too.

The opinions expressed herein by columnists are their own and not those of

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