You look at the time on your phone, it’s about an hour past when you should be going to bed now, probably time to call it a night.
You head to the bathroom to spend 30 seconds giving your teeth a once-over then slump into bed where you spend the next 45 minutes thinking about that computer game you were just playing.
The use of blue light in our phones and TVs and computers along with stimulating evening activities are a recipe for poor and insufficient sleep.
But what if we could turn that round and have an hour or half an hour before bed that felt productive, meaningful and actually helped us get to sleep?
This article is going to give a full run-down of all the productive stuff you can get done with a small part of your evening dedicated to a routine.
Read on for why you should make your bedroom like a cave and also why spicy food and classical music are polar opposites in sleep terms!
What are we aiming to do with an evening routine?
The central idea of an evening routine should be to have a period of time that helps you gear up for going to bed while simultaneously using that time as a period of self-reflection and productivity.
Your brain needs to unwind to sleep and it will do that regardless. That can happen in the hour before bed as you peacefully go about your routine or it can happen as you toss and turn in your bed for 2 hours.
So it makes sense to have some time where you avoid things that stimulate your brain and make it more active so that your sleep quality improves and the time it takes for you to fall asleep is minimal.
Self-reflection is considered in self-help circle to be one of the key ingredients of success.
In his book, Ready Fire Aim, Michael Masterson espouses the benefits of reflecting and adjusting based on your experiences in the field of entrepreneurship.
The idea being you prepare what you are going to do (Ready), do it (Fire) then reflect and adjust course (Aim) – flipping the usual version of the phrase. (If you’re firing a gun or arrow then I still recommend going with a Ready Aim Fire philosophy though…)
Lastly, we want to be productive so that we can put our head on the pillow without having our inner monologue run through to-do lists, worries, plans for the day after or any other unhelpful thoughts that will stop us sleeping.
The reason self-reflection and some forms of productivity are so good to include in the period before bed is because they are relaxing rather than stimulating.
How long should I make my routine?
There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to how long your evening routine is, and the truth is that however good the intentions, a 3 hour long winding down process is going to quickly get jettisoned in favor of more compelling activities like bingeing Netflix some more.
Nevertheless, there are a few restrictions that I think that can help you fall asleep that should be followed if at all possible.
(Feel free to ignore if you’re a super sleeper who’s lights are out the minute your eyes are closed.)
It has been claimed by some that 2 hours is the amount of time your brain needs to wind down. This is obviously personal, we all know someone who can fall asleep within seconds of their head touching the pillow.
But 2 hours is a good rule of thumb to understand that your brain doesn’t just switch off from mentally stimulating activities.
That said, I only have two rules that I follow myself. I will make sure that for at least one hour before I sleep I will have no blue light, ideally, that’s without looking at a phone or any type of screen but at the very least I’ll make sure I used a filter.
On a good day, that one hour period is where I fit in the things I like to do in my evening routine. My other rule is that I will not eat within 4 hours of bedtime and definitely not anything high in carby foods like starches, grains or sugars.
This helps for so many reasons that I’ll get into in just a second. You are going to want to tweak this around your own lifestyle and how long it takes you personally to wind down.
19 Ideas For An Evening Routine – Contents
1. Avoid Blue Light
2. Use A Sunset LED Lamp
3. Don’t watch tv or play video games
4. Don’t check your phone
5. Start your routine so you get 8 hours of sleep
6. Clean up
7. Brush your teeth
9. Reflect On Your Day
12. Plan the next day
13. Get your clothes ready for the next day
14. Classical Music
15. Pack a lunch for the next day
16. No eating!
17. Put the AC on
18. Make your bedroom like a cave
19. Get your sleep tracker ready
Avoid Blue Light
Blue light is the light that our ancestors would receive only from the sun, it would pass through our eyes and send signals to our brain telling us when it was daytime and when it was nighttime.
This helped us program our circadian rhythm and perform bodily processes and monitor hormones throughout the day that kept us healthy and happy. But then the 21st century happened.
These days practically everyone has a device in their pocket or their bedroom or living room that is capable of emitting artificial light that ruins our sleep patterns.
By taking in the blue light that our brains use to calibrate daytime and nighttime we throw a spanner in the works which can affect sleep and research is indicating may potentially cause disease.
The most sensible advice which is echoed by Harvard Medical School is to keep blue light to a minimum of 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
Not using screens is ideal but impractical for most people, so use a blue light filter such as the ‘Night Shift’ feature on your iPhone or downloading an app like ‘Flux’ for your computer.
It does also help to make sure you’re getting some sunlight during the day to help your circadian rhythm while also filling up on that good Vitmin D.
Now, if you’re really sharp, you’ll look at some of the modern stuff we’ve invented that allows us to get back to using light in a more natural way, which leads me on to…
Use A Sunset LED Lamp
So now you udnerstand the dangers of blue light, let’s talk about yuor general lighting.
It’s common for most people to use lamps or dimmer lighting in the evening, not everyone of course, but personally, I can’t stand having full lights on at nighttime. It’s important you avoid turning on any fluorescent lighting or LED lighting – this is where the blue light is.
One new invention that’s definitely worth a loko at is using a sunrise alarm clock. This is like a normal alarm clock except it uses light to gradually wake you up for 30 minutes before your actual alarm, mimicking a more natural wake up that comes from the sun.
These things can also function in the evening to mimic a sunset, which can gradually take you through your evening routine to a more natural sleep.
If you like the sound of this, be careful you don’t get a cheap knockoff from China, this is not an area to skimp on. You can read the one I recommend here, which is the only sunrise alarm clock that has had studies proving its effectiveness.
Don’t watch tv or play video games
I’m a total sucker for computer games with elements of strategy or problem-solving, as such, if I start a save of something like Civilization V then I’m likely to spend the next eleven hours barely moving from my seat as I plot a glorious world conquest for the Babylonian Empire.
Aside from the dangers of staying up too late, games like this are very stimulating for the mind. I remember more than once going to be at something ridiculous like 4am and still not being able to sleep because my brain was so wired.
So what we want to do is limit things that stimulate your brain for some period before bed. Whether that’s computer games, tv, word searches… we all have our own poison.
In my experience, I’ve found I need at least an hour for my brain to slow down after doing something like this, but the amount of time is something you’ll want to experiment with.
Don’t check your phone
The smartphone that you carry around with you all day is one of the crowning achievements of the human race to date.
The fact that nearly everyone (at least in developed countries) has access to the wealth of human knowledge and history all able to be accessed remotely and instantly is nothing short of astounding. The thing is, it’s too good.
If you’ve been paying attention then this will come as no surprise, but it’s so important it’s worth giving its own section. The apps on your phone that you use are created and modified by super smart tech dudes who are looking to make you use their app more so their company makes more money.
It’s for this reason that you find yourself scrolling through newsfeeds or updates or messages even when you’re bored and not really enjoying it. It has literally been engineered to be addictive.
And when you throw in the danger of blue light and the stimulating nature of the amount of information you are subjected to in any given 5-minute browse of Instagram, then leaving your phone alone for a little while before bed is just a good idea.
What I do is put it on airplane mode so that I won’t get interrupted by any messages as well.
Start your routine so you get 8 hours of sleep
It has been estimated that the average American is getting a whole hour less sleep nowadays in comparison to the 1940s.
What’s more, there are experts who are saying that more and more people are becoming chronically sleep deprived. We function better with an adequate amount of sleep, we are happier and we are healthier.
So the cornerstone of any evening routine should be to ensure that it results in a full night’s sleep.
I recommend working out the amount of time your routine will take you and adding 5-10 minutes then do that amount before a bedtime that guarantees 8 hours of sleep. So for example, you’ve got to wake up at 7am which puts a bedtime of 11pm to get 8 hours sleep.
So you’ve got a 40-minute evening routine in mind, so being to think about winding down about 10.10pm.
Get your stuff done, no electronics, nothing stimulating and providing your general sleep hygiene is good you can expect to fall asleep quickly and wake up feeling pretty good the next day.
On the point of using 8 hours as an amount of sleep, this is the recommended amount for most adults. It’s slightly higher for young adults and teenager (8.5-9 hours) and falls to 7 or even 6 hours as you get older.
There are some people, known as short sleepers, who can remain healthy and happy despite getting amounts of sleep that would leave others exhausted and miserable. We’re talking as low as 4-5 hours in some cases. You probably aren’t one of these people.
By the way, don’t worry about leaving extra time to fall asleep, that’s already included in the 8 hours (technically it’s five 1.5 hour cycles + 30 minutes to fall asleep).
So if we accept that the last hour or so before bed is a terrible time to watch tv or play computer games or mess about with our smartphones, then what on earth do we do instead?
The first suggestion I’d like to make is to spend a small amount of time, 5-10 minutes say, tidying and cleaning.
You’d be amazed at how effective cleaning in small amounts done on a regular basis is. The big problem people have with cleaning is that they put it off for a while, and the longer they put it off the bigger a task it becomes, leading to it being put off even further.
By setting a small amount of time to cleaning you can incrementally make your house or apartment a nicer place to live and with none of the daunting intimidation because you’re only doing 10 minutes and then you can stop.
You’ll notice that this suggestion, like many here, require no use of electronics or blue light emitting devices and are tasks that lean towards being menial rather than exciting, which is exactly what you want to prepare yourself for bedtime.
Brush your teeth.
The next boring but perfect-because-we-want-to-do-boring-stuff is to brush your teeth. This is the one that probably makes it onto most people’s current evening routine, whether they think they have an evening routine or not.
Be smart and get your dental hygiene in order by doing it for at least two minutes to start with, you should time it because 120 seconds is a looooong time when you’re brushing your teeth.
Also, you should floss because that’s good for your teeth too.
Get your clothes ready for the next day
We all know mornings can be unpleasant, and choosing what to wear can lead to some undesired complications as anyone who has ever left the house without a belt can attest to. Do ‘next morning you’ a solid and get the outfit you want to wear out the night before.
Those who practice regular meditation or mindfulness have been shown to reduce anxiety, have less negative thoughts, react better to stress and are generally happier. Sounds pretty good, right?
There is also mounting consensus that meditation is extremely effective in curing insomnia and I can speak from my own experience that learning to empty your mind and then using that as you try to sleep has been a life-changing technique for helping me sleep.
You can read about my experience and what I’ve learned in my article about it here.
Reflect On Your Day
It’s common knowledge among teachers that getting students to reflect on their own work enhances learning and leads to better grades and other outcomes.
In the military, they have a debrief at the end of every mission where they talk about what went well, what went badly and what could be improved upon. There’s something in the act of thinking about what you’ve done that can help you in the future.
So a nice inclusion in your evening routine is to don the hat of a teacher or the helmet of a soldier and think about your day.
The highs, the lows, and what you’d like to do in future. You can include some gratitude in here, maybe even prayer if you are that way inclined.
And this quote that I cannot attribute unfortunately, might give you a little suggestion you can take on board.
If you’re really interested in achieving your goals, you will review them twice per day.
Journalling is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time.
That’s a nice quote, isn’t it? It comes from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, by the way. Ignoring any associations with bloodlust or vampirism, it highlights nicely how the act of writing down one’s thoughts or reflections can be a process that borders on a dialogue with one’s self.
If you’re the writing type (or even if you’re not!) then spending some time at the end fo the day jotting down your thoughts can be peaceful, relaxing and contemplative.
And you must use a pen and paper, we don’t want any more blue light that we have to and there is something much more soothing about the scribbling of wet ink on dry paper.
We all wish we read more. The vast tomes of knowledge and stories and imagination that has been penned down is more than you could spend several lifetimes enjoying, but most of us find it difficult to spend even a solid hour a week reading.
So if we’re banning screens and blue light and stuff, then what better chance to spend 20 minutes or so enriching your life through reading?
And famed internet ‘improvement dude’ and writer of the 4-hour work week Tim Ferris incorporates reading as part of his evening routine, and has this to say about his choice of material.
I’ll sit down and I’ll read fiction. I’m not gonna read something like a non-fiction business book, that’s gonna keep my problem-solving apparatus in sixth gear. That’s not helpful, I need to turn that off.
Plan the next day
Here’s one of my personal favorites that basically has to be part of my evening for me to be a functional human being.
Spending a little time looking at to-do lists, goals and seenig what needs to get done the next day provides a real sense of clarity in understanding what you need to do each day while also stopping those little mistakes where you forget something important.
Of course, this all ties in better when you have a good organizational system, to-do lists, calendars, notes, whatever is your bag. It’s also one of the few times where I accept using a computer or other screens, if you’ve got a blue light filter on then it’s not so bad.
Listen to classical music
It has been scientifically proven that if you listen to classical music 45 minutes before bed, it helps ease you into a night full of Zzzs.
This is a quote from a Classic FM article about the best music to listen to before bed.
Ignoring the blatant bias of the folks over at Classic FM, the science behind the efficacy of using music to sleep is complicated but well supported. A meta-study on the subject found 10 high-quality studies that agreed it can have a positive effect.
While classical music is commonly cited as helping sleep, it is not necessary and there is other music that has similar qualities that can work.
The first component is to use music without words, nothing that can get into your brain and excite or stimulate you. The next component is to choose music that does not provoke strong emotion, whether negative or positive.
Finally, music that is slower seems to be more effective, with music having a bpm of 60 which is a beat per second seeming to be the ideal.
Something I’ve been enjoying is ‘Computer Generated Classical Music’ which you can find on Spotify.
It’s procedurally generated by advanced AI that analyses classical composers and creates its own compositions based on that. And it’s really, really good. And also a bit spooky!
Pack a lunch for the next day
Ever heard of the ‘Latte Effect’? It’s an idea that runs through personal finance circles that higlights the power of small but recurring purchases can really add up.
It’s usually applied to a daily coffee but for this example, I’m going to use buying lunch instead. Let’s say you spend $8 on food at lunchtime because you didn’t bring anything that day. If you do this 3 times a week for 50 times a year then that’s $1200 per year that you’re throwing away!
Making food is a peaceful process that can be done with some light music playing, making it a perfect addition to an evening routine.
It’s also something that when done regularly will lead to your wallet and your waistline being very happy, as you’ll be spending less and eating healthier.
Taking in energy before you need to rest is quite simply, a bad idea. So avoiding any kind of food, but particularly carb-heavy or big meals in the period before you sleep is a must if you want to settle down quickly.
In fact, this bullet point should be taken more seriously even earlier in the night, you want to leave at least 4 hours between your last meal and any food that you intake. And there are certain foods which you may want to watch out for.
The first of these is spicy food. There is much evidence that shows eating spicy food can be hazardous to sleep quality and ability to fall asleep. It’s unclear exactly what causes the problems.
One theory is that the spiciness raises the core body temperature which as I’ve mentioned is a major impediment to falling asleep in a reasonable time frame.
It has also been linked to digestive trouble or causing nightmare inducing brainwaves, none of which sound pleasant.
The second food you must avoid is carb-heavy stuff, like sugars, starches, grains, and all their derivatives. All carbs get broken down into sugars such as glucose or fructose which gives you a source of fast-acting energy and spikes your blood sugar.
There is growing evidence that a diet in general that is low in carbohydrate can make falling asleep easier too.
Do yourself a favor and avoid carbs as much as possible in the 3-4 hours before bedtime and your evening routine will be so much smoother.
Put the AC on
Your body is constantly regulating and producing hormones that keep you happy and healthy, way to go body!
One of these hormones is called Melatonin, it is sleep inducing and is what your body makes when it approaches the nighttime to help you fall asleep. the problem is your body finds it difficult to produce this stuff when your core body temperature is above a certain amount, which is why it’s so much harder to sleep during a heatwave.
Bearing this in mind, it is advisable to make your bedroom cool as your bedtime draws near. That might be blasting the AC for a short while or opening a window, perhaps even turning a fan on.
This will give your body the optimal conditions in which to fall asleep. Live in a cool climate where your bedroom is painfully cold all the time anyway? Excellent! You’ve got nothing to worry about then!
According to the available literature, the optimal temperature for good sleep seems to be between 60F and 67F, with a temperature above 75F and below 54F being disruptive to sleep and are therefore inadvisable.
Make your bedroom like a cave
A cave is a perfect place to model your bedroom on, as it has all the necessary qualities that you need for good sleep. That is, caves are cool, dark and quiet.
(I don’t recommend any of the other qualities of a cave such as a rocky floor or sharing your bed with tarantulas!)
I covered making your room cool just above, but what about spending a little time in the evening making it darker or quieter?
The first step to rid making your bedroom darker is to eliminate all small sources of light. Standby lights on TVs, alarm clocks, light that comes through the door. You want to remove every light source that you can. The biggest thing you can do is to install blackout curtains.
These are super thick curtains that absorb all light and are designed so they should cover all of the window so it allows no external light in.
I’ve said time and again that the best sleep I ever got was in an apartment that had these things in. I could’ve been blind, it felt that dark!
In terms of making your bedroom quieter, you’re going to find it more difficult. Most noise will be external and you can hardly put a sign outside asking the cars to drive slowly and quietly when they go past your house…
My preferred solution is to use high-quality ear plugs. For me, they are a must as I get woken up very easily by small noises, but when it comes to that, they are a total godsend.
The best thing is that modern ear plugs are unlike what they were 20 years ago, it’s scarcely believable how good some are at dampening sound. You can read about the ones I recommend here.
Get your sleep tracker ready
Here’s a picture of a night’s sleep I took recently, as tracked by the sleep tracker on my iPhone.
You can see how I moved between the different stages, when I was getting REM sleep, how much deep sleep I got. There’s plenty of more information it gives you too.
If you’re concerned about your sleep quality and the amount of the restorative deep sleep you’re getting, then this can be a really useful thing to plug in just before you hit the hay.
The sleep tracker I use is an app on my phone called ‘Sleep Cycle’, you set it on a bedside table where the microphone faces the bed and it automatically picks up vibration and movements which tell it which phase of sleep you’re in.
It works, I believe, by associating certain periods of more or less movement with different stages in the sleep cycle. You can also use your Fitbit or buy specific sleep trackers which do a similar job.
There is some debate as to these apps or devices efficacy, but I find them fairly accurate just from my own observation.
For example, when I track my sleep after a big night of drinking, the sleep tracker shows me a complete disaster of a graph in the morning which agrees with the fact that alcohol has huge negative effects on sleep quality.
Like this? Well, you should totally check out my sister list of 25 Morning Routine Ideas For A Productive Start To Your Day.