I previously wrote about morning routines (here), and their importance in setting us up for the greatest possible amount of success and happiness throughout the day. Today’s post is about evening routines. The best way to make sure that your morning routine is effective; that you can wake up early, and take some time to work on things that matter to you, is to have an effective evening routine allowing you to go to bed easily, getting a proper recovery before your next day begins. I will begin with a list of the key components of a good evening routine and then elaborate upon those in the paragraphs to follow.
The key components to an effective evening routine:
1. 1. Eliminate Stimulations
2. 2. Smart Nutrition Choices
3. 3. Proper Prior Preparation
1. 1. Eliminating Stimulations. For most of us, the typical evening is spent watching several hours of tv in bed before we check the clock and realize: “damn, its midnight already!” Then we quickly turn off the screen, close our eyes and try to fall asleep – inevitably finding difficulty going to sleep and frequent awakenings throughout the night. Any screen contains blue light, an excitatory form of energy that impedes our circadian rhythm, the cycle that controls our sleep pattern, by blocking melatonin, a hormone associated with rest and quality sleep. Exposing ourselves to any form of blue light within 30 minutes of sleep will lead to greater difficulty falling asleep and more restlessness throughout the night, causing us to miss out on Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the part of sleep that is most beneficial.
The best advice here is to put down your phone no less than 30 minutes prior to your desired bed time. This may sound difficult but trust me, that late night email from your boss can wait until the morning. Put it on do not disturb mode, and let it sit. If anybody truly needs to reach you, you can setup a bypass to do not disturb, allowing certain contacts access. That way you wont miss an emergency call from your children or significant other. With regards to the tv, try your best to not watch it at all before bed, but if you must, see if you can download a blue light filter or purchase yourself some blue light filtering glasses. Most TV’s are connected to the internet and can download apps that filter blue light. I use one for my laptop as my favorite pre-bed activity is reading on my laptop. This allows us to continue enjoying our tv, but without the harmful blue lights that will negatively impact our sleep.
Speaking of reading, when it comes to stimulation, something that works for me is trying to read something more relaxing than not. For example, I read a lot of non-fiction but after a half hour of reading Noam Chomsky, the last thing I feel like is a restful night of sleep. Instead, try something more pleasant or soothing. Reading my physiology textbooks was always a surefire way to nod me off into sleep when I was a student.
Exercise is also something that should be avoided late at night. When I was a college student I always did my workouts at 9pm because it was the only time when the facility was mostly empty and I could use the equipment I wanted. What I didn’t notice then was how difficult it was to fall asleep after. That was because my body was still high on dopamine and endorphins, causing my brain to be hyperfocused and my heart rate to be elevated-making it difficult to sleep. If you simply must workout late because you have no other time, I would say better late than never, but try to be done at least 90 minutes before bed and avoid stimulating workout products, which brings me to point number 2…
2. 2. Smart Nutrition Choices. It might seem like a no brainer but if you want to have a good night of sleep you should avoid any sort of chemical stimulant like caffeine. Sometimes the work day seems to drag on and on and you simply cannot stand the idea of finishing that expense report at 4:30 without a pick me up. While it might feel like a good idea at the time, come 10pm when you roll over-looking for a comfortable sleeping position for the 8th time you will regret it. Do your best to consume no caffeine after 2pm. If you simply cannot keep your eyes open, try something less stimulating like a cup of tea rather than a coffee.
When it comes to other beverages, I would suggest not consuming any liquids inside of one hour before bed. This will decrease your likelihood of waking in the middle of the night. REM sleep, mentioned earlier, comes fairly late during our sleep cycle but it is the most important part. If our rest is interrupted with trips to the bathroom we limit our REM cycle or risk not entering it all, meaning that we wake up feeling stressed, sick, and tired the next day. Although eating a carb rich meal may seem like a guaranteed way to find sleep quicker, I would advise against excessive carbohydrate consumption in dinner or evening snacks. As the body sleeps it enters its lowest energy need state of the day. Carbohydrates are the body’s most readily available source of energy, so if we fuel it with energy only to turn off the engine, that energy decides to stick around and store itself for later when we need it. It does this in the form of fat, something most of us already have plenty of and are eager to get rid of. Avoiding late night carbs will not only help maintain healthy blood and body composition, it will also help us avoid feeling bloated or sluggish when we wake up. One less obstacle to clear when we wake up early to take on the day.
3. 3. Proper Prior Preparation. How many nights have you laid in bed worrying about whether or not you did everything you needed to do that day? Have you ever woken up in the morning and quickly pushed all thought of a meditation session or quick read to the back burner as you scramble to make the kids lunch in time for school, or rush to print your files for work or find the right outfit? All of these are things that cause us stress, will interfere with our rest and our morning, and they are all easily preventable. By planning ahead we can eliminate much of our stress. Make the kids their lunch the night before, one less thing to do in the morning. Pick out your outfit for the next day, then you can simply throw the clothes on in the morning, more time for you. One of the things that often causes me to lose sleep is thinking about the next day: when am I going to do this, what time is that, what about this? Something that has helped me rid my mind of these issues is making a to do list for the following day. It sounds simple but it works. If I take the time to review my schedule the previous evening, well before bed, I can remind myself what meetings I have and what preparation I may need to do the day of. I don’t make a regimented minute-by-minute breakdown, but I do give myself a general window where I will accomplish every task: meeting at 3, that means prep at 1. First call at 9, I will walk the dog at 8. At 12 I have a break, that is my lunch. The only errand I have is grocery shopping, I can do that on the way home. There, now nothing I have to do the next day is unaccounted for. Of course last minute changes can and do happen, and we have to be prepared to adapt, but by at least preparing for what we know is coming, we have controlled as much of our day as possible. My results here have been much more restful sleep and much more relaxed mornings. The added advantage is that the next day I can check the previous day’s list and confirm I did everything I needed to do. This eliminates worry as I try to get ready for bed.