The Bedtime Routine That Helps Me Shut My Brain Down Each Night

Health & Wellness

The Bedtime Routine That Helps Me Shut My Brain Down Each Night | Wit & Delight
Photo by Chelsey Werth

I know what kind of day it’s going to be by how eager I am for my first (and second…and third) cup of coffee when I wake up in the morning. These days, I’m becoming more and more acquainted with what I need to be the best(ish) version of myself each day. And one of the things that’s high on the list? You guessed it. Sleep.

Gone are the days when I could easily function for weeks at a time running on empty. Now I can only operate on a small amount of sleep for a day or two until I reach my breaking point. And since I’m managing a business, raising two little ones, and taking care of a new puppy, it’s pretty essential that I wake up each morning with the energy to take on the day ahead.

My bedtime routine is my holy grail in terms of what will set me up for a restful slumber. After plenty of trial and error, I know what to do to get a good night’s sleep. I find that putting the routine down on paper actually helps me follow through on it, night after night.

Here are the steps that help me get a restful sleep every night (or most nights… let’s not get carried away).

The Bedtime Routine I Follow for a Restful Night’s Sleep

1. Put on comfortable attire.

The first step toward a good night’s sleep? Get into comfortable clothing. Lately, my pajamas of choice are from one of my favorite shops, Mille.

2. Streamline my nighttime activities.

I’m a tried and trued night owl. One of the reasons I find it hard to get to bed early is that I feel like I’m missing out on time alone. I need solitude daily—whether in the morning or at night. Once the kids are asleep there’s nothing I want to do more than savor some time to myself.

These are a few of the nighttime activities that help me both get into a relaxed headspace and move toward bedtime.

  • Look at the calendar and review what’s happening the next day. I’ll quickly scan over everything and add anything that’s missing. This helps me feel prepared and able to let go of worries about anything I might be forgetting. My lists of to-dos and reminders are synced on my phone, computer, and watch so I know I’ll easily be able to reference them when the next day’s work begins.
  • Listen to a podcast while folding laundry and cleaning up. Joe and I have gotten into a new habit of tidying up the house before we go to bed. We wake up with a house that’s not fully clean but is at least relatively picked up—it helps us start our morning on a good note.
  • Read with a cup of tea in bed or by the fire. No phone allowed.
  • Stretch and/or use my new deep tissue massager on my back. I bought the massager recently while dealing with a ton of back pain and it’s been life-changing.
The kitchen before our nightly tidying routine (if you can’t tell, the sink is *full* of dishes).

3. Do my full routine in the bathroom (flossing and all).

  • Take a quick shower so I feel super clean getting into bed. I don’t always do this but when I need to really have a complete reset (i.e., when I’ve had a really awful day), it helps me instantly feel the transition from the rush of the day to bedtime.
  • Follow my skin-care routine. My routine used to be very complicated but I’ve simplified it to three steps so I know that I can always do it, no matter how tired I am. If I need extra TLC, I’ll put on a mask while I tackle a quick to-do around the house.
  • Moisturize my body. I use either the Osmia naked body mousse or the Nuxe body oil all over my body. The oil comes in a glass container and you spray it on so it doesn’t get messy—I love using this one when I want a slightly scented product.
  • Take out my contacts, brush my teeth, and floss. A routine doesn’t get more brass tacks than this. Yet you’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t?) by how easy it can be to skip these essential steps. These tasks are simple, but when I’m feeling defiant and just want to fall into bed, I’ll avoid doing them. Having OXO organizers in my bathroom drawers has honestly helped immensely in terms of getting myself to follow through on my full routine. When everything has a place and like items (like my toothbrush and floss) are stored right next to each other, it’s easier to convince myself to just tackle each step and be done with it.
  • Brush my hair. I’ll quickly brush my hair and put it up. Done.

4. Set the mood with a few tactile shifts.

  • Apply an essential oil. I love to apply this peppermint halo oil on my neck. It helps calm me down before bed.
  • Turn on the foot warmer in our Sleep Number bed. This is a luxury to be sure, and one I don’t take for granted in the winter months.
  • Make my bed in the morning. Okay, so this is technically a part of my morning routine rather than my evening routine. I find that getting into a bed sans crumpled, tangled sheets makes for a more calming experience all around.

5. Remember my “why” for going to bed early.

In theory, given how much time most of us are spending at home right now, you’d think routines would be easier to follow these days. For me, it’s been even harder to stick to them. When so many other things are competing for your attention and if you have a hard time with boundaries, it can be essential to come back to the basics and remind yourself how good these routines will ultimately make you feel.

I remind myself that sleep is one of the cornerstones of making sure I’m okay; that parenting myself through this routine is my way of saying that I’m worthy of sleep and worthy of care.

When I’m in a headspace of avoidance, I know I need to come back to my “why” for winding down early and getting to sleep. I remind myself that sleep is one of the cornerstones of making sure I’m okay; that parenting myself through this routine is my way of saying that I’m worthy of sleep and worthy of care.

Things I (Try to) Avoid Before Bedtime

  • Staying on social media too late. I’ve often treated social media as my escape from reality and can quite easily find myself going down an hour-long rabbit hole when I should be sleeping. On nights when I sign off earlier, I tend to have a better night’s sleep.
  • Watching multiple episodes of a show. When I do watch TV at night, I try to keep it to just one episode. I’ll also generally keep any evening watching to lighter shows only (e.g., The Great British Baking Show) so I’m not watching anything too affecting that will linger in my brain throughout the rest of the night.
  • Reading the news too late. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. When I read news sites too close to bedtime, the resulting adrenaline makes it hard to calm down.
  • Cutting my nighttime bathroom routine short. Yes, this will happen on occasion, and when it does I try to cut myself some slack. But nobody likes to wake up with day-old contacts still in or old makeup still on, and I find it’s worth the 10-15 minutes to just do the routine.
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol. I do my best to check in with whether I actually want a drink each night so I don’t find myself drinking solely out of habit. And when I do drink wine, I have no more than one glass on most nights.

By following these steps, I’m generally able to get to bed somewhere between 9:00 and 10:30 pm, depending on the night. 

If you’re looking to instill a better bedtime routine (and, ideally, a more restful night’s sleep as a result) for yourself, I’d invite you to do what I did above. Ask yourself what you need, write it down, and come back to those individualized steps as you’re winding down each night. What’s so nice about having these reminders written out is that it helps you automate your routine so it’s easier to make the decisions that are good for you without having to think twice.

Here’s to more, better sleep for all of us.

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BY Kate Arends - October 5, 2020

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October 5, 2020 6:59 pm

I need to start having a nighttime routine. I often find myself scrolling through IG/FB for far too long at night. I love your suggestions and can’t wait to try to tweak your routine to what will fit my needs!

October 5, 2020 7:17 pm

I completely identify with feeling like once everyone is asleep I get to have alone time and I really need it now as a WFH single mom of 2. Love all these tips. Agree that getting off the phone/social media helps a ton. And reading is the best before bed. Thank you for sharing that massager! Haven’t had a massage since February 😭

October 6, 2020 1:41 am

Very helpful blog.

October 6, 2020 2:41 am

I’m forever looking for a nighttime routine that sticks. I have horrible sleep avoidance, LOVE alone time at night, and get caught up watching a tv series, or I get hungry and eat a snack that keeps me up. I’ve yet to stick to anything that helps me – getting a good night’s sleep is forever my goal.

October 7, 2020 11:24 pm
Reply to  Kate Arends

Thank you, Kate. Sleep is so very important to our mental health, especially right now. I’m struggling a lot with it, so any tips you have in the future to aid in insomnia/bedtime routines are very helpful. 🙂

October 6, 2020 3:45 am

Thank you very much for sharing your tips. I was staring at your bed frame and it really makes me feel sleepy just staring at it. I think your foam is the most important thing to improve if you are having trouble sleeping.

October 7, 2020 11:05 am

Ohh, I love this. Definitely need to establish some sort of bedtime routine and have known this for a while. Easier said than done for sure (the hardest part for me is *sticking* to it), but I love your phrasing of parenting yourself through the routine. Looking at it that way really makes something click for whatever reason. Thanks for sharing your tips! 🙂

October 8, 2020 3:19 am

I am glad you found this post very helpful

October 8, 2020 3:20 am

i am glad to read your post

October 13, 2020 12:27 pm

Unrelated, but I get so happy every time I see your salmon/peachy room. My mom did this exact color in our formal dining and living rooms back in 1990, (and painted all
the kitchen cabinets a beautiful French blue) . So nostalgic for me!Your decor reminds me of that house so long ago.

November 13, 2020 4:44 am

Night time routines are great. Coincidentally, or not, I started having one when I moved into my own apartment. And it definitely helps to sleep well. I also struggle when I don’t sleep enough, so I make sure to get at least 7-8 hours a night.

November 15, 2020 7:01 pm

Hi Kate! The massager link is not working for me, are you able to share again? Thank you!

kate mccann
November 27, 2021 8:15 am

These are great ideas, sounds like a great routine. I’m going to adopt the one-episode-only rule! I like to light a wood-wick candle in the bathroom while I do my nighttime routine, which makes it cozy and soothing. And, it helps to create an end-cue for social media scrolling. When I come across a “Disapproving Corgis” post in my FB feed, that’s a fun, sweet note to end on.

brooke rule
January 26, 2022 7:06 pm

Hi Kate.
Great post. But what I really want to know is do you have a source for the sconce light in the picture? Black and gold arm with a white shade? i just love it

March 8, 2022 2:11 am

Routine is the key : morning routine and nighttime routine are great ! Just for my own curiosity, what time is morning routine?

April 5, 2022 6:17 am

[…] I love this nighttime routine to shut down your […]

April 12, 2022 3:37 pm

Agreed on all of these things. It’s almost a to-do list of things and sometimes it seems like too much, but it does greatly improve my sleep quality when I follow a routine (very similar to yours). I do take a hot epsom salt and lavendar bath nearly every evening and that helps my muscles relax (and I take something relaxing to read also in the tub with me and sort of multi-task or listen to an audio book or some music I enjoy). I “try” to keep a meditation app on my phone handy by the bed and sleep… Read more »

April 13, 2022 5:38 am

Wonderful. You are a good. Mother to take care of yourself. Especially not drinking too much. That can ruin your whole families life.

April 13, 2022 10:50 am

Great Tips! Thanks for sharing!

[…] time to get actually clear with your self on the bedtime routine that can assist you to get one of the best evening’s sleep doable. What rituals can you start […]

May 4, 2023 10:33 pm

I love your blog. There are so helpful with me.

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