After last week’s post on healthy ways to begin the day, how could I not cover the flip side? Just as our mornings can mirror scenes of rampant pandemonium, evenings for many people are remarkably unhealthy in their own right. We collapse and barely move from the couch. We spend hours in front of media entertainment, basking in blue light way past our intended bedtimes. We succumb to the day’s stresses and take them to bed only to lose the chance for mental rest as well as physical relaxation. There’s a better way of course. It doesn’t take much hoopla or energy to make for a healthier or more Primal evening, but the benefits will carry us through the night hours and then some.
Enjoy Physical Touch
Yes, sex was on last week’s list, but let’s expand the concept. Cuddling your kids, massaging your partner’s shoulders, or petting your dog or cat gives you a pleasant shot of oxytocin, which can help you relax and fall asleep.
Food intake, like light and sound, can trip (or trick) our circadian rhythms. Finish dinner and call it a day food-wise. Your body will benefit from the longer stretch without metabolic stress, and you’ll likely sleep better.
Choose the Messages That Bookend Your Day
Just as I think it’s important to begin the day with the messages that set the course for our morning, what we end the day with can have repercussions as well. What thoughts do you want to bring to your sleep (or subsequent lack thereof)? Consider that the local news or that hefty financial bestseller might not inspire the deepest repose. Skip the doom and didacticism in exchange for something inspiring or plain old escapist.
Carve Out Some Solitude
In that spirit, claim a little time for yourself each night – especially if you’re at work all day. Everyone could use the time to hear his/her own thoughts. Enjoy the mental space for doing whatever activity feeds and relaxes you or for doing absolutely nothing.
Set an Alarm to Go to Bed
How many of us lose total track of time as we go about our evenings? Whoa, how did it get that late? I’m not a big fan of alarms for waking up, but they can be a great reminder to turn in when you should and not when you finally remember to.
Create Order for the Next Day
A few minutes tonight will allow you to begin the next morning without undue stress and turmoil. Take care of business, write your to-do list, and you’ll sleep better knowing you’re ready for the day.
I’ve written pretty extensively about how blue light throws off our circadian rhythms. As countercultural as it is to power down at night just when “Must See T.V.” is at its height, your health is more important than some late night show. Turn off the electrical equipment (including the smart phone) as early as possible in the evening, and dim the lights at least an hour before turning in. Fire is a nice alternative – and Primal to boot.
Spend Time in Natural (Outdoor) Darkness
I think it’s strange how we tend to avoid being outdoors once the sun sets. At no time in our evolution was this ever the case. Sure, there’s crime in many neighborhoods, but when we put the fear in perspective given our individual environments, do we give ourselves reasonable opportunity to enjoy the moods and views of the darker hours? When and wherever you can, spend some evening hours under the night sky. Notice how much different you feel there than you do simply parked on the couch.
Primal truth be told, it’s never a bad time to move, but there are specific benefits to working out at night. A University of Chicago study found better hormonal responses (cortisol, thyrotropin, and glucose) in subjects who exercised in the evening or nighttime as opposed to the afternoon or morning. Even if you’re somebody who prefers to put in the heavy stuff early on in the day, use the evening as a time when you can work in some low level activity (e.g late walk around the neighborhood). Get in that last bout of activity a couple hours before bed, and then you’ll feel that blissful afterglow descend right as you’re ready to hit the sack.
Incorporate Some Mindful Movement
It’s movement, yes. Most people I know, however, see it as more relaxing. (Perfect for evening, no?) It could be a few restorative yoga poses, a few minutes of Tai Chi, or some focused stretching. Neuromovement expert, Anat Baniel, says any time we bring awareness to our movement, we’re creating new pathways. We’re working our muscles and our minds – increasing the creativity and productivity of both. Use the time to get out of your mind, so to speak, and into your body.
Follow a Ritual
I had a roommate once who literally did the exact same thing every night – same order, same timing, same activities for the same duration. After a month, his nighttime routine made me tired. When it comes down to it, we Homo sap-saps are complicated and all, but we’re just about as trainable as Pavlov’s dog. Use this inherent simplicity to your advantage. Create a regimen for the last half an hour before bed. Over time, you’ll find you may not even get through the full list anymore before you’re compelled to doze off.
Get to Bed Early
Given the time-sensitivity of sleep cycles and related hormonal secretions, every hour before midnight really is invaluable. Besides, as a friend of mine says, every decision made after 10:00 p.m. is a bad one. All the more reason to call it a day.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Be sure to share your ideas for ending the day on a Primal note.