We put a lot of pressure on our mornings.
Did I wake up on time? Have I eaten breakfast? Do I have time to do my hair? Are the kids going to be out the door on time?
And while it's true that the way you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day, it's good to remember that our nights are *just* as important.
Sleep scientists say a good night’s sleep is crucial for your physical and mental health. There are strong correlations between being well-rested and improved creativity, decision-making, focus, and learning, so it's really important that you prepare yourself for bed — and for the next morning — in the best possible way.
Here are 10 simple elements you can incorporate into your nighttime routine to get the most out of your evenings and wake up feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready to go.
1. Lay out your clothes
There's nothing better than starting your day off with a win — with a to-do list item already checked off. One easy way you can set yourself up for a great morning is by picking out your outfit the night before and laying it out in an easy-to-access place so you have one less thing to think about once your alarm goes off.
Don’t just think about clothes, shoes, and accessories; be sure that you’re also looking at your calendar for the day to make sure you know if there are any important meetings you need to dress up for (or a kid’s field day to dress down for!), and take the time to check the weather. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up at work over the years wearing a sundress on the first cold day of the year, or new suede shoes the day of a rainstorm because I’ve been rushing around in the morning and hadn't checked my weather app.
By laying everything out the night before, you're saving yourself valuable time and at least a couple decisions in the morning, giving yourself more time and brainpower to focus on other (more important!) things.
2. Meal prep
While you're at it, don't just stop at picking out your clothes, prep your meals, too! Meal prepping has myriad benefits like cost savings and encouraging healthier habits, but perhaps the most gratifying part of it is when you wake up in the morning and don't have to spend time preparing breakfast or lunch. Just think what you could do with that extra time! (We have some ideas in this post.)
If you're just starting out with meal prep, my advice would be to start slow: Only prep for 1-2 days at a time rather than the whole week at once, and make sure you’re beginning with easy recipes!
One of my favorite breakfast recipes that’s super easy to prep in advance is overnight oats. (Find more breakfast meal prep tips here!) Here’s how I make it:
- ½ cup of Greek yogurt
- ½ cup of unsweetened almond milk
- ½ cup of rolled oats
- A handful of sliced strawberries (or any fruit!)
- A drizzle of honey
- Stir to combine in a mason jar, then put in your fridge and let sit overnight.
For lunches, I love to cook a “one-pan meal” on Sundays — something that I can cook quickly and easily in one skillet or pan in the oven, like sautéed veggies and chicken breast — and portion it out for multiple days using my glass storage containers.
If you’re looking for more great advice on how to start meal prepping, try this post!
3. Put everything you’ll need by the door or in the same place
Your meals are prepped, your clothes are laid out, now it’s time to think about what *else* you’ll need for the next day.
Rain in the forecast? Put your umbrella by the door. Need extra supplies for a presentation at work? Pack your charger and the cords you’ll need in your bag.
The more you’re able to take care of the night before, the smoother and less stressful your morning will be. We often dedicate far too much time in the morning to making simple decisions like, “What do I need to pack?” or “Where did I leave my phone charger?” By removing those decisions from your morning routine, you’ll save yourself so much time and stress.
4. Wash your face
Having a nighttime routine is an incredible way to mentally wind down from the day and prepare for a restful night's sleep. Whether it's taking a shower, washing your face, or just brushing your teeth, carving out time to take care of yourself is important.
I recently discovered the philosophy behind Korean skincare’s 10-step routine, and it's totally changed my nighttime (and morning) routines. I used to think that things like washing my face, brushing my teeth, and flossing were necessary and good for you, but still something that you want to be over as soon as possible because they're taking up time from the rest of your life. But Korean skincare philosophy instead challenges you to view these daily tasks as *rituals* instead of “must dos” — a subtle mental shift that totally changes everything.
While 10 steps may sound like a lot, the idea that the time you spend taking care of yourself is valuable and should be enjoyed rather than rushed helps me to relax and truly enjoy the process of getting ready for bed.
So I challenge you to ask yourself: What nightly routine can you reframe as a ritual?
5. Practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude is one of the proven ways to measurably increase your happiness, so what better way to unwind from the day and prepare yourself mentally to recharge overnight and greet the following morning?
I love to sit down with my gratitude journal each night (sometimes with a face mask on!) and reflect on the big and small things in my day.
Here some questions to think about to help you get started in your gratitude practice:
- What interactions did you have today that you’re grateful for?
- What activities did you participate in or observe today that you’re grateful for?
- Who are the people in your life whom you’re grateful for?
- What “wins” did you have today?
It can be easy to start with the big constants in your life — your family, your friends, your home — but try to challenge yourself to think about your day on a more micro scale. Did you receive a nice email? Was there a memorable interaction at your coffee shop?
Not only does a regular gratitude practice help foster a more positive mindset in the moment, but if you’re recording these things, it can also help you get through your toughest days. I love flipping back through pages and rereading my gratitude journal when I’m feeling down to remind myself of all of the many, many wonderful things in my life.
Meditation is one of the best ways to center yourself and hit the reset button on your fast-paced thoughts. As beloved meditation apps like Headspace or Calm tell us, you can truly meditate at any time — you only need a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes. Even so, there’s something really nice about having an evening meditation practice to unwind from the day and prepare yourself for bed.
Meditation is the practice of focusing your mind on a single thing, and for anyone who struggles to fall asleep at night, this can be a fantastic way to help your mind relax. Here’s a meditation that can be great to do in bed called a body scan meditation:
- Lie down on your bed or mat and close your eyes.
- Breathe regularly and notice the points of your body where it connects with the floor.
- Bring all of your attention to your feet. How do they feel? Can you feel your heels pressed into the ground? Are you experiencing any tingling? Or the air moving around your toes? Focus on your feet for several breaths.
- Now move your attention to your ankles. Notice how they’re feeling. Ask yourself the same question. Stay here for several breaths.
- Now slowly move up your body repeating this process: calves to knees to thighs to hips to stomach to back to chest to shoulders to arms to hands, back up to your neck and throat, and then to your head.
- Just as important as it is to focus your mind on the singular part of your body, it’s also important to notice when your mind inevitably wanders. (That’s okay! It’s what your mind does!) When that happens, note it mentally and gently bring your attention back to your intended focus area.
7. Reflect on your day and your goal progress
One of my favorite nightly routines is checking in with my Ink+Volt planner. First, I reflect on my wins for the day and add those to the “celebrations” section. I add any notable accomplishments (from mundane things like “drank enough water today” or “finally organized my files after putting it off for weeks!” to bigger wins like, “crushed my all-staff presentation”) as well as notes about relationships (“had a great catch-up with Christine”) and any habits that I'm tracking.
Once I've celebrated all the things I *did* accomplish that day, I run through my weekly goals and ask myself: Am I on track? Is there anything I need to re-allocate to tomorrow’s tasks?
Then I check in on my monthly goals and ask myself the same questions.
Setting aside time to check in on your progress is a crucial part of working toward your goals. It allows you time to hold yourself accountable and make any necessary adjustments to keep yourself on track. I love doing this at night because I know it’s one less thing I have to think about in the morning before I’m ready to sit down at my desk to start work.
8. Stick to a consistent bedtime
One of the most important keys to having restful, restorative sleep every night is to keep your circadian rhythm on track — the rhythm that controls crucial bodily functions like energy levels, appetite, and more. Just as it's important to try to wake up (without hitting snooze!) at a relatively consistent time each morning, it's just as crucial that you maintain a consistent bedtime.
Research shows that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can actually help can help you fall asleep *and* wake up easier, and it can also improve the quality of your overall sleep.
Try setting an evening alarm for yourself. Ideally, the alarm wouldn't indicate the time you're supposed to be in bed asleep, but rather serve as a gentle reminder for you to wrap up whatever you're doing and begin your nighttime routine. Try setting it for 30 minutes to an hour in advance of when you *actually* want to be in bed to give yourself enough time to start winding down and getting ready.
9. Put away your phone
If you’re one of those people like me who seems to get their best ideas *just* as you’re about to fall asleep, don’t reach for your phone! Instead, leave pen and paper by your bed so you can jot down ideas, reminders, and dreams without turning to the harsh, blue light of your screen.
I love this gorgeous notepad — elephants never forget, so I feel like the symbolism for things *I* don’t want to forget is perfect — and this pen — I’m obsessed with the super fine lines of the G-Tec!
And if you absolutely *must* use your phone, try to enable the “night mode” available on many smartphones these days, which gives your phone screen’s blue light an orange tint, making it easier on your eyes.
Instead of reaching for your phone to mindlessly scroll through Instagram, try picking up a book to help you mentally wind down from the day.
Research shows that reading helps to prevent memory loss, reduce the risk of depression, and encourage mental relaxation. I’m a huge reader, so I’m a bit biased, but I think immersing yourself in another world or in another person’s experience is the best way to close out your day.
If you need some book recommendations, here’s a good place to start with 10 of our favorite self-improvement books!
Whether your bedtime is 8 p.m. or midnight, these 10 tips will help you get the most out of your nighttime routine to help set you up for success all day long!