Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Night Owl's Experiment: Developing a Nighttime Routine

"Tomorrow, I'm going to honor a nighttime routine."

One of my big goals for July was to develop a Wake-up Routine. I succeeded in that goal, and it's been wonderful starting my days with intention. My apartment stays clean with fewer cleaning binges stressing me out. I let the routine slide during a high-anxiety week, and that's okay. The routine was all set and reassuring when I was ready to step back into it.

The reason it works is because it's more than "cleaning," it's meditation. It's cleaning mixed in with tooth-brushing, stretching and affirmations, and breakfast. It flows together like watercolors and reminds me that I am part of my environment, and I'm worth taking care of. (From what I understand, the “care” aspect makes it a ritual instead of a routine, but that’s a topic for another time.)

It's been such a comfort, I'm excited to work on a nighttime routine now. I'm a night owl. I get a burst of energy when the sun goes down and it takes major effort to pull me away from whatever I'm working on. I suspect learning to read my body's tiredness cues will be a big part of a nighttime routine's success.

When I experimented with a Dream Day calendar, I set numerous alerts to remind me to start winding down. They were absolutely useless, just like an alarm to wake up in the morning was useless. I need to apply the same strategy to nights that I've had so much success with in mornings, which is:

1. Focus on the task order.

I've tried making goals like "meditate every night" and they always get dropped for that extra episode of Cupcake Wars. Morning goals used to get dropped for extra time playing on my phone, and the way I got over that was by creating an “order of operations” for my morning. For my nighttime routine, if I blend meditation, cross stitch, and reading in with dishes, wiping counters, and washing my face, in the same order every night, I believe the whole will support the parts.

Every race needs a starter's pistol. I can start with the same task every time. I’m thinking first, put on podcast, second, wipe table. That feels like a good starting place for me.

2. Time the whole.

Instead of assuming I'll get to everything every morning, I limit my morning routine to an hour. My morning routine has dishes and laundry in it. Tasks like those fluctuate based on how much mess has accumulated. It took some practice to learn what an hour feels like without watching the clock. I have an even better idea for nighttime! I'm gonna put on a podcast or CD while I do the cleaning part, then finish it out to cross stitch, and after it's done, move to my bedroom/bathroom for tooth brushing, reading, and meditation. While my Wake-up Routine takes one hour, with how much effort it takes to convince my night owl brain to rest, the Nighttime Routine will probably take two.

3. It'll happen when it happens.

My hope is that the self-regulatory nature of routines will lead to a regular sleep/wake schedule. Then, I’ll be able to say, “My nighttime routine starts at 9 PM.” (HA, 9 PM, that's like early evening!) Until then, my plan is simply to commit to the tasks, not the hour, so I have to learn not to push myself to exhaustion by starting too late in the night. Tonight is a bad example of listening to internal cues. I was so excited to repeat the routine I practiced yesterday, I went straight to Google Docs to write about it.

It’s a process!

I’ve decided to break my Nighttime Routine into three phases, so I can master them in baby steps.

Phase 1: Leading Rein (Titled this, not because any of these acts give me control, but because they allow my mind to take me where it needs to go. Of course, listening to a podcast impedes that. Hmm.Something to consider, there.)
  1. Put on podcast or album
  2. Wipe table
  3. Wipe counters
  4. Wipe stove
  5. Diffuse a calming essential oil
  6. Prep tomorrow’s meals as applicable
  7. Throw out trash / sort recyclables
  8. Wash dishes
  9. Wipe sink and faucet
  10. Brew tea
  11. Sweep
Phase 2: Passage (The phase between active and asleep.)
  1. Tidy desk
  2. Tidy living room (adjust couch cushions and pillows, fold blankets, stack books)
  3. Enjoy tea and cross stitch [I’m still working on timing. Until end of podcast? End of one needle’s worth of embroidery floss? 20 minutes? I’ll try it a few ways and see what works.]
  4. Play with cats until they lay on their sides
  5. Plug in mobile devices to charge
  6. Refill water bottle
  7. Turn lights and other electronics off in the living side of the apartment
Phase 3: Landing Place
  1. Put on PJs
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Floss
  4. Wash face
  5. Moisturize
  6. Read, 20 mins.
  7. Adjust the bed covers and window so the room is cool, dark, and quiet
  8. Body scan meditation
  9. If not asleep within 30 minutes, repeat last three steps.

I made these lists in the Reminders app on my iPhone 4S. Any to-do list app will work great. Of course, it’s best to minimize screen use before bed, so a whiteboard, chalkboard, or plain ol’ piece of paper could be used instead.

I make sure to use the checklists even if I feel like I have it memorized because, honestly, if it were intuitive, I would’ve been doing it all along. Besides, the point is not to recreate the order every time, but to develop habits of Thing B after Thing A.

I’d like to say my goal is to master this by the end of August, but with three phases, I have a feeling it’s going to take longer than two weeks to get it down pat.

It’s important to remind myself to do these things without expectation. It’s all for me, so if it doesn’t improve my life, I can let it go and try something else instead. It is impossible to fail.

What works for you?

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