Updated: May 9, 2019
If you read my post about morning routines, you’re aware that a good morning routine sets you up for a smooth and productive day. But what about a night routine? Why bother? If you’re not onboard the bedtime routine train, I’m about to have you buying a first class ticket. If you are, we’ll take a deeper look at what your routine should accomplish and why, so that it can be an effective and relaxing use of your time.
Why do I need a nighttime routine?
1. First, and most importantly, SLEEP IS IMPORTANT! If you aren’t getting enough good quality sleep, it’s impossible to function at your best. You need to get adequate sleep, and having a good nighttime routine sets you up for good sleep in a few different ways.
A good nighttime routine will help you to sleep by mentally preparing you for bed. Too often, we ignore and erase the transitional moments in our lives. We try to go immediately to sleep after a busy day without giving ourselves a proper transition from the bustle of the day to the calm of sleep. It’s jarring to move immediately from one activity to the next.
Having a nighttime routine transitions you purposefully from being awake and getting things done to getting restful sleep. Intentionally transitioning from one activity to the next makes our purpose more clear and makes it easier to get the most of out each activity
Having a nighttime routine means that you’ll use your evenings in a purposeful and intentional way. Too often, we don’t have evening plans and end up getting sucked into our phones or binge watching Netflix until 3 a.m. even though we need to be up early. By setting out a specific set of actions to complete each night, you deter yourself from doing activities that you’d prefer not to be doing, but always end up doing anyway because you aren’t sure what else to do. Having a good routine guides you toward sleeping at a reasonable hour.
Nighttime routines are also relaxing. Many of us live stressful lives. It’s very easy to carry stress from the day to bed with us, which makes it much harder to sleep, which then stresses us out the next day. By setting aside time for a few minutes for intentional relaxation each night, we can lower our stress levels, get better sleep, and live a more peaceful life.
2. Having a nighttime routine sets you up for a good morning. Your morning routine actually starts the night before. If you want to make the most of your quiet alone time each morning, it’s important to get anything that can be done the night before out of the way. A well thought out nighttime routine works in conjunction with your morning routine to promote productive, enjoyable, intentional days.
3. Your bedtime routine is the perfect time to fit in those little self care things that you can’t seem to ever find time for. Many acts of self care are quite relaxing and help to take your mind off of things that are stressing you out. Things like reading and meditating that many of us would like to do more of are great ways to end your night, instead of the usual scrolling marathon.
4. A good routine will help you avoid mindlessly watching five hours of Netflix and going to bed at 3 a.m. Or scrolling on Instagram until you can barely keep your eyes open, if that’s your cup of tea. If you get in the habit of going through a nighttime routine that you enjoy, beginning the moment you first start the routine, you’re guiding yourself down a path that ends with you in bed and asleep at a reasonable time, and it takes pretty much no effort. Setting up a nighttime routine that ends with you in bed and your phone, laptop, and TV remote out of reach makes you much less likely to get out of bed to go do one of those things.
How To Create A Nighttime Routine That Works For You
Now that we know the benefits of a good nighttime routine, how do you go about creating one? Since it might be easier to create your own nighttime routine if you know what one might look like, I’ll walk you through mine first. This routine does vary a bit from day to day depending on whether or not my fiance is home and the day of the week, but for the most part, I do each of these things every night in roughly this order.
My nighttime routine starts at dinner. Dinner itself isn’t exactly part of the routine, but it acts as a trigger for the rest of the routine. A routine is just a series of habits, and habits are made of habit loops. A habit loop is simply a trigger, a habit, and a reward, and those steps always occur in that order. So, to have a routine, I need a trigger.
Dinner is my cue to start winding down for the night. I’ve tried using reminders on my phone to kick off my evening routine, but those have never seemed to work for me. Since I eat dinner every night at roughly the same time, I chose it as my trigger to start my evening routine.
My actual nighttime routine starts right after dinner. Shortly after dinner, Bennett and I clean up the kitchen. Along with the mess from dinner, there are often other random dishes and whatnot sitting around, and I don’t want to start my mornings with a dirty kitchen, so we clean up.
This post-dinner clean up is by no means perfect, but at the very least, I try to make sure all of the dishes are in the sink or dishwasher and any leftover food is put away. The dishes don’t get done every day, but at least they’re out of the way when I go to make breakfast. We aren’t striving for perfection, just good enough.
Along with the after dinner kitchen clean up, I like to spend five or ten minutes cleaning up from the day. I don’t do any deep cleaning, but I make a quick pass through the apartment and put away anything that is obviously out of place. Typically this means cleaning up plates left by the couch or clothes left on the floor. By spending a few minutes tidying as part of my evening routine, I save myself a lot of time in the long run and prevent big messes from building up.
After those few minutes of cleaning, the next part of my evening routine is to prepare for the next day. Remember that a good morning routine starts the evening before. Anything that can be done the night before should be so that you can maximize your alone time in the morning by doing things that you value, rather than chores left over from the night before.
Typically, to prepare for the next morning I’ll put out my gym clothes and pack my gym bag, if I need it. If I know I need to take something with me when I leave the house in the morning, I’ll put it near the door so I see it as I’m leaving. I also do any lunch or breakfast preparation that I can so I’m not stuck fussing with food at 6 a.m. Now is also when I prepare for the rest of my evening by refilling the water bottle that I keep beside my bed.
After I’ve prepared for the next day, I head to my room and stay there. It’s too easy to mindlessly eat a ton of snacks if I hang out within sight of the kitchen, so I don’t. I’ll prepare my room for the night by putting water in my humidifier, closing the curtains, and setting our smart light bulb to a warm color. I try to avoid cool toned light for several hours before bed because it inhibits melatonin production and we need melatonin to get a good night of sleep.
At this point, I either spend some time reading in bed or hang out with Bennett, if he’s home. If I’m reading, I’ll set a timer so that I can get wrapped up in the book without worrying about how late it’s getting. I like to aim for an hour of reading each night, but if it’s getting late, I don’t always have time to read for an hour. If Bennett’s home, we’ll use this time to watch YouTube or Netflix together for a bit before he heads to the gym.
After reading for a while, I’ll get up, brush my teeth, wash my face, and do any last minute things that I need to do to be ready to sleep. Since I tend to hold tension in my temples and jaw, doing a bit of facial massage at this time can help make me feel more relaxed. Depending on how tired I am, I may read a few more pages.
It’s usually about 9:30 at this point and time for me to sleep. To fall asleep, I often use one of the meditations for sleep or listen to a sleep story on the Calm app. Other times, I’ll put play music and put it on a timer so that it stops playing in an hour or two. Most nights, I’m asleep before 10.
As you can see from my routine, there are three basic parts to a good nighttime routine: wrapping up today, preparing for tomorrow, and relaxing for sleep.
1. Wrap up loose ends from today.
Start your routine by finishing any odds and ends from today so they don’t drag into tomorrow. This may mean doing the dishes, cleaning up the kitchen, putting away clothes that you’ve left out, wiping down surfaces in the bathroom, or getting your email inbox to zero. Don’t worry about doing any sort of deep clean, just do whatever makes you feel like you’ve tied a bow on top of the present that is today.
2. Prepare for tomorrow. Your morning routine starts the night before.
We want our mornings to be as relaxed as possible. Your morning sets the tone for your whole day, and starting out frazzled is never a good look. Do as much as you can tonight to make tomorrow morning easier. This means doing things like packing bags, setting out outfits, making sure the kids have their homework finished and in their bags, deciding on and preparing for breakfast, prepping lunch, putting important things beside the door, or checking tomorrow’s weather so you know how to dress.
3. Get relaxed so that you’re ready to fall asleep easily.
It’s important to end your evening with things that calm and relax you. Don’t watch the news, don’t work out, and don’t play intense video games. Don’t do anything that raises your heart rate. Getting sucked into your phone or the TV aren’t good for your sleep, and it’s all too easy to get lost in a screen. I still have nights where I end up scrolling for two hours after my bedtime. It happens, but avoid intentionally planing too much of any of these things into your evening routine.
Instead, end your bedtime routine with things that make you feel sleepy. This could be taking a warm shower, lighting candles, doing a skincare routine, meditating, reading, or talking to your partner.
Start small. Don’t build an entire twenty-nine step bedtime routine and try to implement the whole thing in one day. Start with just one or two steps that interest you and see if they stick. If something isn’t working and doesn’t feel right for you, let it go. Your routines will shift depending on what you need at the time and what’s going on in your life at the moment. Do what feels right to you. Add one or two new steps to your routine every week and let go of anything that isn’t working until you come out with something that works well for you.
Having a cute and Instagramable, or intense and “perfect” routine doesn’t matter. The point of having a nighttime routine is to intentionally choose how you are spending your evenings, rather than mindlessly sitting on the couch and staring at the TV for hours. It’s even okay to incorporate a bit of TV into your routine, if you’d like. The aim here is to be mindful of how you’re using your time, rather than letting it get sucked up by the first thing that grabs your attention. Choose a routine that works for you and best serves your goals.