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Happy Equinox, everyone! Whether your time zone has just gone retrograde or been blessedly stable, there’s no denying the light is shifting. What a perfect time for us to consider evening routines.

Evening routines are not the mere opposite of morning routines. We don’t DO a bunch of things in the morning and then reverse them all at night. 

But at the same time, we do get a kind of reset every 24 hours, which is pretty incredible to think about. 

If you want to make the most of it, I think the purpose of end-of-day rituals and routines is at least two-fold: 

One is to get us set up for a good day tomorrow. 

The other is to get us set up for a good night’s sleep, which will help get us set up for a good day tomorrow. Good days: we are gonna come at it from all sides. 

Here are some little rituals and thoughts that I have found useful for a good tomorrow:

  • Closing bells are not just for the stock exchange. I like to make a ceremony for the end of the business day, and I do have an actual bell. I tidy the desk and I also declare victory. Out loud. Usually my victory cry is “OK, good enough!”
  • And that marks the end of work of all kinds, except those related to body care. Dinner is made and the washing up done, face and teeth get cleaned, but no other chores.
  • As darkness falls, there’s also an end to problem solving. I think it’s Oliver Burkeman who suggests that to stop yourself fretting in the night, you set a rule of “no problem solving after dark.” Life-changer.
  • As my smart friend and mentor Havi Brooks says: we have way less capacity than we think. So I really try to keep it simple. A big checklist just whips up wakeful energy. Evening routines need to have more non-doing than doing.
  • I try very hard to stay away from screens for about two hours before lights out. This is controversial! Blue light isn’t a problem for everyone. But I think for me, sleep is dependent on some of the set-up routines that put me in the right state, and watching a high-key k-drama is not that state.
  • People do say those blue-blocker glasses are pretty good though, and I’ve seen some cute ones.
  • If sleep is a concern, I will remind you of my best personally tested tip even though I jinx myself each and every time I share it. This one is for the morning, so we talked about it in February: take a quick eye-opener walk and get some daylight on the retinas. This sets your circadian clock to alertness during daytime hours and gets your system winding down at night and for me at least has dramatically improved the quality of sleep. (Obviously no need to tinker with any natural rhythms that are working for you, whatever they may be. This is just for them as want a reset.)
  • The Ukrainian yoga savant Andrey Lappa says, “Morning begins at night,” by which I think he means something like, “Get your workout clothes ready to go so you can roll out of bed and hit the stude first thing in the a.m.” There is a huge payoff in frictionless mornings, for sure. I don’t go to the yoga studio, but I do like to pick out an outfit.
  • This is the fussiest and most antique practice ever, but I sometimes do what my grandmother always did, and set the table for breakfast. (Grandma had Blue Willow, which I coveted. I have blue this and blue that and blue slightly chipped, but they all look like cousins.)

Now a caveat: I am a dyed-in-the-wool morning person. The literal worst day of the year for me, every single year, is the day we turn the clocks forward. Every night for the next ten days I look at the clock that says 8:30pm, and I know that it’s really only mid-afternoon in Last Week Time, yet I’m literally dying and have to go to bed. 

But of course: No sleep ‘til clean face. Ugh!

Anyway, all that to say: If you’re a night owl, your evening routines might be very different. What is a nighttime ritual if it takes place at 4:30am? I am so curious. In the comments, I would love to hear ideas from both the early birds and the nighthawks, and everyone in between.

IMAGE CREDIT: Sterrenbeeld ram (detail), Henri van der Stok, 1880-1946, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew.

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  • Good Morning Max!! I love your article!! I am an early bird and my partner is a night owl. He cannot understand how I can wake up and just jump out of bed and get going at 4:30 or 5:00am! I have routines too but I do use my phone I put Netflix on and listen to a lighthearted tv show (Murdoch Mysteries ). FYI great show to watch when knitting. My routine includes herbal tea, my room dark and cool, I have a weighted blanket which I strongly recommend it’s help me to stay asleep and not toss and turn so much. I recently added some yoga poses to my routine and I find these are helping as well. Making sure we get good nights sleep is a simple but great way to take care of ourselves without spending money!! Thank you for sharing I love your articles!

  • My regular glasses have blue light blocker….good thing since I read almost exclusively on my iPad

  • I worked as a freelance translator for many years. in addition to the crazy deadlines, I also had a house, a husband and two children to tend to. This meant that I burned the midnight oil, a lot of midnight oil. So much so that it seems to have permanently changed my biorhythms! That being said, my night time routine – usually at about 2 am – is pretty much the same as what you describe… Midnight to 2 am I knit or read or watch an episode of Miss Marple, then I wash my face, brush my teeth and into the arms of Morpheus.

  • Hi Max – I totally agree that nighttime is for winding down. I look at my list for the day and plan for the next, do some rest row knitting and watch something funny or happily-ending show. The early wake time for me is 4:30-5PM with some chores, email & news reading, weather and coffee. I love your idea of getting daylight on the retinas. I’ll have to try that. Thank you for your columns!

  • Good morning! Thank you for the post — I too am a morning person and I love your posts. I would add one more purpose for night time ritual (although this third purpose, could really be a tool to help your first two purposes). 3rd purpose for an end of the day ritual: give time and space to practice gratitude. Which, I have found does wonders for setting you up for a good day tomorrow and a good night’s sleep. I’m grateful for you and your thoughtful posts.

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    I totally agree with the morning walk. I call it my caffeine. I get up, put on my walking clothes, eat breakfast, then out the door. I go in all kinds of weather throughout the Midwest year, down to 25 below wind chill and through light rain. I even have snow shoes should I need them. Depending on my work schedule I may start out in the dark. I’ve seen coyotes, beaver’s, opossums, mink, owls and bald eagles, all in my suburban local park. Great way to start the day.
  • Good morning! I love morning! At night, when I close my eyes, I identify 3 specific things from the day for which I am grateful.

  • I am not a morning person but need to get up by 7:30. I go into the living room and turn on a lot of lights. It helps.

  • I had not heard your suggestion about going outside for a little bit when it gets light out (I am a morning person and it is often dark when I voluntarily start my day). I will remember this during the dreaded clock change and when I travel to another time zone. Thanks for the tip!

  • My husband and I did shift work for 30+ years. The different shifts probably saved our marriage, ha. Our advice is don’t try to go to bed as soon as you get home. Have a snack, take a shower, engage in light TV or reading, then go to bed.

  • Something I do if I’m having a hard time falling asleep is name ten good things about the day. My list invariably starts with walking the dog. On really difficult days, good things can be as basic as “morning cup of coffee.” I’m usually out before I get to item number six.

  • Love this! One of my tips is don’t go to bed for at least 3 hours after eating dinner. Light dinners help, too! The morning fresh air tip is sooo helpful – thanks!

  • Especially during periods of troubled waters, I close out the last moments before I fall asleep calling to mind the face, voice, gestures or words of someone that blessed me that day. It’s interesting that if I put myself in that frame of reference I find a peace

  • Yes, I’m a morning person and absolutely detest time change. I love taking the dogs out to see the sunrise. I have NO tv or phone in my bedroom; even my clock fades out after 30 seconds. I have to use a white noise machine to drown out the neighbors tv coming through the wall. But I can still hear my older pup’s soft snore, and I know the world will be okay.

  • My nightly routine starts with relaxing shower, followed by dental care, with the bathroom lit with only a nightlight. A candle would be a lovely alternative. The light is soft, the water soothing, and I’m then ready for a good night’s sleep.

    • I think this is the one I’m going to try. Bedtime shower by candlelight. Thanks for the idea.

      • I hope it was relaxing and led to a good night’s sleep!

  • Working for years as a tattoo artist, I was definitely a night owl. After many health problems, I went to a clinic where they show you how to get healthy. Along with good food and sunlight, going to bed at an early time and getting up early are a game changer for your health. So now it’s early to bed and early to rise for me.

  • I’d like to add ( for me) no anxiety producing TV for 2 hours before bed. That includes news, crime dramas and psychological thrillers. If it’s something I want to see, I can record it and watch the next day.

  • Because I was a nurse I thought that a one hour time change was nothing but now that I’m not working nights and days and everything in between this last leap forward threw me for a loop and it took me about 2 weeks to reset my inner time clock. Now that I’m back to waking up at 5:30 am. I despise it , Daylight savings time has outlived it’s time.

  • Max,
    I discovered the importance of bedtime rituals when my children were young. No screens, lighting a candle, cozy pajamas, and a special song/prayer, all done in the same order. The process calmed their busy minds and bodies and helped them sleep even when we traveled.
    At age 54 I switched careers and became a nurse, and have been on night shift for 4 years (miserable at any age.It is difficult to sleep during the day, but using the same sort of rituals I had for my kids has been a huge help. Most especially, I have “trained” my brain to fall asleep as I listen to bedtime stories on the Calm app. At this point, I am usually asleep within the first 5-10 minutes of starting the story. It has been a literal life-saver, leaving me well rested and able to care for my tiny NICU patients.

    • Thank you for your service Dawn. I had no trouble sleeping if I worked straight nights but flipping back to days was difficult. It is all about routine!

      • I’m a night shift nurse too and I find I sleep better in the daytime after I have worked than at night when I’m off. I guess maybe work makes me more tired. Switching between working days and working nights is cruelty to nurses imo lol. I could never do that

  • I hate DST ! I’m a morning person ! I can get everything done in the mornings ! I wind down between 2&3 PM why we can’t stay on standard time I so ridiculous ! I love your little newsy bits !

  • Confirmed night owl here! Now that I’m retired, I stay up til 1:00 AM reading in bed on my phone. If I have to get up before 9AM, I’ll usually nap. I feel great!

  • Thank you so much, Max!
    I’ve always been an energetic morning person; yet I’m slowing down considerably as I age (86). I want my old morning spark back.
    You touched some good tools for me to try. I’m inspired.

  • I’m a morning person, I love getting that first cup of coffee & opening the shutters to see what’s going on outside. Except with DST I can’t see a thing at 6:30 or 7:00. I’ve had insomnia off & on for 20 years. A no fuss nightly routine is soothing & some type of prep for the next morning sooooo helps. Years ago I stopped listening to news programs or reading any articles/studies on what lack of sleep will do to us. So part of my nightly routine is not fighting the inability to fall asleep & just go with it, keep reading my book, scroll through Etsy looking at vintage fabric, get some milk & crackers, ( I would prefer Oreos), & go with the flow.

  • Good evening(?) Max! I’m a night-owl who currently has to get up a lot earlier than I want to, due to a commute that is longer than I’d like. Anyway, my evening routine includes making my lunch for the next day and putting it in the refrigerator along with (this is the important part) my car keys. I am much less likely to go off without my lunch if my keys are sitting right on top of it. I have other evening/bedtime rituals, but they’re not as essential to me as that one thing.

    • Well THIS really made me smile!

  • Love this post, and I love the little ceremonies of daily life. My evening rituals (habits? ruts?), which I really settled into during the past two years, have really helped improve my sleep and my mornings. After I clean up the dinner dishes and kitchen, I go clean myself up. I might take a bath or cool shower, but most nights I just wash and moisturize my face and brush my hair. I change into my evening pajamas (because, yeah, basically my daytime wardrobe has migrated toward pajama-style clothing). Then I settle onto the couch for some easy teevee and knitting, usually with a cup of mint tea and a cookie. I put a timer on my living room floor lamp, and when the light turns off, I wrap things up. Had to experiment a bit to find the right amount of teevee/knitting time. After the light goes out, I wash the mug and set it out next to the kettle so it will be ready for morning coffee. During the channel-anxiety-into-actually-moving-the-furniture-around portion of the lockdown, I ended up with a comfy chair in the corner of my bedroom, so now I treat myself to about an hour or so of reading in the evening. Cuz if I get into bed with a book, no matter how compelling, I’m asleep after two paragraphs.

  • Not a night owl, but definitely not a morning person. Since I work at home, I sleep until I naturally wake up (usually 8:30 – 9:00 am) then workout, then get ready for the day. I also use the Stylebook app to plan outfits.
    I use the calendar feature so there’s no deciding in the morning.

  • Max, I hate “springing” forward. I love to go to bed early and read my paperback book for a little while. If I am not sleepy, I listen to a Sleep Meditation. I fall asleep before the end.
    I am not real perky in the morning. I love my morning coffee than I start my chores.

  • Thanks for your column! I find reading poetry before sleep is absorbing and is great for helping my mind let go.

  • All promising discussion, and, as for “no listing at night important to-dos for next day” let me suggest that erasing or crossing off the day’s to-dos can be relaxing/calming.

  • Totally agree that nighttime is not the time to problem-solve. I take the Scarlet O’Hara approach when something has me tossing and turning with worry. Think about it tomorrow in the light of day. The caveat is that you do have to puzzle it out the next day but happily, it’s almost never as complicated as it seemed the night before.

  • Great column, Max. Thanks! Going through some stuff a few years back I asked for my husband’s feedback about how I was doing (as an outsider seeing me). He observed “you do very well with a routine”. I always felt this as well but interesting to see that it was so obvious. So, to start: my workday ends when the supper dishes are done. No more officework or domestic chores after that. Early evenings are then either an exercise class, or relaxing with a book or crocheting, sharing space with my husband who watches tv in the evening to decompress. Late evening, check daytimer re tomorrow and set relevant list/notes on the table, plus set out blender for breakfast smoothie. Silence phone and it stays in the kitchen. Wash up for bedtime around 9:45pm, read in bed till 10:45, lights out. While falling asleep, I shut my mind off from the day with thoughts of gratitide about my day. If needed, earplugs and eyeshade help quiet my world too. Rise at 6:45am. Huge for me is eight hours of sleep.

  • I’m a morning person and always wake up to coffee already made and a clean kitchen. After dinner all the dishes are done and put away. Nothing is ever left in the sink. I set up the coffee maker for the next morning with the timer set for 6 a.m. Corgi girl gets her pill and her doggie toothpaste covered Greenie. The kitchen light goes out. Evening reading makes me sleepy so I go to bed with my Kindle, read for maybe 30 minutes till my eyes close and I’m done.

  • Somewhere in a book of Russian fairytales I read as a child, I read “Morning is wiser than evening” which is also a truth that I have shared with my children forever. As it was the 1950’s when I read that book, the proverb might have been misattributed and have come from the same tradition as “Morning begins at night”.

  • When I was growing up my grandmother (a staunch morning person like myself) had a ritual that I used to think of as “shutting down” parts of the house at night (like the kitchen and dining room), cleaning them and turning the lights off, then not returning to them until morning. I found this practice to be especially helpful when working from home to remind myself that at 5pm my home office gets “shut down” for the night and work stops, and our kitchen gets “shut down” at 7pm. It forces us together in common areas of our home intended for relaxation.

  • I loved this column,Max! And all the comments. I think I am both a night owl and a morning person, if that’s possible. Since my husband and I are retired, and the kids are on their own, I really enjoy mornings alone with my coffee and Bible. We still go bed at the same time, around 11pm, but he loves sleeping later since he left for work at 5:30 each morning for too many years. Setting things up for morning was a lifesaver for all those years. Nice job, Everyone.

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