When you identify the need to become more intentional with your time, I’ll bet good money that sorting out your morning routine is the first thing that springs to mind. And don’t get me wrong – I’m all about a great morning routine – but the truth is that it is nothing without a night routine checklist to back it up.
A nighttime routine is the foundational structure that no one really sees that allows you to be that girl with a killer morning routine. They really are just two sides of the same coin.
If you find that you’re consistently hitting snooze when the alarm goes off – even though you want to get up earlier and have the best intentions – then you’re probably not setting yourself up with the right systems to help you achieve your goals.
This bedtime routine and free checklist will help you to lay the groundwork for success – physically and mentally preparing yourself for the next day. Get your pre-bedtime routine on autopilot and see the positive effects for yourself!
The Benefits of a Planned Evening Routine
A set nighttime routine is a self-care ritual and cornerstone healthy habit that has so many positive ripple effects in your life. If you’re in any doubt – let’s take a look at some of them.
You stop wasting time scrolling or watching Netflix
I know that for me personally, the only consistent thing about my past evening routine (if you can even call it that) is that it used to predictably spiral out of control. Whether it was scrolling for late-night deals before free next-day delivery ran out at midnight, or getting lost down a rabbit warren of YouTube videos and wondering how the hell I ended up there – 9pm could quickly become 1am in the blink of an eye.
And even then, I still needed to take my makeup off.
I’m not saying that you can’t spend time relaxing with your favourite TV show, but you should make a conscious effort to switch off from electronic devices (Kindles exempted!) at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted from screens has been proven to block melatonin production, so you’ll just feel overly stimulated when you should be winding down.
A bedtime routine improves the quality of your sleep
So many of us undervalue sleep. We worry about the next fad diet or getting to the gym, but we regularly miss out on the optimum amount of shut-eye. In fact, according to a recent study, nearly three-quarters of UK adults do not get the recommended 7-9 hours a night, and 14% survive on under 5 hours – a dangerously low level of sleep.
Diet, exercise, and sleep are the three pillars of a healthy lifestyle. Have a read of Matthew Walker’s fascinating book Why We Sleep to understand more on this essential yet often overlooked topic.
A regular routine helps to give you a more restful night’s sleep, as well as improving your sleep quality.
You build a more consistent sleep pattern
When you are intentional about the time you go to bed and get up in the morning, you can’t help but achieve a more consistent sleep pattern over the long term. On the flip side, being unintentional means that you may get 7 hour’s sleep immediately followed by 4 hour’s sleep after a heavy weekend of partying.
Why is it important to prioritise a consistent sleep routine? Well, not only will you be able to think more clearly, focus on the task at hand and feel more positive. A regular good night’s rest has also been proven to lower your risk of serious health problems, including major killers like diabetes and heart disease.
You set yourself up for success with your morning routine
Let’s be clear here. No one, and I mean no one in my experience, is rolling into bed at 1am after getting sidetracked on ASOS for 2 hours and then jumping up at 5am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a short burst of yoga. You simply can’t expect to be disciplined in this area of your life when you’re all over the place merely hours before.
Motivation will be harder to come by when you’re waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes downstairs or last night’s clothes strewn on the floor. In short, how you spend your hours before bed determines how in control of your evening you are. And this absolutely determines the kind of morning you’re going to have.
You develop cues that signal to your body it’s bedtime
These days, just the ritual of brewing a mug of my favourite herbal tea is enough to send powerful sleep signals to my body. This is because I reserve this specific tea blend for my nighttime routine – it’s become a cue that I can’t help but associate with winding down.
Habits, when unexamined, can absolutely derail us. But it’s good to recognise that we are naturally creatures of habit. If you can hack your daily routines so that they work for you rather than against you, they can be a powerful driving force that largely run on autopilot.
By performing the same activities in the same order every evening before bed, your brain makes the link that these equal a precursor to sleep.
An evening routine relaxes the body and mind
Just think back to your childhood and the ritual of a bath followed by a bedtime story. Night routines play an important role in reducing late-night anxiety and stress – a time when, left unchecked, your thoughts can run riot.
By following an evening routine, you can relax your body and shift your thoughts away from the worrisome mental loops that stimulate your nervous system, leading to sleep deprivation and even the long-term development of sleep disorders.
How to Go to Bed Earlier if You’re a Night Owl
If you’ve ever said to yourself things like ‘I’m a typical night owl’ or ‘I’m just not a morning person’, then pause to consider for a moment whether there is any truth behind these blanket statements.
Whilst it’s true that we all have slightly different hormonal patterns that will affect when we feel most awake and when we get sleepy, what I found personally was that this was just a narrative I was telling myself so as not to have to hold myself accountable for how I habitually spent my time.
It’s much easier to make excuses than to make difficult changes. But as with any kind of self-conscious transformation, it’s 100% worthwhile in the long term. So when it feels hard to adapt your bedtime routines, these tips will give you a better chance of sticking with them!
Write down your reasons
With any sort of change, a good first step is to write down your reasons and how it aligns with the kind of person you want to be. By considering carefully how this supports your system of values, you present a much stronger case to yourself by having a rock-solid ‘why’ behind your actions.
If your nightly routine feels restrictive or like a punishment, then you’re never going to stick with it in the long run. So how can you get excited about it instead? Taking off your makeup properly, for instance, may not be your idea of fun. But what if you reframed it as a ritual act of self-care that made you feel good? Complete mindset shift!
No caffeine after 2pm
Caffeine stays in your system for a lot longer than you may realise, so it’s best to be strict with yourself and keep your coffee consumption to a morning activity (but set a deadline of 2pm at the very latest). You won’t get a restful night’s sleep with high levels of caffeine disrupting your natural sleep hormones.
Drinking coffee is largely an unexamined habit – something to fill breaks throughout the work day – so if you struggle to cut it out entirely, try consciously replacing it with a decaffeinated hot drink of choice.
Know your triggers
Does the above image hit too close to home? If you’re a habitual scroller – particularly in bed – then identify your triggers so that you’re aware of them. It may be worth setting up locks on social media apps between certain hours so that you aren’t tempted to mindlessly consume.
You can also schedule downtime in the evening so that you don’t get into marathon Netflix binges or YouTube sessions.
Avoid strenuous exercise
Exercise can be the perfect start to an invigorating morning, and you should make sure you get enough of it throughout the day so that you feel naturally tired when approaching bedtime.
Working out too close to bedtime, however, runs the risk of disrupting your sleep. So if you do want to move your body, focus on gentler forms of exercise like yoga or mindful stretching.
Bring bedtime forwards slowly
It’s tempting when you have a mini epiphany about something to want to change everything – and quickly! But as with 20-step skincare routines or a 7 day schedule of hour-long gym sessions, if you go in too hard, too quickly, it’s likely to result in nothing more than burnout, discouragement, and failure to commit.
Always remember that it was the tortoise that won the race! Long-term healthy habits usually involve tiny 1% improvements that you can build on, rather than all-out immediate change. Start by focusing on a few things – maybe even just bringing your bedtime forward by 30 minutes each week to start with.
Set a wind-down & lights-out reminder
In my experience, it’s best not to leave anything to chance!
I know how easy it is to forget to look at the clock for hours, only to realise that it’s much later than you realised.
You wouldn’t just optimistically hope that you wake up every morning without setting an alarm, so why not do the same for yourself in the evening?
To be intentional with your evening routine, I’d strongly advise setting up two reminders (use your phone alarm for ease). One should be an hour before bed to alert you to stop what you’re doing and begin your evening routine. And the other should be set for the time your head hits the pillow.
3-Step Ultimate Night Routine Checklist
Now that you’re hopefully feeling a bit more inspired about your evening routine, I’m excited to share with you the exact nighttime routine I follow. I can honestly say as someone who really used to struggle to switch off and fall asleep, that I’m now out like a light each night! And I put a lot of this down to my bedtime routine.
From start to finish – Prep, Pamper, Pillow – this takes up an hour of my time (but feel free to adapt and tweak to your liking).
1. Prep: 15 minutes
Preparation is the real key to a good morning, and this starts with an organised environment. Set yourself up for success the next day by starting a simple 15-minute timer and whizzing through the below jobs.
Tidy up the living room
If you’re anything like me and enjoy a good film night, then it’s amazing how cushions and fleecy throws can end up strewn everywhere! It’s probably the last thing you want to do at the end of an evening, but it’s an easy 2-minute job of folding up blankets and straightening up your sofa cushions.
Not only will this immediately restore order to your main living space – the added benefit of looking after your possessions means that they stay in better condition and last for longer.
Don’t go to bed with a dirty sink
This is one of those cornerstone habits I’d start with when building a nighttime routine from scratch. When you leave your kitchen sink and countertops completely clean, you’ll feel so much lighter mentally going to bed.
Always ensure your dishwasher is turned on (if you have one) and wipe down your kitchen surfaces. I promise you, this only takes a few extra minutes and you’ll be super-grateful to your past self when you come downstairs in the morning to a clutter-free space!
Choose an outfit ready for the morning
To reduce decision fatigue and make things as easy as possible for yourself when you wake up, take a few minutes to prep your clothes for the next day. Whether this is getting out your gym clothes or selecting your outfit for work, it’s one less thing to think about when you’re already feeling tired and groggy in the morning.
Prep what you need for work
Can you see a theme developing here?! Honestly, it’s all in the prep!
If you go to the office for work, then make sure your bag is ready to go with the essentials so you’re not running around at the last minute – think keys, laptop, charger, etc. If you’ve meal prepped, then your breakfast and lunch should already be waiting for you in the fridge.
On the other hand, if you work from home, then you can still take the time to make sure your desk is reset and ready for the next day. This involves removing any old cups of tea, clearing up stray papers and ensuring a tidy working environment.
Write a to-do list
Writing to-do lists the night before has been a real game-changer for me. I find that doing a ‘brain dump’ – i.e. getting all the random thoughts out of my head and onto paper/screen – is one of the best things I can do to help me go to sleep quicker at night.
When you have a plan of attack for the next day, it’s much less likely that you’ll stay awake obsessing over everything you need to get done.
2. Pamper: 45 minutes
The longest stretch of my evening routine (45 minutes) is centred around self-care and calming activities that have the effect of making me feel relaxed and sleepy.
Cleanse & moisturise
A consistent and minimal skincare routine that you actually stick to is a wonderful way to start your pampering session. This act of self-care says positive things to your subconscious and will leave your skin perfectly cleansed and soft when you wake up in the morning. Plus, it needn’t take any more than 5 minutes!
Brew a cup of relaxing herbal tea
If you’re looking for relaxation techniques before bed, then one that works best for me is making a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea. Choose a nighttime blend – perhaps something with lavender or chamomile in – that will help to promote sleep and soothe anxiety.
In fact, just the ritual of making the tea in my favourite mug and letting it brew for 10 minutes is an incredibly relaxing act. If you have difficulty falling asleep, you should definitely incorporate this into your evening routine!
Have some quiet reflection time
To stop anxious thoughts and fall asleep faster, make time for some self-reflection at the end of the day. For example, building a bedtime writing habit through journaling can be a good way to become more self-aware and help to navigate your emotions more effectively.
You could also try some mindfulness meditation, either with an app like Headspace or just sitting in silence. This will help you to detach from your thoughts and regain a sense of inner peace before bed.
Escape with a good book
I like to finish my nighttime routine with a quiet activity like reading. Whilst I prefer non-fiction in the morning, it’s lovely to escape with a good fiction book right before bed. This will help you to enter into a different emotional state and force you out of your own limited perspective (which could lead to negativity and anxiety if left unchecked).
When you make dedicated space in your day for a reading habit, you’re much more likely to stick with it. You’ll also find that you get through a surprising number of books if you’re consistent each evening. There’s nothing better than reading to make you naturally drowsy – your eyes should definitely be feeling heavy at this point.
3. Pillow: 7-8 hours
Finally, it’s time for your head to hit the pillow for some well-earned rest. This is your body’s way of carrying out a full recovery and repair service so that you function at your best during waking hours.
Lights out at a set time
Going to bed at a set time requires discipline, but it gets easier with practice. I think the problem most of us have is that if we’re not feeling tired, we simply won’t go to bed. But once your final reminder goes off, this is your cue to rest and recharge – no matter how you’re feeling.
If you want to get up in the morning, work back 7-9 hours from your alarm (depending on your body’s individual needs) to make sure you get enough sleep. I don’t function well at anything less than 8 hours, so this means a disciplined early bedtime to get up at 5am.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
If you’re not sure where to start with intentional living, then begin with something as small as your evening routine. Sleep is so vital for your health and yet something which, as a society, we regularly downgrade in favour of toxic productivity, busyness and sometimes just mindless consumption.
If this hasn’t been working for you up to press, then try out the backwards law. Ironically, the more you can slow down, treat yourself like someone you care about and put boundaries around your time, you’ll attract more of the things you want in your life.
I hope that this evening routine gives you plenty of inspiration and brings you a consistent, restful night’s sleep. Let me know how you get on in the comments below!