Experts agree that reading is the very last thing most successful people do before going to sleep —President Barack Obama and Bill Gates are known to read for at least a half hour before bed.
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of "You Can't Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work," says he knows numerous business leaders who block off time just before bed for reading, going so far as to schedule it as a "non-negotiable item" on their calendar.
"This isn't necessarily reserved just for business reading or inspirational reading. Many successful people find value in being browsers of information from a variety of sources, believing it helps fuel greater creativity and passion in their lives," he says.
They go for an evening stroll.
Joel Gascoigne, cofounder and CEO of Buffer, takes a 20-minute walk every evening before bed. "This is a wind down period, and allows me to evaluate the day’s work, think about the greater challenges, gradually stop thinking about work, and reach a state of tiredness," he writes in a blog post.
While it’s a popular belief that exercise before bed can prevent sleep, the National Sleep Foundation actually found in 2013 that exercising whenever you can, even at night, helps you sleep better. Numerous studies have also found walking to reduce stress and anxiety.
They spend time with family.
Woodward says it's important to make some time to chat with your partner, talk to your kids, or play with your dog.
Laura Vanderkam, author of "I Know How She Does It" and "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast," says this is a common practice among the highly successful. "I realize not everyone can go to bed at the same time as his or her partner, but if you can, it's a great way to connect and talk about your days."
Many successful people use the 10 minutes before bed to meditate. Dale Kurow, a New York-based executive coach, says it's a great way to relax your body and quiet your mind.
They make a to-do list.
"Clearing the mind for a good night sleep is critical for a lot of successful people," Kerr says.
"Often they will take this time to write down a list of any unattended items to address the following day, so these thoughts don't end up invading their head space during the night."
For example, Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, writes down three things he wants to accomplish the next day.
They picture tomorrow's success.
Many successful people take a few minutes before bed to envision a positive outcome unfolding for the projects they're working on, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job." "For most, this is not a task or exercise; they're wired with a gift of solid resolution skills that come naturally."
They have sex.
They plan out sleep.
"Much has been written around the dangers busy people face running chronic sleep deficits, so one habit I know several highly successful people do is to simply make it a priority to get enough sleep — which can be a challenge for workaholics or entrepreneurs," Kerr says. One way to do that is to go to bed at a consistent time each evening, which is a key habit all sleep experts recommend to help ensure a healthy night's sleep.
Vanderkam further suggests that you plan out when you're going to wake up, count back however many hours you need to sleep, and then consider setting an alarm to remind yourself to get ready for bed. "The worst thing you can do is stay up late then hit snooze in the morning," she says. "Humans have a limited amount of willpower. Why waste that willpower arguing with yourself over when to get up, and sleeping in miserable nine-minute increments?"
They reflect on the good things from the day.
Kerr says many successful people take the time just before bed to reflect on, or to write down, three things they are appreciative of that happened that day.
"Keeping a 'gratitude journal' also reminds people of the progress they made that day in any aspect of their life, which in turn serves as a key way to stay motivated, especially when going through a challenging period."
It's easy to fall into the trap of replaying negative situations from the day that you wish you had handled differently. Regardless of how badly the day went, successful people typically manage to avoid that pessimistic spiral of negative self-talk because they know it will only create more stress.
Benjamin Franklin famously asked himself the same self-improvement question every night: "What good have I done today?"
"Remember to take some time to reflect on the positive moments of the day and celebrate the successes, even if they were few and far between," Woodward says.
Vanderkam adds: "Taking a few moments to think about what went right over the course of the day can put you in a positive, grateful mood."
They unplug and disconnect from work.
They keep a hygiene ritual.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends you create a hygiene ritual that sends a psychological signal that you are getting ready for bed. This can include brushing your teeth, washing your face, flossing, combing your hair.
Stephen King's nightly routine includes washing his hands and making sure all the pillows face a certain way.