A few days ago I learned that my sleep quality was only about 50 percent this past month. This is because my bedtime schedule was inconsistent and so was my wake-up time. Most of the time I’d lay in bed, ruminating about the past, tomorrow’s tasks, or today’s events. Suddenly my mind would be flowing with what-ifs, should’ves, and if onlys. Then come the to-buy list, want-to-do list, and future-planning list. Minutes after, the image of that scary nun from The Conjuring or some other scary movie character pops up in my head and I’m wide awake, reaching for my iPad and opening Modern Family or Friends on Netflix. I find that this is the same pattern over and over for a while now — it’s way past my supposed bedtime but my mind’s awake even when my body seems exhausted. I realized this may be because of my evening routine.
My usual evening after a busy workday would be: scrolling through Twitter for about 40 minutes, eating dinner, skipping the shower and just wiping off my makeup, then plopping down the couch for some Netflix show. My reason was I’m too tired (read: lazy) to function. While I know this isn’t a healthy evening routine (I did follow a proper one prior to this month), I was too stubborn to change and so my sleep quality and mornings suffered.
Evening Routine Tips to Keep in Mind
Establishing a set of good habits before bedtime can reduce those late-night stress and mental spirals. And that’s what an evening routine is. By doing these same habits every night, you’re helping your brain associate them to sleep and keep you relaxed. While an evening routine looks different for everyone, there are two things that everyone should follow for quality sleep (and an effective next day):
Have a consistent bedtime and wakeup time. Our bodies like consistency. When we set a time to wind down and go to bed, our circadian rhythm adapts and eventually cues us for sleep and be refreshed the next morning.
Go to bed only if you’re tired. Even just laying in bed, mind running amok, waiting for sleep can be part of our evening routine if we let it. “If we spend too long each night in the bed worrying, then it can become the default response every time you lay down to sleep,” Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program, told GQ. If you can’t fall asleep 20 minutes in, do something sleep-inducing until you’re sleepy again.
Your evening routine doesn’t start an hour or 30 minutes before your bedtime. It starts as early as six hours before!
Cut off on caffeine 6 hours before bedtime
“But I need coffee to function at work in the midday!” you might whine. I get you. I feel you. I can’t seem to function without my tall cup of homemade iced caramel macchiato, too. But I found there are numerous healthier alternatives to our caffeine-induced labour:
Replace coffee with matcha. It disperses caffeine at a slower pace and retains your energy for a longer period of time. Less caffeine = better sleep.
Swap coffee with a non-alcoholic seltzer.
Diffuse peppermint, lemon, and citrusy essential oil blends. These scents help awaken your brain and boost your energy. You can also light candles in these scents as an alternative.
There’s nothing wrong with having your midday cup of joe as long as you drink it at least six hours before you go to sleep. Although we can feel the maximum effect of caffeine within 60 minutes of consumption, its half-life is around five hours.
Get ready for the next workday and completely log off work
As someone who works from home (as most of us have done amidst the ongoing pandemic), logging off work completely (i.e. not thinking about it or checking messages) can be hard to do. But it is essential in relaxing our mind and getting ready for sleep. An activity to help ease you out of your work mindset is by preparing for the next day. This could look like jotting down tasks to accomplish, laying out tomorrow’s outfit, time blocking or task batching, et cetera.
By doing this, you’re lessening your decision fatigue in the morning and it gives you a more relaxed morning routine, too! This also gives you a clear idea of which tasks to prioritize and need to accomplish the next day instead of feeling like you’ve done a lot without really achieving anything.
Set the mood
Do you really need to “set the mood”? “Can’t I just turn the lights off and call it a night?” Well, short answer long, setting the mood earlier than your bedtime cues and adjusts your body for sleep. Make it a ritual to turn your surroundings into the most relaxing, sleep-inducing space, and it will make all the difference — trust me, I’ve tried it!
Turn on dim, warm lights. Research shows that warm colors and red light therapy improve melatonin levels and sleep quality.
Dim your lights and change them to your preferred color. Another study in 2017 showed that being exposed to your preferred light color before bedtime can make you fall asleep faster than if you’re exposed to white light or complete darkness.
Set the temperature lower. The recommended thermostat is somewhere between 60° to 71° Farenheit. Since your body’s temperature decreases while sleeping, regulating a cool room temperature helps you settle into sleep and support your circadian rhythm.
Tidy up your space. This needs no explanation. As they say, “a clean space is a clear mind,” and a clear mind is definitely one ingredient to a more relaxed sleep.
Diffuse calming scents. While peppermint and citrusy scents are good for daytime; chamomile, lavender, and the likes are great for calming the mind and helping you drift off.
Do light exercises instead of intense workouts
We want to lower our body temperature and heart rate before bedtime, and doing active exercises would only result in the opposite. If you’re the type to exercise after work, I suggest doing low-intensity exercises or relaxing techniques instead if you can’t move your high-intensity workouts during the daytime. Here are some low-intensity activities you can swap for at night:
- breathing exercises
Evenings are the perfect time to focus on yourself and give what your body needs. Especially if you don’t have time in the morning!
Take a warm bath or shower
As I’ve said before, we want to decrease our body temp and heart rate to maintain that good night’s sleep. A warm bath or shower creates a tiring and relaxing sensation that can induce a sleepy aftereffect.
Indulge in a skincare routine
Take off the stress of the day, and pamper your skin with nourishment. Everyone’s skincare routine is different. While I may spend 10 minutes on taking care of my skin, some only need five — and that’s completely fine! The important thing is to listen to what your skin needs and take action.
Remove blue light 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed
Our devices — yes, even the TV and our tablets — emit blue light, which tricks our brain into thinking it’s daytime and restrains it from producing melatonin. Now, this is something I struggle with because I just can’t sleep without hearing Phoebe, Monica, and the rest of the gang in the background! If you’re like me, or if the situation just can’t be helped, make sure that you turn on your device’s red light filter so it won’t disrupt your circadian rhythm as much.
You can also use this time to listen to a calming playlist — your personal curation or a public one — to replace screentime. There’s even a study claiming that listening to relaxing music helps people sleep.
Other slow or sleep-inducing activities you can swap with screentime are:
- reading a fiction book
- drinking a cup of warm sleep-inducing drink
- sketching or painting
- jigsaw puzzling
Most of the time we tend to ruminate in bed over the things weighing on our minds. As a result, we focus on these anxious thoughts instead of peacefully sleep. Putting these thoughts from mind to paper gives that visualization of them leaving your mind and can ease these anxieties before bedtime. When journaling, write down the thoughts bothering you, and even note a potential solution to help you feel prepared to face them; list one good thing that happened; and recall the events that happened and tasks you’ve done for a sense of accomplishment.
(Story by Assistant Editor, Carmela Valencia)