Ask an Expert: Set Yourself up for Sleep Success with an Evening Routine

Posted on February 22 2022

By Dr. Damiana Corca, sleep & wellness specialist, Doctor of Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, and Functional Medicine

Your evening routine is the most impactful health habit you can establish. When you fall asleep easily and wake up feeling refreshed, everything is better – your health, your energy levels, your brain function, your mood.

The best part of your evening routine is that it’s something you do for yourself each night, and it should be enjoyable because it’s personalized to you. Your evening routine is not another chore you are adding to your list, but rather a combination of things you do which feel good in the moment and benefit your sleep at the same time.

Here are some of the most important evening routine habits you can implement, starting tonight:


1. Make a to-do or “worry” list for tomorrow. 

We tend to think that our evening routine should start an hour or two before bedtime. Something to consider is to start with a longer preparation timeline for the evening. For example as the evening approaches, let’s say around 5 or 6pm, it is time to wrap up your day. Many people find it helpful to build a to-do list for the next day, or write down worries or concerns they may have. You can see this as an emptying of the mind for the evening, so you can sleep deeply and peacefully at night.

You can write this list down in your phone or in a notebook. Continue adding things throughout the evening, as they pop into your mind, until you have nothing new left to write. This list could include small things, big things, worries, to-dos, things you don’t even know the answer to but they keep popping in your mind. Simply write those thoughts down. Later in the evening or at night, if any of those thoughts pop back up into your mind, just tell yourself that it’s written down and tomorrow you will deal with it. Now it’s time to rest. 


2. Understand when to eat and drink in the evening.

Ideally, you should finish dinner by or around 7pm. This is ideal because you sleep better if you finish eating about 3 hours before you go to bed. Eating a balanced meal that has protein, carbs, vegetables and healthy fats is ideal. Having too many carbs or sugar for dinner can make it harder to fall asleep or it can cause you to wake up after being asleep for a few hours.

Similarly, you sleep best if there has been enough time for any alcohol you may have consumed to move through the liver by the time you go to sleep. This typically takes a couple of hours. Don’t be tricked by the fact that alcohol seems to help you fall asleep. The sleep quality is not as good, and you may wake up throughout the night or early in the morning. 


3. Know how to fully enjoy your life after 7pm.

 You can only sleep deeply and rest well if you give yourself some downtime in the evening. Your life after 7pm is all about nurturing yourself. This can come in the form of spending time with your family, reading a relaxing book, taking a bath, watching a movie, meditating and/or journaling.

One very important thing to do is take an honest look at your evening and assess between healthy habits and where you might be "numbing out." Numbing out is when you literally become numb to your own emotions or feelings, and doing so in the evening is extremely common in our society because of the constant stress in our lives. It’s totally fine to watch a movie or a show, just as long as you keep it at one movie or one episode and you allow enough time to really be mindful of how you feel and how you are honoring your emotional and physical needs. Use some of the ideas mentioned in the previous paragraph to fill your evening.


4. Build a routine in the hour before bedtime, and stick to it.

The hour before bedtime is hands down the most important part of your evening. If you have to choose one aspect to begin improving the quality of your sleep, this is the one. Decide what time you want to go to bed and one hour before, start preparing for bed. Brush your teeth and do your bathroom routine, turn down your bed and change into your nightwear. Put all your electronics away and be sure to avoid checking your emails and scrolling on social media.

The next step is to meditate for a few minutes. Put a timer on for 5 or 10 minutes if you are a beginner, or longer if you already enjoy meditation. Sit comfortably in a chair or on your bed and do these three things: feel your body, feel your breath, and observe your thoughts. Every time you catch your mind wandering, simply come back to feeling your breath, and sense various parts of your body. The purpose is not to empty your mind, but rather to notice when you’ve been away, thinking, and bring the awareness back into your body and stay mindful of your breath. You may also use various apps such as Insight Timer or Calm to guide you in meditation.

After you are done with your meditation, take some time to journal your thoughts if you feel inclined. Or read a book, enjoy some light stretches, or listen to some music, a calming podcast, or an audio book.


5. Go to sleep when you feel sleepy.

Going to sleep at the same time every night is important, but even more important is going to sleep when you feel sleepy. If you start feeling sleepy a little before your typical desired bedtime, go ahead and turn off the light and go to sleep. On the other hand, if you glance at the clock and it’s past your bedtime but you don’t feel sleepy, keep doing a quiet activity until you begin to feel groggy. This is especially important if you tend to have trouble falling asleep.


Implement a sleep routine over the next seven days and watch your life and overall wellness begin to change. You will most likely notice that you are more rested, your mood is improved, and you feel sharper throughout the day.


Dr. Damiana Corca. Doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Pacific College of Health & Science

Dr. Damiana Corca

  • Doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Pacific College of Health & Science
  • Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Masters of Oriental Medicine, East West College of Natural Medicine
  • Bachelors in Health Sciences, East West College of Natural Medicine

If you want to learn more about root causes for sleep issues and how to solve them, get this free gift from Dr. Damiana Corca