I want you to think about your evenings as a sacred bookend to your day.
Establishing an evening routine to prepare your body and mind for restorative sleep is a simple but powerful tool for helping your body shift into healing mode for the night hours.
Let’s think of our evening routine like a bridge that is meant to take you from one state of being into another. You are literally preparing yourself for the crossing over from wakefulness to sleep, and your evening routine will be the intentional practice that helps you make that transition.
Many of us have gotten into the habit of treating sleep like a light switch. We try to squeeze the juice out of every wakeful moment and then try to “switch off” into sleep on a dime.
Our bodies were not made for that.
On a biochemical level, giving yourself a sacred book end of an evening routine resets your circadian rhythm by allowing your melatonin production to rise into the evening hours and heralds sleep. Melatonin is a critical hormone not only important for getting sleep, but also in your ability to stay asleep throughout the night. Sometimes we don’t think we have problems sleeping because we hit the bed and fall immediately to sleep, but we wake in the middle of the night and have a hard time returning to sleep, or we wake after a night’s sleep and feel unrefreshed and tired every morning. How you prepare yourself for sleep makes a huge difference in these cases.
So let’s work through a simple template to begin constructing an evening routine that works for you.
If your evening routine is like a bridge taking you from where you as you are ending your day to a place where your body and mind can fall into a deeper level of rest, then we need to think through all the places of “activity” we could still be plugged into as we try to go to sleep.
I’ve delineated these “layers” of activity in the following ways.
Work > Body > Mind > Spirit
After being engaged in the world all day long, the goal of your evening routine is to slowly disengage you from the world and bring you back inward to yourself to ready yourself for deep restorative sleep.
So we’ll begin there. The first part of the evening routine is to help disengage you from the outer world…this means from your work and the care of your home.
For each level we travel inward, I think of it as completing the circle and allowing the day to be done, fully closing the day in order to enter fully into the night.
So, if you are like me (and most all other women I know) part of your evening routine will be tending to details of your work—either or both business and home related.
It could be anything from computer work, phone calls, household chores or projects. Give yourself time as early in the evening as possible to focus on those things.
You’ll want to work backward from your ideal sleep time and set a time when you’ll allow yourself to tend to and bring closure to the tasks of the “world.”
For example, if you wanted to get to sleep by 10 pm, you may choose to give yourself from 8pm – 9pm to close the circle of your work for the day.
Create clear boundaries around your work or home time so there’s a start and stop time. At 9pm, you shift into your next layer of evening routine. What’s done is done…what’s not gets released.
This also makes your evening work time more efficient—you’re more likely to focus in and get the most important things done when you have a clear time limit for your work.
Once your work time is done, move one step inward and do something to calm your physical body.
This can be very simple, even the act of washing up, getting into PJs, and moisturizing your face is a way to ready your body for sleep.
Things that soothe your central nervous system—for example: a long warm bath, a hot towel scrub, or a foot massage—are simple ways to calm your body. I love to do a simple self massage or light stretching at night.
Another strategy is to turn off or dim the lights around the house during this time, giving your physical eyes an indication you are shifting into rest.
Artificial light disrupts the production of melatonin, so softening the light around you is an excellent part of your evening routine. In fact, this has been extremely helpful as I ready my kids for bed as well. About an hour before I want them in bed, I’ll turn off all screens and dim the lights in the house. We begin to do calmer activities like reading or coloring as we transition into our bedtime routines.
Next, in your evening routine, go one layer further inward and consider ways to calm and relax your mind.
I love to tap into limbic calming exercises. Actions like inspirational reading, meditation, or journaling can also help calm and ready your mind for deep rest.
Using essential oils are particularly powerful to calm and relax your mind. This is an especially important element to include if you find your mind races as soon as you hit the pillow. Allowing space to get your thoughts out of your head and into a journal gives them a place to go and creates more calm and peace in your mind.
Finally end with nurturing your spirit and aligning your heart with positive, life-giving affirmations.
I love including something right before bed that aligns with my spirit and symbolizes what I want to bring more of into my life. Prayer and gratitude journaling is fantastic at the end of the day.
Sometimes I’ll do some light inspirational reading before bed—a favorite is poetry as it engages your brain differently than a more cerebral, thought-provoking book.
Here’s what the above evening routine might look like:
8:00 pm :: Respond to work emails.
8:30 pm :: Put in a load of laundry, clean up the kitchen.
9:00 pm :: Dim the lights around the house. PJs, wash face and brush teeth. Perhaps a 5 minute foot rub with warm coconut oil and a few simple stretches.
9:15 pm :: Get out my journal and spend some time writing. I will also sketch out a quick schedule for the next day as well so anything I need to remember is captured on paper and I can release it from my mind. Breathe in Lavender, Ylang-Ylang or Geranium essential oils.
9:30 pm :: In bed, read some poetry, write in my gratitude journal, pray with hand over heart and allow myself to deeply relax.
9:45 pm :: Lights off and slip off to sleep. If I have trouble sleeping, I’ll also use some deep breathing exercises.
This is just a simple template to work through as you consider how to craft a meaningful bedtime routine that results in deeper, more restorative rest.
This doesn’t have to take a long time. I can do a couple of these things even in twenty-thirty minutes. I prefer giving myself a full hour but it isn’t necessary.
It’s the consistency, the predictability, and the new habit of prioritizing the care of yourself at the closing of your day. The symbol of saying your days are important and the closing of a day is something to be marked intentionally with loving care.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
1. Do you have an evening routine in place that helps you transition from wakefulness to rest?
2. Make a list of activities for each area of the evening routine that Lisa outlined above. How can you finish your work for the day? How can you prepare your body, mind and spirit for bed?
3. Commit to following your evening routine for at least a week and note any differences in the quality of your sleep and your wakefulness once that routine is in place.