Why I’m Taking Back My Evenings

Why I'm Taking Back My Evenings

Hello, friends—and hello, December! It’s hard to believe that my year of slow living experiments is almost over. It started with the slow morning experiment in January, where I allowed myself to wake up naturally and have a slow, quiet morning before the start of each day. Slow mornings are something I have managed to continue with all year, and have helped lower my anxiety about both work and life. Now, this year of experiments has come full circle, and it’s time to focus on slowing down my evenings—particularly, my bedtime routine.

If I’ve never mentioned it before, I have always been a troubled sleeper. The first time I can remember experiencing an extended stretch of insomnia was in the ninth grade (age 14). I would either lay awake until 3am and then sleep for only a few hours, or I would wake up around 3am and never fall back asleep. This went on for weeks, before I was finally so exhausted that my body just knew what it had to do. And then I would sleep well for a few weeks or months, until my insomnia came back for another stretch of time.

It’s fair to say I have had at least one or two stretches of insomnia every year since. So I wouldn’t consider myself an insomniac, and I feel fortunate to get the amount of sleep that I do. But I still don’t have the healthiest sleep pattern, and I know there are two things to blame.

The first is that, most nights, I don’t give myself a lot of downtime before bed. This past month was the worst, because the book launch has meant there is work I could do at all hours of every day. But I am currently in the habit of working right up until bedtime, then closing my laptop, crawling into bed and trying to fall asleep right away. There has been no time to read and no time for a bath, and no time to just be quiet and do nothing. I’ve actually been falling asleep ok, but that’s because of my other bad habit. I can’t even believe I’m saying this.

I bring my phone to bed with me—and I have been opening the Netflix app and falling asleep to the quiet sound of a boring show. I know, I know. I KNOW. I’ve combined the two worst things you could do in bed: look at your phone and watch TV. I will say, I don’t do this all the time. It’s a bad habit I seem to pick up when I’m stressed or sad. I did it for a couple months in 2015, and I did it for a couple months in 2016, and I’ve been doing it a lot since the dogs died. It’s like my body and mind can’t take the silence, and I just need a little comfort (that I no longer find in alcohol or food). So, I just do it. I don’t feel good about it, and I don’t even like admitting it. But it’s because I don’t feel good about it and don’t want to admit it that I know it’s time to change the habit for good. And you guys are the best accountability partners a girl could ask for, so that’s why I’m sharing it here.

My intention for December is to take back my evenings altogether. That starts with signing off from work earlier and having at least a couple of hours to myself. With the book coming out in just six-and-a-half weeks (!!!), I know the to-do list will continue to scroll through my mind, but I really need that downtime. I want to curl up on the couch with tea, read for fun again (it has all felt like work lately), and soak in a lot of epsom salt baths. That is what my body and mind really need.

What I don’t need is my phone or Netflix in bed, so that is changing cold turkey today. I’ve deleted the Netflix app, and the phone will lay upside down on my dresser (out of my reach). Maybe I’ll eventually get to the point where I don’t even bring it into my bedroom, but I have a lot of early morning interviews these days, so my phone’s alarm clock is currently essential. So, I’ll relax after work, then read in the tub and/or in bed, and fall asleep without the soother that my phone has become. That’s the plan for December.

Experiment #10: Slow Evenings

  • no work/social media after 7pm
  • after work, write down the next day’s schedule/to-do list
  • no TV/phone after 8pm (and definitely not in bed)
  • read a book every night (probably in the bathtub)
  • create/practice/share my new bedtime routine

I’ve known I needed to do this experiment all year, but I think there’s a reason I pushed it to the very end: because it meant I would have to share my dirty little secret with you (that I bring my phone to bed) and because I would have to stop doing it. In the minimalism/simple living space, I feel this pressure to be totally “awakened” and in control of every part of my life. But I’m not perfect. I’m self-aware, but that doesn’t mean I do everything right. Like I’ve said before, I’m just trying to do the best I can. We all are. And I’m really grateful I can share all parts of myself here with you.

What are your goals/intentions for the last month of 2017? I’d love to hear. :)

  • Have you tried a white noise machine or app? It helps me sleep and cues my mind that it’s time to wind down when I turn it on. Would highly recommend!

    • Great idea. I use the Rainy Mood app for this while I read at night before bed. The sound of rain relaxes me and I almost always start to doze off shortly before I want to be in bed. Then move my phone out of the bedroom and use the white noise feature on my clock radio to sleep to since I live in the city that never sleeps. The sound of ocean waves is my favorite.

    • Great tips! I have had a lot of success just opening the Calm app and listening to the rain. Also, Calm sleep stories. :)

  • This is awesome. I don’t know of many people that try to debunk and improve sleep as well! I’m also a firm believer that sleep is something that is crucial to our happiness. Yet, most of us take it for granted.

    I’m also on a mission to improve my sleep, and this has helped me realise that I need to focus more.

  • I feel like I’ve read you mentioning it before, but the Calm app is amazing, although it does require you to bring your phone to bed (or, I guess, hook it up to a Bluetooth speaker and bring that to your room). The sleep stories range from 20-40 minutes, and put me right to sleep most nights.
    I would also recommend trying a Yoga With Adrienne video geared towards evening relaxing or sleeping better.

    • Yes, I love Calm sleep stories! I just get into a bad habit of not listening to them / being entertained by TV instead. But I listened to a new one last night and it put me right to sleep. :)

  • ‘I’m self-aware, but that doesn’t mean I do everything right.’

    I’m right there with you and I think it’s often times a hard place to be. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been scrolling through Facebook thinking I shouldn’t be on Facebook but having no desire/motivation to stop. For me there’s an extra layer of guilt – I think I could do better, this isn’t helping me to live my priorities but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to stop scrolling.

    • The guilt that comes after is interesting, because we don’t *need* to feel bad—we aren’t hurting anybody with our actions (at least not if we are doing this while alone). But it’s good to ask ourselves what these things are preventing us from doing. For me, it’s hurting my sleep. And with all of these bad habits, I always get to a place where I value the other thing more. So now, I care more about deep sleep than I do about text messages, Instagram, Netflix, etc.

  • I’ve been working on a similar thing. I don’t take my phone in my bedroom at all now, unless I have an early appointment and need the alarm. I do read or watch a little TV before bed, but realize that your night time bath idea sounds wonderful, especially now that the weather is cooler. I’m going to try that tonight.

    • Ooo, I hope it helped and you got a great sleep, Linda! I find epsom salt baths especially help me relax and fall asleep quicker.

  • Oh, wow, this post is super-timely for me. Like you, I have bouts of insomnia in amongst periods of normal sleep, so I’ve been looking at improving my sleep hygiene to help alleviate it. One of the big indicators that I’m going to end up waking up in the night is if I go to bed too tired to read. Reading in bed before I fall asleep is something I’ve done since I could read, and I find it helps me wind down and relax (because I can’t focus on the story if I’m still fretting about eleventy other things). Lately, though, I’m more likely to stay up late watching Netflix or working on my novel, only to go to bed in that ‘wired and tired’ state, where my body is weary and my eyelids are heavy but my brain is spiralling through a million thoughts.

    My major intention for December is to turn off all screens within ten hours of my alarm going off in the morning, so I can wind down with a book, and maybe some yoga or a bath, to help me sleep.

    You mentioned that you keep your phone in the bedroom for the alarm. I actually like to keep mine in the kitchen and set an alarm; it keeps the screen out of my bedroom and forces me to actually get up and not fall back asleep. I’m not sure if this conflicts with your slow mornings thing (you seem to be more of an early bird than I am, naturally), but it might be an idea if you want to keep the screen out of the bedroom and still use the alarm.

    • Ten hours before your alarm goes off—I love that idea, Nicola! I’m usually up around 6am, so I guess the no-phone-after-8pm rule is essentially the same. :)

  • I really LOVE my white noise machine and can’t get to sleep without it. I got it on Amazon and it’s the Dohm. There’s also a travel version called the Rohm. I have both. I leave my phone in the living room but do have my iPad on the nightstand. If I need an alarm, I use the one on the iPad. I don’t look at anything on the iPad once I crawl into bed except for my Solitaire app. I play till I win a game and then turn it off. I also make sure to keep the light on the iPad as low as possible and in night mode so it’s more an orange tone than blue. I have no problem getting to sleep but staying asleep is another story. Wishing you the best of luck with your new nighttime routine!

  • I’ve suffered from very similar sleeping issues (disorders?) as you, and yes – watching tv in bed is the worst for it. I’ve purposely not let my husband move a tv into the bedroom, but we still watch Netflix on my laptop in bed almost every single night. So, ooops!
    I’d love to get back into my old night time routine. I’d turn on CBC radio and listen to “q” or “This American Life” (depending on the day of the week), lay in bed, and just listen on my clock radio. It had a feature where it’d automatically shut off after an hour, when I’d either already be asleep, decide it’s time to go to sleep, or hit that button for another hour of talk radio. It was very relaxing (and entertaining) and helped me break away from the screen. Might be worth exploring this again :)

  • You can buy an alarm clock at Target. :) Just saying.

    (My phone lives in the kitchen when I am in the bedroom. My problem is not the phone – it is a night owl husband who wants to start serious conversations late in the evening. I am dreaming of the day when we live next door to each other and are blissfully happy going to bed each at our own time.)

    • Ha! I know friends who already do that (sleep in separate rooms because their individual sleep patterns are so different).

  • This is great. Thanks so much for sharing our habit evolution. I am reading a book that has really helped me to fine tune to daily habits. It’s called body thrive by cate stillmen. She also has a podcast called yoga healer which you might enjoy. Our daily habits create our life experience. Thanks for being so open and honest with us.

  • I use a fan for white noise and it helps a lot. As for cutting tings off at 7:00 or 8:00, it’s sooo hard. For driven people there’s always that annoying “productivity voice” inside the head saying what’re you doing!!? .. you’re not getting things done!!

    I’ve been fighting this annoying voice for a long time now. The struggle is real.

    • It’s real, but in the past two years I feel like I have mastered it (at least in terms of only working half-days or taking full days off). Because the simple fact is that there is ALWAYS something you could be doing. But downtime + sleep are important too. :)

  • Wow, I can so relate… I thought I was the only one who started sneaking my iPhone into bed at night to watch Netflix when I was going through a sad time, and then it became a habit that I can’t shake! I’ve tried to since wean myself off by switching to podcasts as I fall asleep (at there’s no light!). Keep up posted on your progress and how going cold turkey turns out! Thanks for sharing your light with the world :)

    • I’m going to post updates at the bottom of this post, Danielle! Thought it would help me stay more accountable + also be interesting for people (maybe!?).

  • Cait, you’re not the only one who has trouble sleeping at night. I’ve read that estimates have reported that up to 40% of the North American population don’t get the required amount of sleep. Now I know that this amount can vary from person to person but, regardless, many of us are in the same boat as yourself, including me. From researching the causes I do know that mainly it’s often one’s lifestyle, our techie generation, resulting in the lack of Melatonin levels, nature’s assist to getting proper sleep.

    The approach to changing your evening habits is the right approach to fix things. I know this but habit’s being habits, I still stay on the computer too late each night (so my bad!). Here though is a link that addresses ways to increase Melatonin levels:

    And as to my goals/intentions for December 2017, quite simply to stay healthy, help others, (and probably shovel some snow (hopefully, you skip this one – lol)

    Sweet dreams, friend!

    • Haha, you’re a good homeowner + neighbour, Rob! Thanks for the link. Looks like I already do some of those things :)

  • Cait, have you thought about getting another dog (I think the other two were family dogs, but one of your own)? While it’s healthy to find yourself in silence (and that is an impossible feat for many to even broach), humans do need connection. There’s nothing wrong in admitting wanting some sort of companionship, even if to simply be needed. If you can look at yourself, honestly, and accept all the emptiness and void of meaning in life (except that which we create) and accept yourself, why not make a decision to include a furry little companion in your life that will help create some joy? I’m sure there are plenty needing to be adopted.

  • Cait,
    Have you tried stretching or lumbar rolling before bed? I find that when my muscles are tight – which epsom salt bath helps with as well – then I have trouble sleeping…

    • I have, but it’s not currently part of my regular routine. (Epsom salt baths are though.) Thanks for the tip!

  • I applaud you for trying this. This is probably something everybody should do, but I know I’m too weak to last. I bring my phone AND my tablet to bed, so your secret is safe with me:)

  • Consider not keeping your phone by the bed, Cait. It is harmful (read the articles on the bluetooth features in your room). Go to IKEA and buy a 1.99 old style alarm clock. Your phone can wait for you in the hallway or kitchen. This will improved the quality of your sleep — its the quality, not always only the quantity. And you won’t be believe what meditating before sleep does to improve the quality in such a short time. You will feel your body sleeping soundly. Worth a try :)

    • Also, try epsom salts in your evening bath. Magnesium contributes to a better sleep. This is found naturally in epsom salt.

  • I mentioned my sleep problem (which is very similar to yours) to my new neighbor and she gave me a diffuser and some essential oils. (Lavender and Cedar Wood) Whenever I have trouble sleeping, I turn the diffuser on and just drift off to sleep. Excellent!

  • I would recommend an alarm clock and then you can relax and have the phone out of the room altogether. There is research that says having the phone in the bedroom, even without notifications reduces the quality of sleep. There’s also good quality research that shows effective steps to take to aid sleeping (using CBT) and you’ve instinctively reached for many of them, such as having night time and day time routines, wind down routines and a relaxing space to be in. Good luck, i’d better get on and quit procrastinating by writing this instead of getting out on my bike (my dirty little secret, saying how busy and stressed i am but procrastinating!). As always we are in good company!

  • This sounds like a great experiment! I hope it helps sort out your sleeping patterns. Have you heard of ASMR videos on YouTube too? If I’m having trouble sleeping those usually help me quite a bit. Good luck!

  • Have you tried taking a walk in the evening? The fresh air and mild exercise might help you burn off the extra energy and relax.

  • Cait, I’m a poor sleeper as well. My doctor recommended “Zzzzquil” and it has helped. I’m averaging about 6.5 hours a night, which is great for me. Have a great week! Carol

  • I am a life-long insomniac. I have made peace with that–meaning, I don’t fight it, I just go with it. I have found that I don’t do very well with the “get into bed and fall asleep” routine. So, I go to bed as early as I can (given my family’s routine), assuming that I will read until I am sleepy. I love to read, so this is a treat. I think, for me, that reading gives my brain something else to concentrate on other than the “monkey brain” things that it jumps around concentrating on if I don’t read. I describe it as “following the tail of the story to dreamland.” What this means is that what I read at night are nice narratives–ones that aren’t depressing or require a lot of work to concentrate on. (I read those things during the day.) But at night, I need something nice to look forward to that will help me fall asleep. Also, hang in there! I am so excited for you and your book!! Hooray!!

  • I related to this so much, Cait! I’m also putting off discussing my sleep on my own blog for the same two reasons, though I’ve set a deadline of writing about it and how I’m improving it by February lol. How are you doing with this one so far?

  • I’m a bit late to the party but I think I’ll do this slow evening experiment with you. Like you, I have always struggled with good quality sleep. I similarly go through periods of barely any sleep until by body gives in and sleeps well for a couple of weeks. But sure enough, when I’m starting to feel well rested, the whole cycle starts up again. And sure enough, my evenings look almost identical to yours. I know I need to stop looking at my phone in bed and I know I need to stop working late but there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done, so I often feel forced to keep working right up till 11pm. But, honestly my health is far more important than ANY work. So, I thank you for this reminder that I need to sort my bedtime routine once and for all and I’ll start right now!

  • You could try getting a ultrasonic diffuser i use the tranquility essential oil blend from Sage in mine for sleeping or winding down.
    Run it a hour before bed or leave it running while sleeping, (they auto shut off)
    It works great for me!

  • Hi Cait. I recently found your blog, at a time when I also knew I had to change my evening/bed time routine. Reading this post was such an inspiration! I’ve started turning off all screens (tv/tablet/phone) at 9.30pm (I hope to roll it back to an earlier time as I continue). As I live alone I had convinced myself that these were all “company”.
    What I’m loving is the silence and head space of having time at night now to do…well, nothing or something or whatever I feel like. It really is a “reclaiming” or taking back of my evenings.
    This is providing me with unexpected gifts, like ideas that come from that extra mental space, and having time in my day with no pressure to “do” anything. It feels like it has widened my life a bit, somehow, if that makes sense! And that was so unexpected!
    I am really grateful to you for sharing your thoughts and ideas here on your blog, so that we can also benefit from them. Thank you!

  • Really love your blog. My best friend and I are currently in the very early stages of creating a lifestyle blog, Our hope is to help grow the slow living movement, encourage people to slow down and create and inhabit daily rituals/rhythms. Your blog is one of a handful that have been a huge inspiration for us; your year of slow living experiments, especially the slow evening one, have inspired us greatly. We cannot wait to read The Year of Less and share it on our space for others to discover, as well <3, We always look forward to what your blog will bring. Thank you for being here and creating this space!!

  • Kava is an excellent, natural relaxant which I use when I wake up at night and can’t fall back asleep.. One dropper of tincture will relax you right down to sleep in no time! Also a white noise machine is mandatory for sleep :)

Comments are closed.