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evening routine

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 209 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is about establishing an effective evening and bedtime routine.

I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com

Listen to Greg narrate this post on creating a an evening and bedtime routine in Episode 209 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

So today everyone we’ll be taking a question about forming a nighttime routine! Our asker today is on the right track by taking care of a lot of her morning necessities before bedtime, but the tradeoff seems to be that it’s making it hard for her to get to sleep. Those who have mastered difficulty sleeping know the value of winding down the right way, so today we’re going to try to help her to do that with some recommendations for how she can move her tasks around and be able to relax before bedtime. But first, let’s hear what she’s got to say…

QUESTION: “Right now I am struggling with developing an evening routine that is helpful and not exhausting. I have been working on a nightly routine that is consistent and prepares for the next day. What ends up happening is I come home and begin preparing for the next day. For example, I come home and pack my lunch, wash my dishes, pick out my clothes, pack my backpack, then tidy my house. By the time I finish all these tasks I don't have time to decompress for the day. I just feel busy and then I shower and go to bed.

Basically I do all my decisions in the night, so when I get up I spend less time making decisions. The things I would like to do are read, journal, paint, even watch a TV show, but I don't have time for these things unless I stay up late. If I push back my bedtime, then it makes it impossible for me to get up and exercise in the morning.”

Sleep Really Is Important

Sleep is so important! I love that I’ve received this question. Thank you for sending this in, asker, and for trying to do right by your circadian rhythm. I want to preface by saying that I’m in no way a sleep expert, but I intend to cite one person who is and fill in the rest as best as I can.

I’ll say that I think the forgotten soldier in this question is your morning routine. You mention all of these things you’re doing at night, and they all seem to be done just for the sake of having enough time to exercise in the morning.

The tasks seem to be distributed very unevenly, so it’s worth it to ask yourself how good you’re feeling in the morning.

Has your current approach had significant advantages on your morning routine? Has having the extra time made a huge difference, or could you handle a little more in the morning?

I’m going to assume you can, but first, let’s break down the stuff you’re doing at night.

The Details In Your Routine

Personally, I’m very into efficiency when it comes to tasks that are more necessary than enlivening. So I can’t help but to ask how vital it is to do everything you’re doing at night, as well as how distracted you are while doing it.

Does the house really need to be tidied up each and every night? Can you buy lunch once a week rather than always packing your own? Do you need to put a lot of time into picking out your clothes, or can it realistically be done in thirty seconds?

I know I can pick my clothes out in that timeframe, but you’re probably more fashionable than me. Maybe you can organize the clothes in your closet into pre-made outfits right when you do the laundry rather than searching through the closet to mix and match each night?

Part 1: Your Morning Routine and the Time It Takes

It’s important to ask yourself these types of questions, because a lot of the problem is likely what you believe to be true of each of these tasks, and how much time they should take. You may have forgotten that it’s okay to not always have an elaborate outfit or to leave a dish lying around for a full day before getting to it.

Of course you may take extra pride in such things, but it’s ultimately a choice as to how much time you want to devote to these things, and thus how much time you’re taking away from other things you’re realizing you want, like more free time at night.

What’s actually important? What’s worth the tradeoff? What can be moved to the morning or removed from your schedule altogether without any actual consequences?

See where these questions guide you and how you can adjust accordingly. There are certainly ways to do it, and they’ll present themselves if you’re willing to bend on the qualifications you’ve imposed upon all of the things you have to do.

Listen to Dr. Miller's thoughts on getting healthy sleep on Episode 1213 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

Part 2: Your Night Routine

So that’s Part 1 – seeing how you can adjust by cutting back, performing these duties with more focus, or moving some to the morning. From there, it’ll be important to create a timeframe for a new nighttime routine.

Start by deciding what time you want to go to bed and stick to it, committing to a regular schedule. Then, decide when you want to start winding down, and what you’re going to do to wind down.

Let’s say that right now you go to bed at 11 and don’t finish up your tasks until 10:30. Let’s approach this change in small increments and start by moving a half an hour worth of tasks to the morning, which would have you winding down at 10.

As you start to get a feel for what tasks you can cut back on or what tasks can happen in the morning while still keeping the morning enjoyable, you can ideally keep decreasing 15 minute increments at night until you feel satisfied with how much time you have to relax before bed.

Create a Bedtime Routine

And in that time between finishing your tasks and going to bed, focus on creating a ritual that you follow as closely as the time you go to sleep. You mentioned a few ideas in the question. If your bedtime is 11 and your first cutback is to start winding down at 10, maybe you turn your phone off and turn soothing music on at 10.

From 10 to 10:15, you read. From 10:15 to 10:45, you paint. From 10:45 to 10:55, you journal. Then at 10:55, you brush your teeth and can close your eyes by 11.

And you adjust a little bit here and there in search of a time that perfectly balances the time you take doing tasks at night, the time you have to wind down at night, and the time you have to do tasks in the morning.

Conclusion: A Better Evening and Bedtime Routine

And I’ll offer one final recommendation for healthy sleep that will further guide you in setting up not just your night routine, but your day routine; Craig Ballantyne’s 10-3-2-1-0 rule, which I don’t believe has been disputed by anyone.

What this rule states is that you should not go to bed within 10 hours of having consumed caffeine, within 3 hours of having eaten or drank alcohol, 2 hours of having worked, and 1 hour of having been in front of a screen. And 0 is the amount of times you should hit the snooze button in the morning.

I don’t know the specific research behind this, but it is something that I can confirm has helped my sleep and the sleep of those I’ve recommended it to. And for someone like yourself who wants a specific routine, it can give you some further direction as to how to when to stop eating, busying your mind, and using screens.

Thanks a lot to not just NuCalm for sponsoring this episode, but to our asker for making it possible. I’m really hoping what we talked about today is useful to you and that you can question not just your schedule, but your preconceived notions about your schedule in order to balance things out and get in the right frame of mind before drifting off. Needless to say everyone, sleep is right up there with water as something that is truly at foundation of how well we function and shouldn’t be neglected or overlooked. So anyone out there who still functions even though you know you aren’t sleeping well or enough, maybe genes are in your favor, but I’d still not pass over this episode lightly.

That’s going to do it for this one though, everyone. Thanks very much for being here and staying until the end. Have a wonderful weekend, sleep in, and I’ll catch you back here on Monday when we start a new week of OLA. Until then.

Listen to Greg narrate this post on creating a an evening and bedtime routine in Episode 209 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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