Introducing your evening routine
Morning routines are a hot topic at the moment. The Internet has more advice about how to optimise your time from the moment your feet hit the floor in the morning than I’ve had cups of tea in my life – trust me, I drink a LOT of tea! This is all well and good, but what are we doing at the OTHER end of the day? How about an evening routine to ensure that we get the best from our rest?
Sleep is a passion of mine. I’ve personally spent time exiled from the land of Nod, and it’s a desolate place. Professionally, I help my clients to overcome insomnia and regain their energy and health.
Rest hard to work easy
While I am also a fan of the morning routine – mine, of course, involves time to enjoy a cup of tea, (or two!) in this article I’d like to focus on the benefits of an evening routine. I’ll outline an easy, two step plan to help you wind down. You’ll recover well and have the energy to take the next day on with increased focus, productivity and enjoyment.
In the same way, physical fitness is as much about recovery time as the workout, your “life productivity” is as equally about how well you rest not just how hard you work.
Your 2-steps for an evening routine
- Dealing with your day and planning for tomorrow
- Reducing stimulation and relaxing.
1. Deal with your day and plan for tomorrow
Many of the sleep issues I see in clinic arise because the moment we hit the sheets is the first time we’ve given our brain the space to start processing our day and think about what we’d like to accomplish tomorrow.
Situations in our daily lives activate the body’s (stress) flight or fight system, and the hormones that drive this can hang around in our body for hours after the event making us edgy and anxious.
Walk or breathe it off
If you’ve had a fight with your boss (or insert another stressful event), an effective strategy is to take a short walk – even around the block. It might also stop you from firing off that email you might later regret. Can’t get out for a walk? Take yourself off to the bathroom and spend a minute or two taking slow, deep breaths. Both of these things help metabolise the hormones and reset your nervous system back to the parasympathetic “Zen Mode”.
You can also make time for a more extended walk/exercise session at the end of the day. Walking and especially if you can get out into nature has been shown to have many benefits for relaxing your nervous system. Plus you’ll be improving your physical health as well!
Journal it out
Another time-honoured strategy for working out issues from your day is journaling. You don’t have to spend big bucks on a moleskin notebook. An inexpensive pad from the supermarket will do just fine. There are also plenty of digital journaling apps if that’s more your style or you’re worried about prying eyes. You don’t need to write War & Peace. A 5-minute session is more than adequate; dot points and pictures are all acceptable.
But what can I write about?
Anything you want really but I structure mine like this:
- A couple of things I am grateful for or “wins” I had that day. Positivity is important! They don’t have to be huge, life-changing wins. One of my successes today was flipping my breakfast omelette perfectly. Trust me it’s a rare and precious thing!
- Note down any challenges or things you’re worried about.
- I also record any ideas or bits of info that intrigued me.
As a side note – I also find benefit in a monthly review of my journal. It reveals patterns of things I am doing well (Yay!) or, if there are things I am continually moaning about it motivates me to take action.
Plan your day tomorrow
One of the best ways to reduce the chances of mulling over things you’ve got to do tomorrow is to write a “to do” list. Now you’ve created a starting point to get into the day ahead. I even tell my brain that it doesn’t need to worry about it because it’s all on the piece of paper. The mind is open to suggestion, and this works for me.
2. Reduce stimulation
This is the second key ingredient in an evening routine. Anyone with young children will tell you it’s a bad idea to allow them to race around, watch stimulating television or load them up with sugar before bedtime. Think of yourself as a big kid. The idea is to get your nervous system into “chill out” mode.
Dim the lights
Fluorescent and LED lights are not conducive to your body making the hormones it needs to sleep. Melatonin is known as the “vampire” hormone as it only comes out in the dark. So to help it along, about an hour before bed turn off the bright lights and turn on the lamps.
Ditch the screens
The light from screens also works against your body making melatonin. In addition the content on these devices stimulates your brain into a more alert state. So again, one hour before your bedtime switch of the smartphone, tablet and television and do some relaxing “analogue” activities like reading a book, listening to the radio, taking a candlelit bath, meditating or chatting over a cup of herbal tea.
Eat for sleep
Make the evening meal a little smaller, eat it a couple of hours before you want to go to sleep, go easy on the booze and sugar and avoid caffeine.
Small changes, big impact on sleep
These are all simple behavioural changes that you can start implementing tonight. Like all changes, the benefits accumulate incrementally over time so don’t expect massive changes after just one night. The best routines are ones tailored to your needs, so experiment to see what suits you best. I’ve seen my clients gain improvements in their sleep by just committing to an evening routine. Powerful stuff.
A small investment of your time the evening before will pay you back in bucket loads of energy and productivity the next day.
Summary of the 2-step evening routine:
- Deal with your day (earlier in the evening)
- Exercise or breathe it out
- Write it down –Journaling
- Make a plan for tomorrow – To do list
- Reduce stimulation (one hour before bedtime)
- Dim the lights
- Switch off the screens
- Relax with “analogue” activities
Have you got an evening wind down routine? I’d love to hear what works for you. Leave me a comment below.
Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and operates a clinic in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people sleep better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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