How to Build a Nighttime Routine for the Whole Family

I’ve written before about our morning routine and how it keeps our home humming. Now it’s time for me to dish the deets on nighttime routines. It isn’t about rigid schedules or a one size fits all approach, but it helps the household (and mom!) work so much better.

Nighttime Routine for Moms (and Everyone Else)

A routine isn’t the same as a schedule that’s planned down to the minute. I need more flexibility than that in my life. One of the biggest breakthroughs for my sanity as a mom was switching to a block schedule. Routines, including nighttime routines, fit perfectly into that.

Routines are basically scheduled habits. Once we get into the habit of routines, like brushing our teeth every morning, it quickly becomes second nature. The more we do our routines the less our brains have to think about it. We can literally rewire the pathways in our brain in positive ways by using routines.

Consistency Plus Flexibility

The CDC lists consistency as the top ingredient for structure and peace in the home. Kids thrive with consistency, routines, and knowing what comes next. This doesn’t mean our schedules have to be rigid and static, but it gives us a framework.

Give yourself grace and wiggle room. There’s no such thing as the perfect schedule or routine. If you’re up all night with a fussy baby/toddler, then maybe take a nap with them in the afternoon instead of catching up on work tasks. Nighttime routines don’t work unless they’re tailored to your individual family’s needs.

If you’ve got 2 preschoolers, a baby, and a toddler, your routines will look very different than a family with teenagers! My health routines aren’t going to be identical to yours.

The Basics of a Nighttime Routine

Before we design our ideal nighttime routine, we have to think about our ideal morning (and next day). Reverse engineer your perfect day. Decide what your priorities and appointments are for the upcoming day and what you need to do to make them as smooth as possible.

If everyone takes a bunch of supplements in the morning, then use presorted pillboxes for easy access. If the baby is going to grandma’s for the afternoon, then make sure the diaper bag is stocked. Making coconut chicken curry in the Instant Pot for supper? Set it out to thaw.

Certain items won’t need to be done every night, but others will. It helps to have some anchors in a nighttime routine and then add in the extras as needed.

Do it as a Family

This will depend on children’s ages and abilities, but I’ve found kids can often do more than we give them credit for. Years ago, I realized I didn’t have to do everything for my kids. It’s better for them if I don’t! Teaching children responsibility and self-reliance helps them to become strong, independent adults.

I have my own nighttime routine, but the kids have theirs alongside me. Kids can do simple evening chores, layout clothing, and pack their lunches, to name a few. Then there are the staples, like brushing teeth, pajamas, and bedtime stories.

Create Your Perfect Nighttime Routine

Here are different elements or steps to get you where you want to go. Decide what works for you and your family as you build your nighttime routine. It helps to have the family routines printed and displayed in an easy to see place, like the fridge. It could be as simple as a list, or you could include exact times or checkboxes for the kids.

1. Meal Prep

My kids are largely independent now and can handle their own breakfasts and lunches. The older ones can even cook a meal from scratch for the whole family. When they were little though, that was all on my shoulders.

If you have busy mornings then make-ahead breakfasts like banana bread muffins, baked oatmeal, or ham and egg cups can be lifesavers. These can be made the day/night before and reheated in the morning.

Are the kids going to school or co-op the next day? Then lunches need packed. Is bulgogi Korean beef on the meal plan? Make sure the ingredients are thawed and ready to go.

2. Avoiding the Mess Mayhem

I like to do a quick evening cleanup during our nighttime routine so I can start with a clean slate in the morning. Most of our tidying up time is during my “productivity block” in my block schedule. A quick cleanup before bed helps ensure everything (most days) is in its place.

If you plan on making breakfast in the morning, but the sink is full of dirty dishes when you wake up, it slows the process down. This is something the kids can help with. Age-appropriate chores like, sweeping the floor after supper or loading the dishwasher helps everyone out.

3. What’s on Tomorrow’s Agenda?

Look at your schedule and see what appointments you have the next day to prep for. Do you need to pack the kid’s lunches/backpacks/sports bags? Once they’re old enough they can be entrusted with this responsibility. Certain items can be loaded in the car that night so there’s no bag left behind in the morning!

If there’s a lot of running around, it can help to do this task earlier in the day. We don’t want to pack too much into our nighttime routine. The idea is simplifying life!

4. Dress for Success

Set out any outfits for the next day. This is something kids can get in the habit of doing so you’re not putting together 7 outfits every night. I’ve found capsule wardrobes really streamline the process.

When my kids were little I picked out all of their outfits. I soon learned the benefits of letting them take this chore over themselves, including doing their own laundry.

5. Leave Time to Digest

Our family eats pretty early in the day for several reasons. This fits best into our schedule, and it gives everyone time to really digest their food. Nighttime heartburn and upset tummies at bedtime are no fun. The body can’t efficiently focus its resources on sleep when it’s busy trying to digest food.

Along with that, it’s just as important to stay well hydrated during the day. I try to drink plenty of healthy fluids during the day and encourage the kids to as well. Many of us are all too familiar with the “mommy I need a drink” at bedtime routine. Drinking enough during the day (and not at nighttime) helps keep the body healthy and reduces nighttime bathroom trips that disrupt sleep.

Here are some delicious options that are healthy and caffeine free:

6. Avoid Blue Light

Blue light has gotten a bad rap, but it’s actually helpful and necessary during the daytime. At night though, it can disrupt sleep, leading to a host of health issues. That’s why I started wearing blue-light blocking glasses at night years ago.

We also turn off electronics in the evening as a family. This helps everyone wind down and get into a more restful mindset. The blue light from devices suppresses melatonin and disrupts circadian hormone rhythms. By skipping out on nighttime tablet and tv time, it helps everyone get more restful sleep and gives us time to connect.

7. Activate the Kill Switch

Not only do we turn off our computers at night, but we also turn off the wifi in the house. There’s strong evidence that EMFs from wifi aren’t good for us, but they also impact sleep. Turning off the wifi at night is a good way to reduce our EMF exposure for a solid 8 hours. You can do it manually as part of your nighttime routine or use the EMF Safe Switch, which is what I use.

8. Keep it Cool

According to Tara Youngblood, sleeping cool at night is key. When the temperature lowers at night it triggers neurons in our brain to release melatonin and help us sleep. One option is to set the thermostat in the upper 60’s at night. Warmer mattresses, like memory foam, tend to collect body heat though and make it difficult to rest at the right temperature.

I use a ChiliPad at night to make sure I’m sleeping at the optimal temperature. It goes on top of the mattress so my body heat doesn’t create an oven under the blankets.

9. Winding Down

There’s a lot going on during the day for any family, and moms carry a lot of that mental load. Instead of laying down and drifting off to sleep, it’s too easy to stay up thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list. One way to get rid of the excess mental clutter is to journal or meditate before bed.

I keep a gratitude journal that collects my daily thoughts. You can also write down tomorrow’s priorities if you’re anxious about forgetting something. Getting it all written out on paper helps our brains sort information and release tension.

Meditation is another really helpful way to wind down at night. It’s not about emptying the brain of all thoughts, but it helps us gain focus and deep rest. Even if you don’t have trouble sleeping at night, routine meditation can help make nighttime even better.

Sticking to the Nighttime Routine

Kids need time to wind down for the day and so do parents. When possible, it helps to have a firm bedtime, not stay up all night working or watching tv. This helps kids have consistency and ensures they’re getting enough sleep for their brain and body development.

While it doesn’t always happen, especially when there’s a baby involved, it’s good to have goals. Just don’t stress if things don’t always go perfectly!

My husband and I do spend time together once the kids are in bed and I finish up my nighttime routine. It’s tempting to stay up late and take in all of the “me” time once the little ones hit the hay. However, late nights don’t make my body happy either and make for hard mornings.

Practical Nighttime Routine

So what could this look like in real life?

  • 6:00 p.m. Everyone does their evening chores. Quick clean up and load the dishwasher.
  • 7:00 p.m. Take magnesium, probiotics, and some sleep tincture. Rub magnesium oil spray on the bottoms of feet. All electronics get turned off.
  • 7:30 p.m. Kids brush their teeth, put PJs on, and lay out their clothes for tomorrow.
  • 8:00 p.m. Kids are in bed. Parents get alone time and time for some self-care. This could include journaling, meditation, or a red light therapy session. Wi-Fi is turned off (here’s how we set and forget this step).
  • 10:00 p.m. Mom and dad are in bed with the ChiliPad and some relaxing pillow spray.

Obviously, this is just a sample and you can tweak it to fit your family’s needs. A good nighttime routine can go a long way in creating a happier, more restful home!

What routines or habits do you have at night? What will you change or add after reading this?

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