Tell me if this sounds familiar… We wake up in the morning to the buzz of an annoying alarm that jolts us out of bed. Before we can even wipe the sleep from our eyes, our mind has come up with 10 different versions of “I need more sleep,” “How am I still exhausted?”, or “It can’t really be time to get up yet.”
If we can muster the courage to look at ourselves in the mirror, we notice puffy bags under our eyes that only seem to get darker by the day. We’ve already started trying to tune out the thoughts racing though our head about all the work we have to get done. Thinking about the upcoming events of the day, we mindlessly rush through the morning feeling behind schedule constantly trying to catch up. Catch up to what? We might not even be sure, but there is definitely a sense of being behind. Three coffees into the day, we start to feel like we can at least function in the world. Complaining and grumbling through the workday leaves us nodding off at the desk by late afternoon. By the time we make it home from work, our mind is running on fumes, unable to make the simple decision of what to have for dinner. Stressing about what to make to eat, and the debate of whether or not we have enough energy to make it in the first place, leads to us choosing the most convenient, unhealthy (highly processed) option. All the while our mind starts speaking up about how we know we should be eating healthier. After somehow finding a way to keep the self-deprecating thoughts in check, we find ourselves with only enough energy left to slump down on the couch, scroll through our phones, and binge watch Netflix for the umpteenth night in a row. All the while, there is a little voice in our head battling back and forth about how we need to be doing this or that, or how we should be more productive, or how can we do anything else when we have this little energy. The sun sets, we sink deeper into the couch and after just one last episode, we realize, it might be a good idea to try to get into bed, even though we just lie awake anyway. Tossing and turning leads to the annoying alarm buzz and hooray, we get to do it all over again. Oh and that’s not to mention throwing the chaos of caring for children into the mix.
There is no denying how exhausting this cycle can be, and I’m willing to bet, at one time or another most of us can relate to an aspect or two of that little picture. Most of us have heard this before, but it bears repeating: we are creatures of habit. Most of us (whether we are aware of it or not) thrive with a little structure and routine in our lives (some more than a little). We often create routines or habits we aren’t even aware we have. It can even lead to the point I am eluding to above, where our entire day is a routine we feel we have no control over. We may recognize it, but that does little to pull us out of the unhealthy habits or routines we find ourselves performing day in and day out. I bring all of this up in hopes to encourage us all to become a bit more aware of the routines we engage in on a daily basis. And if we find ourselves in the midst of mindlessly engaging in unhealthy routines, we must find a way to break that cycle. One way to break that cycle is to take action and create different, healthier morning and evening routines.
People often talk about the benefits of a solid morning routine (myself included), but many of us neglect the just as important evening routine. Creating a healthy evening routine can make all the difference between getting a restful night of sleep, which leads to a fresh start the next day vs. the familiar pattern of restless sleep and feeling constantly behind schedule from the moment we wake up. Changes to our evening routine can be exactly what we need to break that cycle of unhealthy behavior and pull us from the nightmare of living our days similarly to the way I mentioned above. It is important to create a routine that signals to the mind and body that it is time to wind down. It is time to start preparing for sleep. Unfortunately, the evidence is clear that all the light emitting from our devices and TVs trick our brains into thinking it’s day time. Evolutionarily, we were never meant to stare into little black boxes that emit wild arrays of light anytime we want. Our brains can get pretty jumbled when it experiences the equivalent of daylight beaming into our eyes for multiple hours per night. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this, but shutting down electronics at least 2-3 hours before bed is a powerful aspect of any respectable evening routine that can affect not only the quality of our sleep, but also how long it takes to get to sleep and how much time we spend in the restful, deep stages of sleep.
There can be many “right” ways to create an evening routine. This is not a one size fits all venture. What works for me, may not work for you, but the point remains, a healthy evening routine can make a massive difference for many aspects of our health. Here are a few more ideas for things you may want to add to your evening routine. Take a warm bath or shower about 1 hour before bed. Listen to music that relaxes you- there are some really great playlists out there, not to mention a wide range of apps with relaxing music, ambient sounds or white noise. There are many different relaxation techniques one could incorporate into a healthy evening routine. Simple stretching, yoga, breath work and meditation are all staples in my evening routine and I’d recommend that anyone give them a try. Reading or journaling are also great options that cannot be overlooked. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so I encourage you to explore other possible strategies that may work for you. The point being to try a few things out, hold onto what works and let go of the things that don’t resonate or aren’t as helpful. Whatever you decide, it’s almost always a better option than that mindless nonsense of vegging out on the couch week after week, while you internally berate yourself because you want to be getting more from life. It’s time to break that cycle and creating a new, healthy evening routine just might do the trick.