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Evening Rituals: Getting Better Sleep with a Little Preparation

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Smoking Stonehenge

Here at Asian Efficiency we are big fans of rituals – small sequences of step-by-step actions that put you in a certain mood, state or frame of mind for getting something done. We’ve written and talked extensively about the importance of having physical energy and how having a good morning ritual helps with that. The rituals you go through during the day are the focus of most of our articles, for example, how to use OmniFocus and the Pomodoro Technique together. The last piece of the puzzle is what you do to wind down at the end of the day – your evening ritual.

Simply put, a good evening ritual is supposed to help you get a good night’s sleep. It’s also supposed to help you rest, relax and reset in preparation for the next day. I like to think of it as a set of interrelated components that help you get a better night’s sleep. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Evening Ritual Ingredients

Here’s the order that I’d recommend as a starting point for building your own evening ritual. Obviously, each component can be swapped with another, and unlike your morning ritual, everything is fairly interchangeable:

  1. Social Media clearing.
  2. Journal entries.
  3. Write down stray thoughts.
  4. Eat something light.
  5. Use the bathroom.
  6. Visualization exercises.
  7. Light stretching.
  8. Read some fiction.
  9. Sleep.

Social Media Clearing

This is a fancy way of saying check your email, your Facebook, your phone, your twitter and anything else that people use to communicate with you, and then turn them off or put them on silent. Consider it the last time you’ll be checking all these devices for the day. If you use an alarm to wake up in the morning, now is the time to set it.

Journal Entries

It is basically checking your daily outcomes against what you had planned in the morning, and doing some quick analysis. It provides a closure to the productive aspects of your day. We have a more in-depth look at this here.

Stray Thoughts

Grab a notebook and write down everything that’s leftover in your mind – essentially, clear your thoughts in preparation for sleep. I personally find that physical pen and paper works better than typing into a computer or tablet.

Eat Something Light

Eating something light (like fruits and nuts and yoghurt) seems to help with energy levels in the morning. You’ll have to experiment with this one – it works differently with different people, and I had a hard time tracking down any conclusive studies about pre-bedtime food, sleep quality and morning energy levels.

Bathroom

A hot (or cold) bath as one of your last activities during the day helps calm you down and puts you in the right frame of mind for relaxing and sleeping.

Visualization Exercises

You can either do visualization exercises before going to sleep, or as you’re going to sleep (i.e., after lights out). The options for visualization exercise are endless: you can do breakdowns of your business or life, your goals, your outcomes, you can picture your best self, you can picture your self sleeping and so on. Anywhere from 5-30 minutes is fine, depending on what you’re comfortable with.

Light Stretching

Some light stretching before sleep fools your body into thinking that it’s already relaxed and resting.

Read Fiction

Remember when you were a kid and you used to read or have someone read to you before going to sleep? It’s little wonder that children tend to sleep really well. Nothing disconnects you better than going off to the fictional world of your choice and leaving all the thoughts, ideas, worries and responsibilities of the real world behind. 15-30 minutes should be more than enough.

Note: This means reading. No TV. No video games. No web browsing. And don’t read anything that overstimulates you either (I’m thinking Matthew Reilly novels here).

Sleep

If you’ve done everything above, sleep should come pretty naturally at the end of your evening ritual.

Best Practices

Here are some additional concepts for crafting a better evening ritual:

  • Don’t stop moving morning to night. The more you do during the day, the more energy you expend and the more you’ll have a natural tendency to fall asleep at the end of the day. If you can fit in some daily exercise, that’s even better.
  • Give yourself enough time to sleep. For most people, this is from 7-9 hours. Any less and you’re really damaging your daytime productivity (no matter what the sleephackers say). More is usually better than less, and realize that if you’re slightly hyperactive (like me), you’ll need more sleep than other people. Check out AE Thanh’s excellent article on sleeping your way to the top of productivity.
  • It’s fine to sleep in on weekends. Mostly because we don’t get enough sleep during the week, and sleep debt is cumulative. Use your weekends to pay it off. Remember that nobody’s sleeping schedule is perfect, it’s all give-and-take.

Next Actions

  • Put together your own evening ritual from the components that we’ve discussed here. Then put it in your task manager of choice as a daily repeating list.
  • Start using it.
  • Experiment with the order of components to find what gets you from Daytime Efficient Asian™ to relaxed and ready to sleep the fastest.
If you have any questions about the components of an effective evening ritual, or if you’d like to share your own pre-bedtime routine, please do so in the comments.
Photo by: .Bala
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Deann December 26, 2012 at 8:46PM

Great post–very thoughtful and complete.

Reply

David August 18, 2013 at 6:15PM

Any tips for avoiding sleep debt if there are no opportunities to sleep in on weekends? With young kids in the house Im always woken by 6.30am!

Reply

Aaron Lynn August 24, 2013 at 7:47AM

I’d say give-and-take. If you know you’re going to be woken up early, plan to sleep earlier to get enough hours in – do whatever it takes to make that happen. Naps in the afternoon could help too.

Reply

Mike Kabbani September 27, 2013 at 6:42PM

Thanks for this article, Aaron. I’m a huge fan of evening routines as they are absolutely critical for sleep quality.

I’m surprised not to see f.lux mentioned since it’s the first thing I recommend in my evening routine.

I’ve also found it better to read non-fiction before bed. Fiction seems to get me too excited and my sleep suffers. I might give the Matthew Reilly novels a shot and see if those work though.

Reply

Val March 17, 2014 at 9:03AM

Thanks for this post–I will definitely be implementing an evening ritual. Most of this ritual seems to be about closing out the current day’s events, but what do you think about incorporating preparation for the next day, i.e. making lunch, packing bags, reviewing tasks etc. Do you think that might detract from the goal of preparing for sleep? How would you address these kinds of chores in your daily routine?

Thanks for any advice!

Reply

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