A lot gets written about the perfect morning routine, getting yourself set up right and off to a good start. Evening routines are more rarely mentioned, although I believe they are just as vital.
Our days are often a blur, racing from one thing to the next. Constantly juggling a variety of demands from our jobs and others. Our mornings and evenings are where we have more control of our time. Setting good morning and evening routines provide nice bookends for the day. A good morning routine sets you up for the day, whilst a good evening routine helps you reflect, relax and unwind to take stock of your day and prepare yourself for sleep and starting the next day strong.
So what exactly do I mean by an evening routine? I don’t mean the whole stretch of time between picking up the kids or coming from work through to bedtime. Our days are too busy and changeable for that to be very consistent (and honestly that would be quite dull). It’s the last set of items before you go to bed, which signal your brain that it’s now time to start preparing for sleep. Consistency is what’s important so that your brain links them up and starts releasing melatonin.
Now, my secret — my evening routine is very inconsistent. When I fail, it messes up my morning routine, which usually leads to an unproductive day.
I’ve resolved to improve so one of my habit goals for this year is to build a consistent bedtime routine to complement my more established morning routine.
Writing about it and sharing it publicly is part of my motivation to really get this habit installed.
My new routine
Unlike my morning routine which I do most of before the rest of the household is awake, my new evening routine will have more of an impact on the family. With this in mind, I made sure to talk through my planned routine with my wife. If you can work together it’ll make it much better for everyone if you come to a mutually agreeable arrangement and you have the support of one another.
1. Phone alarm reminder 9:30pm
The starting point of any consistent routine is having a suitable activation trigger. Until I really get the routine installed, I’m starting out with a reminder alarm on my phone. This is my cue to start finishing whatever I’m doing.
Now, why so early? You need to work backwards. I get up at 5:30am and want to try and get 7 hours of sleep. To do that I need to be asleep by 10:30pm. Through my experiments so far and my Fitbit data I know I typically take around 15 minutes or so to fall asleep which means I need to be in bed, ready to sleep by 10:15pm. Then I need to factor in how long each activity in my evening routine is going to take to arrive at the starting time.
To make sure I get the most restful sleep I try not to drink anything after 9pm.
2. Brush my teeth
Brushing my teeth is already a long standing habit that I do right before I go to bed. I have found that when I’ve been falling asleep on the sofa and I decide to head to bed, all the activity would wake me up again and I’d have more trouble falling asleep. I decided to move brushing my teeth to the beginning of my routine. It’s already a habit and will become a trigger for the rest when I no longer need the phone alarm reminder.
3. Set out my clothes for the morning
This is already something I’ve been doing for a while which makes it easy for me when I get up early. Setting out your clothes means there’s no decisions to make in the morning and takes a reason away for staying in bed. All you have to do is slide out of bed and put on your clothes.
4. Get changed for bed
Do I really need to explain this step further?
5. Make sure house is locked up and any last chores are done.
Here I make sure the house is locked up, and I’ll also get our breakfast frittatas out the freezer to start defrosting. If there’s any last little jobs that need doing, I’ll get them done now. I’m trying to eliminate as much movement as possible so that I can sit and unwind and then all I need to do is go upstairs and get straight into bed.
6. Reflect & Journal
Unless we were watching a TV show that we want to finish, we will usually aim to have the TV off by around 9pm and put on some music.
For my own part, I will open up my planner and journal, updating any habit goal streaks and reflecting on the day. We’ll talk a little about our day and any plans for tomorrow. If there’s any last thoughts or todos that come to mind, I jot them in my planner to get them out of my mind, leaving it clear for sleep.
Reading is my filler activity (and also how I reach my reading goals - but that’s another topic) to help me wind down but keep my brain occupied. If I’ve had other evening obligations that see me home later then this is the activity I’d skip or shorten as necessary.
Generally, I try to read only fiction so that I’m not stimulating my brain too much. Preferably I’ll read a physical book though I’ll use my kindle with minimal backlighting if necessary. (In the past I would often read in the dark in bed because my wife was already asleep but even with the kindle’s backlighting it’s still emitting blue light which doesn’t help the body start preparing itself for sleep.)
In an ideal world I’m aiming for about 30 minutes of reading time.
8. Head for Bedfordshire
Around 10:10pm I’ll start putting on my sleep music track. At the moment, I’m still experimenting with what works best but my aim is to find and stick with the one which has the most beneficial effect for me to go to sleep quickly and stay asleep as long as possible.
My experimental list
- Headspace sleep sounds
- Brain.fm sleep or nap sounds
- Spotify sleep playlist
- Marconi Union tracks
- Max Richter - For sleep album
I have these playing on my phone and it’ll become my final trigger to tell my brain it’s time for sleep. They run for a certain amount of time so I don’t need to worry about having to turn them off. All I need to do is head straight upstairs, slide into bed and hopefully start counting those Zeds for a great night’s rest, raring to go in the morning.
Guidelines for good sleep
- Listening to the same piece of music as a trigger to tell my brain it’s time for bed.
- When we are out for an evening, I will be strong on leaving at a suitable time to maintain the routine, I’ll cut out the reading step but will keep to the rest of my routine.
- I’m not a heavy drinker but alcohol certainly doesn’t contribute to a good nights sleep. Even when we’re out at social engagements I’m keeping my alcohol consumption to a minimum. No more than 1-2 small glasses of wine or a single pint.
- No screens at least an hour before bed. I try to finish my usage by 9pm at the latest. The light from the screens disrupts your brain producing melatonin. As I mentioned above, I do have my phone in my bedroom to play the music tracks. I don’t need it as an alarm and I avoid using it for any other purpose. If I had another way to play the music tracks then I would remove it completely from my bedroom. If you need it as an alarm, at least put it well out of reach so you’ll need to get out of bed to turn it off.
- Make the bedroom a palace for sleep. We haven’t had a TV in our bedroom for several years and we’ve made sure there’s no other distracting electronic devices nearby.
What does your evening look like? I’d love to know what you do as part of your evening routine. Hit me up on the twitters or drop me an email with your best tips.