There’s been a lot of talk recently on how to perfect our morning routines, but the last thing I want is for the equally important evening routines to be swept under the rug. 

Evening routines are essential because, unlike morning routines, they set us up for two things: wrapping up our day and, the ultimate goal, getting an amazing night’s sleep. In turn, getting an amazing night’s sleep will set you up again for the next day, where you can get started with that perfect morning routine. 

Now we all know that as we age, our sleep changes — but did you know just how drastically it changes? On average, individuals at age 20 get about 7.5 hours of sleep, while those around age 80 only get 5.8 hours of sleep. Also at age 20, people spend 20% of their sleep time in the really restorative, slow-wave sleep. At age 80, only 7.5% of that precious time is in REM. Yeah, you read those statistics correctly.

This is why it’s absolutely imperative that we cap our evenings off right! And remember, evening routines are subject to change over time, and what works for us at age 20 doesn’t necessarily work for us at 30, 40, 50 and beyond!

When you get right down to it, a perfect evening routine should have two goals: 

  1. How do we wrap up the day so we feel we can leave the day behind with a clear mind?
  2. How can we set ourselves up for that deep, glorious, restorative sleep that we all so desperately need? 

I think you’ll agree with me that there’s nothing worse than getting all cozied up and ready for bed, snuggling under those warm blankets, closing your eyes, and then having your mind run a million miles an hour going over all the things you said, did, didn’t do, chores that need to be completed, and the like. With these 5 steps toward a perfect evening routine, this will never happen again!

#1 The Good List

Let’s forget the done lists and the to-do lists and instead, try something new. Benjamin Franklin reflected in his memoirs that he had a classic way he’d approach his evening routine. At the beginning of every day, he would ask himself, “What good could I do today?” At the end of his day, he would ask himself again, “What good did I do today?

Instead of stressing over what got done during the day, how productive you were, or even what still needs to be done, let’s focus on the kind of positive impact you left on the day. This simple routine can flip your mindset into a more positive and fulfilled one. Whether you reflect on this solo while brushing your teeth, or with your partner or family as you wind down for the night, it can help you process the events of the day and bring some light, yet necessary, closure to the evening. 

#2 Brain Cool Down

I don’t know about you, but my old evening routine was usually about 10 to 15 minutes long and included washing my face, brushing my teeth, then hopping into bed with a book. But researchers have found that this is not enough time! Surprisingly, our brains actually need about 2 hours to cool down before it can really get into deep sleep. 

This means, about two hours before bed, you should start wrapping down your brain. The Journal of Advanced Nursing found that classical music is a great way to wind down, but so is meditating, journaling, or other calming activities. Avoiding spicy food is also recommended, as science has found that spicy foods tend to prolong the cool down time (add this into your fun fact repertoire, I can guarantee no one has heard this one before!).

And remember, evening cool down activities vary by person, so this may also mean no Netflix or texting for some!

I know this is a long period of time, which is why I’m intentionally calling it out to remind you to be more purposeful with your precious evening time. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep or not entering that full REM sleep, it’s likely you may not be giving yourself the full 2 hours to cool down. 

#3 Clear Clear Clear

Famous writer Henry James had a whole evening routine that we can learn a lot from. Each night, he would think about all the tasks he had for the day and make his to-do list for the next day. 

So often when we first wake up, we are completely overwhelmed by all the thoughts and tasks we’re facing for the day, and this anxiety can negatively affect those last precious hours of sleep. If you make your to-do list the night before, it helps clear your brain so it can actually wind down. 

With this, you are able to protect those two hours before bad, and those two hours right when you get up — this will make your mornings a lot easier, which will help you rest and relax as well. 

#4 Sleep Cave

The Mayo Clinic has done a ton of amazing sleep research and found that we need to start thinking of our bedroom like a cave if we want to get both quality and quantity sleep. Interestingly, it’s not just about darkness — temperature and sleep are equally important to us! Caves are pitch black, cool and quiet, which is precisely the kind of environment we need in order to sleep!

The Mayo Clinic has found that the ideal bedroom temperature is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. So remember this in the winter when you crank up your heat and are wondering why you feel so stuffy and unable to sleep!

#5 Tools Are Your Friend

There are several amazing apps out there specifically designed to help you sleep or monitor your sleep so it can get better. One of my favorites is Sleep Cycle. It’s one where you can put it on your pillow, and it will monitor how often you roll over and learn how you sleep. This helps you know how your sleep cycles are going, and you can learn what kind of evening cool down gets you the best sleep!

If you like to meditate, HeadSpace is another great one. No matter your meditation experience, the app can walk you through 5, 10 and 20 minute meditations to help you clear your mind and wind down before bed. They also have great mindfulness and gratitude exercises, to help each day. 

Last but not least, try to use lights without the blue spectrum. Research has found that the blue spectrum in lights and on our device screens actually keeps us awake and can disrupt our sleep! There are light fixtures you can use that have a more calming, natural light, and there are settings on your phone and computer that can disable the blue light and ease your eyes.

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and human behavioral investigator in our lab.

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