how to find a nighttime routine

My Nighttime Routine

Remember a while back when I was determined to find a morning routine?

And remember how after a few tries I figured out that my mornings do kind of have a routine, but that routine is simply organized chaos?

I kind of gave up on the idea of trying to squeeze things into my mornings, especially my weekday mornings, because I think I’m always going to be someone who gets done what needs to get done, and leaves room for nothing else. And that’s okay. As the poet Ke$ha once said, “we R who we R.”

However, I have not completely given up on the idea of a routine.  In fact, over the last few months, I’ve found great comfort in sticking to a nighttime routine.

When I was little (and honestly, still quite often today) I had a lot of trouble falling and staying asleep. I often had a lot of anxiety around the concept of sleep, and of the responsibilities that awaited me when I woke up. I also tended to be just plain scared of the dark, as it’s unsettling and, seemingly, unsafe.

Needless to say, I like to get in bed, fall asleep, and stay asleep until the sun comes up. And finding a routine that invites in that deep sleep has been very helpful for me.

So, if you are someone looking to add some routine to your evenings, or just need something else to focus on other than the impending workday, I thought I’d share some of the staples in my nighttime routine.

Note: While sometimes I do these in a kind of “order” it is neither rigid nor consistent. These act more like items on a checklist rather than blocks of a schedule.


1) Skin care

I’m not here to tell you to do 78 steps of skincare. I’m not even here to tell you to do five. I just know that finding a routine and doing it consistently has made my skin happy for the first time in *literally* 15 years. I used to always skip a step here or there, saying that I was too tired or that I didn’t really need to do them all because I assumed, I don’t know, I could overcome breakout prone skin with shear will. It was only about a year or two ago when I decided, okay, I will do every single step, every single day, and see if I can stop breaking out like I’m still 16 years old. And even though it took a little bit for my skin to adjust, once it did, it was like, FINALLY, GIRL, I’ve been waiting for this! My skin still isn’t “perfect”, but I feel like it’s no longer mad at me, and as a result, I no longer dream about peeling it off my face. So that’s nice.

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2) Go through my to-do list

When I was doing research on how to find a revitalizing morning routine, I constantly saw things like “set intentions” or “go through your to-do list” as an important item. It is supposed to put you in the right mindset for the day, putting your priorities in the right place and jumpstarting your motivation. But for me, my biggest goal in the morning is finding a way to get up. I don’t have time (or energy) to go through my to-do list because what I’d like to do is go back to sleep. However, I have found that going through my to-do list at night allows me to plan out my next day, making me feel like I’m a little more ready for it. I check off what I got done and I review what’s still left to accomplish, and I start brainstorming how I can be productive the next day. It’s nothing too intense. In fact, I mostly just scroll through the list, make a few mental notes here and there, and then move on. It’s a way for me to center and quiet my mind, preventing it from spinning off in a million different directions and causing me to panic.

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3) Duolingo

I’ve been taking Spanish on Duolingo for a few years now and I have been very excited with my progress. Within the app, your “daily goal” is completed when you do about two lessons, and this takes maybe 10 minutes. I tend to do my Spanish when I get in bed and I start to have that internal argument about whether or not I should stay on my phone. I get a weird kind of separation anxiety about putting my phone down and not getting to see or know anything else until the next morning. But often when I give in a little, I take full advantage, staying on my phone for way too long. So, I’ve been using Duolingo as a kind of farewell to screen time. Once I finish my Spanish, I am finished with my phone for the day.

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4) Journal

One of the best ways I have found to quiet a pacing mind is to put all of those paces on paper. Sometimes I don’t know how hard I’m thinking or overthinking until I start to write about it, and then all of sudden I’ve filled pages and pages with thoughts and feelings. Journaling for me is like having a long, deep talk with a friend right before bed. You can get everything out, take that deep sigh of relief, and then relax.

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5) Read

The very last thing I do at night is read. After I’ve turned off all the lights, I lay down with my Kindle and tuck in with the latest chapter of whatever book I’m reading. Depending on the night, I will sometimes do this with my phone, because at this point, I am looking for that final distraction, that something to help me think about anything other than the spirals in my mind. More often than not however, my phone offers both a distraction from what I’m thinking about and a bridge to all new reasons to panic. With social media, I never know what I’m going to scroll by, so at times it feels like I’m waiting for a bomb to drop, for something to pop up that sets my brain on fire—which I usually try to put out by continuing to scroll, as if I’ll find something to undo it. Reading however, both relaxes and engages my mind. It asks me to pay attention to one story, and that story slowly invites in sleep. I always sleep better when I read before bed, and it’s nice not waking up with a headache or that feeling that, you know, I stared at a tiny screen three inches from my face for two hours in the dark.

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In a way, I have tried to make these things somewhat Pavlovian, tricking my mind into thinking that, once we go through this routine, we must sleep. We have to sleep, because there is nothing else to do.  I have come a long way since I was little and am much better equipped to manage my emotions and calm myself down, but some nights the panic is hard to escape, and it can compound with the fear of being overtired the next day, making it a viscous spiral. Having a routine makes me feel more in control, which gives me a sense of peace.

We all want to get a good night’s sleep, and this is how I believe I set myself up to do just that.


Do you have anything you do as part of your nighttime routine?