How to Create an Evening Routine
Do you know what one of the hardest things I’ve done this year is?
I’ll give you a hint.
It isn’t finding a therapist, getting up before 7:30 a.m. for two weeks, becoming certified in barre, standing in front of people every week and leading them through a fitness routine I designed, or packing for a cross-country move.
Nope, not any of those things.
It is…..maintaining a nightly routine. Call me crazy, but this challenge from #thelifejar has caused me so many frustrations and robbed me of precious sleeping hours.
Nothing about falling asleep is natural to me. It marks the end of a day, and all my opportunities to be productive or finish a task or talk to a friend disappear. I become a little sad as it ends. I create my own real-life Clockwork Orange experiment – making myself look at the tv screen, not blinking for fear of sleep, until I’m just so restless and irritable that sleep seems like my only option for a mood change.
OK. I admit this sounds a little bit crazy. Who doesn’t enjoy the fresh welcoming arms of slumber? Sleep is one of the only times we can actually not do ANYTHING and reap all kinds of rewards. Shouldn’t I be jumping up and down, rejoicing that I get to do this EVERY SINGLE NIGHT?
Because of this, I decided to write down “Figure out and implement an evening routine for two weeks.” I wanted something to calm my mind, prepare my body for sleep and make it something I look forward to every night. My hopes were to increase my quality of sleep and encourage myself to initiate the process of going to bed sooner.
My hypothesis didn’t quite work and the result of this challenge isn’t quite what I expected.
Although I had an idea of what type of routine I wanted to implement, I decided to turn to Google for inspiration. I explored the nightly routines of those people far more successful than me and actually found four common denominators about nighttime routines:
Turn off technology.
Ideally, it’s best to turn off all screens at least one hour before we go to bed. We all know the light from our screens (including tv and computer) contain rays that prevent us from falling into a deeper R.E.M. sleep. By removing that light from our eyes at least an hour before bed, we are guaranteed a better night’s sleep. If you’re curious to learn more, I challenged myself to this a couple years ago.
Most articles I read suggested abstaining from food at least one hour before bedtime. As we all know, when we eat, our digestive system starts working to break down that food and process it so our body can use it. This takes energy. That energy prevents us from relaxing and moving into deeper sleep cycles.
Before going to sleep, we should train our bodies to start relaxing. We can trigger our brains to start slowing down by engaging in relaxing activities. We can take a bath, read a book (fiction is suggested), play a game, meditate, flow through some relaxing yoga. Whatever causes your mind to slow down and your breath and body to follow, then do it! Some people say this calming activity should steer clear of anything with a screen, while other say it doesn’t matter if it puts you into a zen-like state. Do what works best for you but keep in mind that screen time does affect your ability to fall into R.E.M. sleep. Good alternatives to tv are podcasts and audiobooks.
Unanimously, gratitude was the number one nightly ritual suggested by everyone. Moments of reflection and thanksgiving allow us to consider what happens throughout our day and focus on the positive. As we fall asleep, we are filled with happy and gracious thoughts instead of stressful ones. We can practice counting blessings instead of sheep or take a few moments to journal them. Try to say something different every night or have a particular number of thanksgivings to proclaim each night.
Make a To-Do List or Don’t.
One of the more controversial routines I discovered was making a to-do list before bed. Proponents say the practice empowers us to know what to expect from the next day and sets us up for successful before the day even starts. Those against it purport by taking the time to make our list before bed, we aren’t giving our mind space to relax. Instead, we increase our chances of focusing on the next day and inviting in stress to our evening routine. I think it’s really up to our personality. If we receive peace in knowing what to expect from the next day, then a to-do list could have positive effects. If it instigates a downward spiral to stress and anxiety, then say no to the to-do list
After aggregating all the research, I decided on a routine. However, what I started with at the beginning of this experiment is not, in fact, the routine I now practice. In three weeks it evolved into what works best for me now.
At the beginning of the challenge, I started with the following plan (perhaps, I’m ambitious?):
- No technology for at least an hour before I go to bed. Instead I will read, write or embroider.
- Cleanse my face and apply all nightly creams and serums.
- Complete these four yoga stretches to calm my mind. While completing these stretches, I’ll chant “I am free to create the life I desire,” and “My intuition grows stronger everyday.” I try to repeat these two affirmations (along with about five more) to myself everyday.
- Crawl into bed and kiss my husband goodnight
- Complete my 5-Minute Journal Entry
- Write the following in my journal:
- To-Do List for the next day (no more than 10 things)
- What good I brought into the world today
- Where I could have improved my day
- What I felt were the day’s successes / most proud moments
- What I was most grateful for that day
- Inhale Plant Therapy’s Relax Essential Oil blend while I say my affirmations and imagine an amazing night’s sleep
- Roll the Plant Therapy Relax EO (diluted) on the back of my neck
- Turn off the light and go to sleep. I try to envision my perfect life and everything falling into place as I fall asleep
I’ll be the first to admit, maybe I bit off a little more than I could chew for my first attempt at an evening routine (or dare I say, ritual…). Like I mentioned at the beginning, this challenge was more difficult than I anticipated. I was correct in my assumption that I looked forward to completing these rituals, what I didn’t realize was the amount of time they would take me every night. From start to finish, it took about two hours to complete, which would have been reasonable if I actually maintained an earlier bedtime.
This is what my night actually looked like — Fall asleep on the couch next to my husband and one of our cats while watching television (at this point, it’s usually Frasier). Wake up around 1:30 to 2 a.m. from the couch – half grumpy / half asleep. Stumble into the bathroom and (hopefully) scrub my face, take my contacts out and brush my teeth. Alright, I’m feeling a little awake. Then I complete the yoga stretches, and now I’m a little MORE awake. Open my journal and start thinking about the day and reflecting on all the positives and negatives, and now I’m really awake. I inhale some Relax essential oils, and think “oh this smells nice,” but my mind is roused, which triggers my hand to reach for my phone. Hello, FaceBook, and now it’s 3 a.m., and I need to wake up at 6:45.
Obviously, my nights were not healthy. As much as I wanted to make myself start going to bed at a decent hour, I couldn’t. I don’t really have answers for that. My best guess is this state of limbo in which I’m existing. It’s almost time to move, and I’m trying to soak up as much time as I can with friends and this city.
The New Plan
I realized to still maintain a semblance of routine during this transition and to set the stage for success when I become settled in my new space, I would morph my nine-step routine into something much simpler.
Now, I follow three steps (1) Hygiene – Wash my face, brush my teeth and apply all the face lotions and serums; (2) Reflection – Think about the day ahead and think about what I am grateful for / loved about the day and how I could have improved the day; and (3) Relaxation – Take a few cleansing breaths, inhale my Relax essential oils, roll the diluted essential oils on the back of my neck, give my husband a kiss and cuddle next to Pixel.
This feels much more manageable, but I hope to return to my one-hour routine once we are settled.
Moral of the Story
And here’s the moral of the story: Be forgiving and flexible with yourself. Life is not consistent, and it can be challenging. Sometimes we can’t meet our lofty expectations, but we can learn from our experiences and pivot to invite happiness and not stress. For me, I became too awake and too stressed about checking off each of my nightly routine tasks, and it had an adverse effect on my sleep. Instead of fully giving up (I did abandon the routine for a few days), I adjusted it to something that felt right for me right now.
I’m thankful for this challenge and what it has taught me about myself, even if the lessons learned were a different than I expected.