An evening routine is essential to supporting a healthy night’s sleep. Just like young children need bedtime routines, adults need them just as much—or more. We are transitioning from a busy day of go-go- go and may find it difficult to wind down and relax our bodies and mind. An evening routine can be a nice disconnect from distraction and stress, and a time to focus on what’s important to you as well as calm the mind and body, so that when you get into bed, you drift off quickly and seamlessly. Here are four simple strategies you can implement today to help optimize your evening routine. —Nicole Shallow
manage your caffeine intake in the day and in the evening. This one may be challenging for some, but the facts are pretty convincing. Caffeine can significantly impact the feeling of “being tired” and cause you to stay up later in the evening because you just are not tired enough. Although you may have had caffeine earlier in the day, it can still impact your ability to fall asleep and the overall quality over night. Caffeine itself has a half-life of between five and six hours, so it takes more than double that for it all to be out of your system. If you are choosing to drink caffeine, be sure to keep it as early in the morning and avoid caffeinated food and beverages later in the day/evening. Some alternatives may be herbal tea and hot/warm water, so you get that same cosy feeling.
keep the evening night-cap free. Night Caps are so commonly glamourized as part of the after-work evening routine to help unwind from a stressful day. Alcohol does have a sedating effect, but it is one of the worst culprits for disrupted and poor-quality sleep. Alcohol can hinder your body’s ability to achieve the stage of REM sleep and disrupt your ability to enter other rejuvenating stages of sleep. Without high-quality REM sleep, you may wake feeling tired, irritable, foggy, grumpy and overall exhausted. REM sleep is essential for processing and storing long-term memories, processing different feelings and washing our brain of all the debris built up the day before. If you are going to consume alcohol, be sure to allow your body enough time to process it so there is as little as possible in your system when it is time to get some shut eye (Happy Hour anyone?).
take a screen break. As much as possible, give yourself a break from the screens before bedtime, including phones and laptops. Screens emit blue light, which can block the body’s natural production of melatonin for up to 30 minutes. Melatonin is essential for preparing many bodily systems to shut down for the night and get ready for sleep. When planning your evening routine, it will be important to find alternative activities that don’t involve too much screen time, while also bringing you joy. For example, if you currently scroll through social media in the evening, you may be using this to either connect with people, entertain yourself or cathartically write. Some alternatives to scrolling may be reading a newspaper, journaling or calling a friend. It will be important to still meet that need but in a different and maybe more old-school way! Some other ideas for non-screen related activities are: reading a good book, having a relaxing bath, listening to meditation or music, playing games with family, doing a puzzle, building Lego. There are endless possibilities and getting creative and doing what brings you joy will be key!
mood lighting. In the evening, there is no need to have all of the lights on in the house like it’s daytime. Evening is for darkness and mood lighting. At about one-and-a-half to two hours before bed, it can be helpful to dim the lights or even better light some candles to help communicate to your body that it is time to get the sleep processes started. The dimming of the lights signals to a group of cells called the retinal ganglion cells located in the retina of your eye that detect the change in light. Both in the mornings (light = awake) and evenings. Just by dimming the lights, you can signal your body to produce melatonin and wind-down for the evening. It’s fascinating!
a final thought. When making changes to any routine it’s important to remember to use self-compassion and kindness to yourself if you stray from the “rules”. It is going to be OK. If you notice that a routine is not working for you and feels more like a chore, then it may be time to seek out another activity that does bring you fulfillment. And remember: evenings are for you so use them wisely. Once the screens shut down and the lights go down, time will slow down as well and you will feel more present, relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep.