Developing a healthy nighttime routine wasn’t just about adding in self-care, though – because, hey, I often told myself that binge-watching Netflix after a long day was self-care. It was also about looking out for Future Me. “Nighttime You can give Morning You a gift,” clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D., tells us. “For example, if you go to bed earlier, Morning You is going to be much happier.”
For a long time my night routine was basically to watch Netflix until I nearly fell asleep, then drag myself to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth before passing out. Unsurprisingly, I usually woke up feeling groggy and regretful. Once I started getting more serious about practicing regular self-care (around the time I became a mental health writer!), I knew I had to cultivate a nighttime routine that better supported my mental health.
So, when building your nighttime routine, Howes suggests asking yourself: How do I want to feel in the mornings? No matter your answer to that question, there are habits you can establish to support your goals.
Before we get to what some of those habits are, it’s worth noting that any effective nighttime routine has to have a proper foundation. Factors like your bedtime, caffeine intake, exercise routine, and screen time all have an impact on the quality of sleep you get. For more information on developing good sleep hygiene, start with this list of ways you might be ruining your night’s sleep.
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start personalising your nighttime routine with activities and habits you find relaxing and helpful. Your ideal nighttime routine will be unique to you, so think of the ideas on this list as starting points, not a how-to guide.
1. Do some light prep for tomorrow morning
First up on the list for making Tomorrow You happy: Use your nighttime routine to streamline your morning routine. That can include things like setting out tomorrow’s outfit, loading up your coffee maker so all you have to do is press the Start button in the a.m., or writing out what your morning to-do list will entail. Basically, whatever will help you have a relaxed and positive morning so you can start the day off on the right foot, says Howes.
2. Connect with someone
If you’re busy and stressed, you might find that once nighttime rolls around, all you want to do is burrow into yourself, maybe by watching TV or drinking wine or another activity that allows you to turn your brain off for the night. While that’s so necessary sometimes (after, say, a day from hell), you don’t always want to defer to isolation.
Instead, Howes recommends making an effort to connect with others in low-lift ways every night, like texting or emailing someone you care about or talking with a partner or friend. “It helps to ground you and remind you that you’re not alone,” he says. “It’s like, ‘I’m okay. I’m here with others on this planet.’”
3. Tidy up a bit
Ugh, chores. Not exactly what comes to mind when you think of nighttime relaxation. But the thing about chores is they need to get done at some point, and the more regularly you do them (say, through a cleaning routine), the less they pile up. There’s nothing to put you in a bad mood like waking up to a sink full of dishes that STARE YOU DOWN as you make your morning coffee. Even worse: Then you spend your entire day knowing that those dishes are waiting for you when you get home too.
The same goes for the other chores you put off for Future You to deal with. I’ve got some good news, though: If you practice something with regularity (like doing a quick tidy of your place every night), it will eventually take less effort, says Howes. You can thank the power of habits for that. Once something becomes a normal part of your day, you’ll find it basically feels like second nature.