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Why the 3 Hours Before You Go to Bed Matter So Much

Jessica Migala

January 2, 20246 minutes

What are the last images in your head before you close your eyes? What about the thoughts in your head? If you rushed through tasks to try to finish off your to-do list, hopped on your computer to answer some stressful emails, or settled in for some social media scrolling, you may be working against yourself.

That’s because we can all benefit from a relaxation routine that can help us unwind before bed -- and it starts earlier than you may think. Below, we’ll discuss how doing so can promote more restful sleep, plus ideas to make it happen in your own life. Here’s what you need to know.

The value in unwinding before bed

Few of us find sleep the moment our head hits the pillow. In fact, given our crazy, packed schedules, we often try to go from 60 mph to 0 mph at bedtime (to poor results). Many of us could use a gentle coaxing into bed in order to fall asleep. (Doesn’t it sound great to think of someone tucking you into bed now as an adult?)

That’s where practicing an unwinding routine -- things that promote relaxation or address some of the very reasons why it’s difficult to fall asleep -- before bed comes in. When you have predictable things you do every night that you enjoy, you’re priming yourself to sleep. “The body knows what to do when you do the same thing over and over again,” says Shantha Gowda, Psy.D., a board-certified behavioral sleep specialist. For example, if you settle in for a few stretches and journal or watch the same type of TV show, your body will know that sleep comes next. (It’s kind of like when you were a kid and had a bedtime routine!)

A tip from Hatch: You can use your Hatch device to cue you when it’s time to unwind. Setting up a consistent bedtime reminder with your Restore is fundamental for healthier sleep habits. 

And while a before-bed routine is important, the other things you do in the evening, long before you even start winding down, matter, too. We’ll help you figure out what to do in these hours before bed so you’re ready for a good night of sleep.

Evening and bedtime relaxation strategies 

Below are expert-backed guidelines and ideas for how you can make your evening a time that supports good sleep. But know that you can adjust this to fit your lifestyle; you don’t have to do everything. After all, it’s not supposed to be stressful. So, focus on what resonates most with you. 

3 hours before bed

Plan constructive worry

If the only time you stop buzzing around your house is when you lay your head on your pillow at night, you may find that it’s tough to get your mind to shut off and go to sleep. Gowda recommends “constructive worrying.” It’s when you allow yourself 15 to 20 minutes several hours before bed to write down thoughts and worries that pop up. “This helps you feel as if you’ve addressed them, so it helps your brain let go of those thoughts,” she explains.

Pop on blue blockers

Blue light from screens can suppress melatonin production, a sleep-promoting hormone, research shows. Bright lights in your home can do the same. Wearing blue-blocking glasses (which are budget-friendly and available without a prescription) while looking at a screen can blunt this effect, says Chris Winter, MD, sleep specialist and host of the Sleep Unplugged podcast, who recommends putting on a pair when the sun goes down. 

1 hour before bed

Switch your tech 

Reduced melatonin production is not the only reason screen time impairs sleep: “The content that’s in front of you is the problem,” says Gowda. Some doctors recommend turning off tech by 10 PM, but that may not seem realistic to you. “Thirty to 60 minutes before bed, I recommend switching gears from work or social media to more relaxing and predictable content,” she says. That may be one show of your favorite feel-good sitcom that you’ve already seen several times. Or even a new episode of “The Great British Bake Off” because it feels uplifting and soothing. What it’s not is the news, a show that you’re going to want to binge-watch, or something intense or violent.

A tip from Hatch:  Hatch+ members have access to Pillow Talk, premium comfort audio designed to make that ready-for-bed time just a bit more entertaining, without the blue light. 

Keep it light

When you’re caught up in the bustle of the day, it’s understandable if you wait to have serious or negative conversations with your partner right before bed. However, these can get you charged up before bed, so Gowda recommends focusing on positive or more neutral topics, if possible. 

15 to 30 minutes before bed

Relax

Now’s a great time to spend a few minutes doing something you find really relaxing. Deep breathing, meditating, stretching, restorative yoga, guided imagery, or writing down three good things from the day are all ways to end your day on a peaceful note, says Dr. Winter. He also likes the act of spraying a lavender mist on your pillow, which can be a nice way to self-soothe with each breath you take. 

A tip from Hatch: Program your Unwind routine as a Hatch+ member with audio that helps prepare your body and mind for bed. Whether it’s hosted audio on Pillow Talk or guided meditations, there’s something on Hatch+ for everyone to relax with before bed.

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