If you feel different than you did 12 months ago (and not in the best of ways), you’re not the only one. When it hasn’t been an acute tragedy, this pandemic has been a slow grind, and the loss of regular movement and human contact is hard on the mind and body, period. But there are some basic things you can make sure you’re doing before you go to bed that’ll help you wake up feeling a little less achy and a bit more rested and ready to face the day. We connected with five experts for their tips for simple evening routine habits you can use to feel better in your body, starting tonight.
1. Stretch It Out
Making time for some light stretching before hitting the hay can help to release chronically tight muscles, relieve tension, and have you waking up a bit more primed for your morning workout. Integrating this stretching practice with mindfulness can double the perks: “As a mental health professional, I like meditative stretching because it targets the mind just as much as the body, by allowing you to focus your attention on your breath and the mind-body connection,” says San Diego licensed clinical social worker Michelle English.
This could be as simple as leaning forward to touch your toes (or, you know, getting as close as your hamstrings allow) while keeping tabs on your breath. Instead of thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list, try the 4-4-8 breathing technique: inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, release slowly for 8 seconds, then repeat. Do this for five or ten cycles and try to let your mind wander.
2. Take a Moment to Be Grateful
The mental health benefits of a gratitude practice are well-established, but research even shows that taking time for gratitude, specifically by writing in a gratitude journal, can even reduce the inflammation that can trigger pain and discomfort.
Dr. Julie Gurner, a clinical psychologist and executive performance coach, says it doesn’t have to be complicated. “Just take ten minutes for your evening routine before bed to write down a few things you are grateful for that day in a journal—and make it a regular practice,” she says. “This can begin to change how you see yourself in the world and reduce stress, because it shifts your focus.”
3. Do Some Meal Prep
Rushed decisions in between Zoom calls can make for poor eating choices, and research indicates that meal prep ahead of time can lead to more diet variety, better food quality, and perhaps even weight loss. So set your body up for success by thinking about how you’re going to fuel it tomorrow.
“It reduces anxiety when you open up the fridge to see that your breakfast or lunch is already waiting there for you,” says registered dietitian Aja Gyimah, founder of wellness coaching service Kuudose. “Something easy like overnight oats or a yogurt parfait for breakfast or even just cutting up some vegetables makes the rush less daunting the next day.”
4. Avoid Alcohol
Maybe you’ve kept up the Dry January momentum, or perhaps you’re wondering if you’re overdoing it lately. Wherever you land in the alcohol consumption spectrum, experts can agree on one thing: Drinking close to bedtime is not ideal so don’t make it part of your evening routine.
“Many individuals consume alcohol to wind down at the end of the day or to fall asleep at night, which can be a problem,” says Leela R. Magavi, M.D., psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry. “Alcohol can disrupt REM sleep and worsen sleep quality. It can also cause changes in the brain, which could worsen anxiety. These changes could cause daytime somnolence, inattentiveness, and irritability.”
Unfortunately, the latest science says no amount of alcohol is good for you. But it’s fine in moderation, and one of the best ways to mitigate the damage of a drink or two is to keep them clear of bedtime by at least a few hours.
5. Don’t Get Into Bed Before You’re Tired
Having trouble falling asleep is a vicious cycle. Not only are you not sleeping, you’re stressed about not sleeping—which isn’t exactly conducive to nodding off. This pattern can create an automatic association your bedroom and sleepless fretting. “If we spend too long each night in the bed worrying, then it can become the default response every time you lay down to sleep,” says Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and a consultant for Mattress Firm. “This is actually a very common cause of insomnia—it’s called psychophysiological insomnia.”
Kansagra says that the key is going to bed when you are tired and only when you are tired. If you can’t fall asleep after about 20 minutes, then get out of bed and do something until you are sleepy again.
Originally shared on GQ.com