“Sleep Is The Best Meditation” — The Dalai Lama
As important as it is to start your day the right way , it is equally important to settle out the end of each day.
This will set the tone for your rest and rejuvenation, but also set you up for massive momentum, productivity, focus, creativity and energy for the next day.
Evening routines are the best not only for honouring the day you’ve had, but to set you up for the best day tomorrow.
You cannot and will not be healthy if you are not taking an active role in optimizing your night routine.
I have been tweaking my evening routine for a a few years, and this is best version of my evening routine to date.
1. Daily Reflection
“If you reflect on the things you did right, on your successes, that allows you to celebrate every little success. It allows you to realize how much you’ve done right, the good things you’ve done in your life.” — Leo Babauta
The neurophysiology of why these exercises are powerful is clear — they get you out of your limbic system and into your neocortex.
This helps to reduce the stress response, and engage our parasympathetics — which are crucial to balancing out the sympathetics, or stress response that has no doubt dominated our day.
The limbic brain is our older brain, and typically where thoughts of fear, scarcity and lack come from. This is the part of our brain hard wired for survival.
Dr. Daniel Amen in his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, described these thoughts as ANTS — Automatic Negative Thoughts.
They are automatic and without volitional control.
Going through exercises such as these where you are selectively biased towards the positive things (something we are not hard wired to do, and more of a conscious effort) will shift your neural activity from your limbic brain up into your neo cortex, and specifically your prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is involved in dampening our sympathetics (goodbye stress response!) and it is the area of the brain where happiness and joy are experienced.
2. Reframing Negative Experiences
“Our key to transforming anything lies in our ability to reframe it.” — Marianne Williamson
I always immediately follow the positive exercises above with this question:
What one things could you have handled better today?
Note – this isn’t to say recreate the scenario with your best one liner, or to create unnecessary drama.
This exercise is designed to help neurologically prime you to act in accordance with the best version of yourself.
You know — the loving, caring, intelligent, centered, strategic person you are.
When we reflect on the negative experience we have had, reframe it by visualizing acting in accordance with out highest self, this will start to create neural pathways that will be available to you when a similar or identical scenario presents itself again.
This helps you prime to get it right next time.
This reframing technique is what elite athletes engage in leading up to competition.
They visualize their performance, the intricacies of the competition, how they will handle challenges, and visualize the win.
Negative experiences and scenarios will always show up in your life. This primes you on how to best deal with them.
3. Play Tetris
“Playing ‘Tetris’ for 15 minutes is like meditation.” — Ezra Koenig
Playing Tetris regularly has been shown to thicken up grey matter in the brain.
The grey matter is where all the cells of your central nervous system are, like nerve cells, glial cell (the landscape artists of the brain), and capillaries.
It even has a name! The Tetris Effect.
This study looked at MRI brain scans for two groups — those who played Tetris for 30 minutes a day and those who did not. Over the course of 3 months, the researchers found thickening of the grey matter in the brain of those who played Tetris.
When we think about the prominent neurodegenerative diseases of grey matter — Alzheimer’s, MS, and Parkinson’s — playing this game daily can be one of the tools in your preventative tool belt for brain adaptability and flexibility.
Playing Tetris has been shown to improve both long term and working memory, spatial awareness, and depth perception.
Tetris also helps amplify your problem solving abilities. This makes sense just by thinking about the design of the game.
You need to looking at the shapes in different orientations and positions to make them work.
Similarly, the Tetris effect helps you look at problems from a different perspective, which will usually aid in the solution process.
So I know what you’re thinking — what about the blue light? The overstimulation to the suprachiasmatic nucleus?
I wear bluelight blocking glasses, with the light settings on low on my phone.
4. Make Your To Do List For Tomorrow, Today
“Brain extenders are anything that get information out of our heads and into the physical world: calendars, key hooks by the front door, notepads, ‘to do’ lists.” — Daniel Levitin
One of the most powerful ways to #gsd when the next day arrives is to already have a template for how the day is going to go before it starts.
When you want to create momentum, you don’t show up to the race and then figure out what to do — you plan it out beforehand.
As the saying goes, fail to plan, then plan to fail.
Identifying key things to achieve tomorrow is an empowering way to end your day.
It reduces the energy expenditure in the morning when you are deciding what to do.
We only have a finite amount of brain juice for decision making everyday, so this is a powerful way to conserve your precious energy.
Another reasons why this is important to do the night before is it allows your brain to start thinking of those tasks and problems overnight.
A ninja trick I like to do to amplify this subconscious mulling is to directly ask my subconscious to work on a problem I am dealing with.
This conscious ask to the subconscious — for reasons I am unable to explain neurologically — usually present with a new way of looking at the problem in the morning.
5. Same Sleep & Wake Schedule (No Matter What)
“I wake up at about the same time every day. I sleep well and wake without an alarm clock.” — Donatella Versace
Circadian rhythms are incredibly important for long term momentum and vitality.
Setting up your day to start and end at the same time every night is important for brain health, productivity and focus. We are creatures of habit, and are so via our internal clocks.
More importantly the communication between the various clocks in our body and our master clock in the brain is what helps regulate the natural sleep and wake cycles we develop. We have a master clock in the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus. The SCN is our master clock.
It is sensitive to light, dark and directs our wake and sleep cycles. It syncs and regulates itself with light coming in through the retina.
The SCN will then coordinate with other, more peripheral clocks in the body (located in the liver, the gut, the adipose tissue) through neural or hormonal signals, core body temperature, or eating and fasting cues.
So you can start to see where we, in North America start to get out of sync with out central (SCN) clock and peripheral clocks with late night computer/device use, late night snacking, or large dinners.
Remember the saying —
“Eat Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince, and Dinner like a Pauper?”
The research suggests this may be the best way to optimize and sync our circadian clocks.
Let’s walk through out a common North American evening, looking at it through the eyes of the clocks in our brain and in our body..
The light outside begins to darken, and this is usually when the largest consumption of energy, in the form of dinner, takes place.
And with that, we are already out of sync. As evening approaches, we should be starting to prepare for rest, not take in massive amounts of calories.
But the damage continues…
After dinner, one might go back on the computer, or back on social media, thereby increased light and stimulation into the central clock (SCN) in the brain via the retina.
This will inhibit the release of melatonin.
And it continues to get worse…
A few hours post dinner, perhaps sitting on the couch, a glass of wine in hand and late night snack might be consumed whilst watching TV.
Herein lies the problem — the circadian dissonance — between your brain and your body, and your body’s effort to try and establish a rhythm.
Your brain, your central clock, is detecting less light from the external environment (nightfall), yet there is a focused increase of light from phones, TV, and computers.
Then, to add insult to injury, your peripheral clocks — namely your liver, and gut are detecting a massive increase in energy coming in, which is the opposite of what should be happening. In the evenings, energy consumption should be low.
We are typically less active in the evening so it doesn’t make sense to consume the largest amounts of energy at that time. And it disrupts sleep.
Peripheral clocks in the liver, the gut, and fat cells are all chiming in
Hey! There is new energy here! Time to rev things up and put this to good use!
While your brain is like….Whoa whoa whoa now. It’s dark outside, and time for bed.
Having a full stomach in the evening is at odds with our natural circadian rhythms.
Have you ever had a late night snack or eaten just before bed?
Notice if you had the craziest dreams that night? Or wake up like someone threw a sack of potatoes on you?
You’re not alone.
One of the best ways to sync up your central and peripheral clocks is to stop eating after 7pm.
No matter the season.
Allowing the stomach several hours to empty and for appropriate metabolism to take place (which is to say, while you are upright) will correct for the mixed messaging happening between your brain and your body.
A general rule of thumb is to stop eating 3–4 hours before your bedtime to allow for sufficient emptying of the stomach and to begin your nightly fast.
6. Oxygen Levels Dip In The Evening
“There’s a great metaphor that one of my doctors uses: If a fish is swimming in a dirty tank and it gets sick, do you take it to the vet and amputate the fin? No, you clean the water. So, I cleaned up my system. By eating organic raw greens, nuts and healthy fats, I am flooding my body with enzymes, vitamins and oxygen.” — Kris Carr
Another great thing to do after dinner, is to go for a light, but brisk walk. This will aid in digestion, but more importantly, help to oxidize your body and prepare you for a restful night’s sleep.
Normal oxygen saturation rates in a healthy individual should be 98% -100% during the day, as a general baseline.
If this not the case, we can expect other vital markers, like heart rate to be impacted over time.
If your cells are not getting adequate amounts of oxygen, your heart is going to need to work harder to make sure that happens. The adaptive response to less oxygen in the body is an elevated heart rate.
Tachycardia is one of the earliest signs of cardiovascular stress, and eventually, this can and will impact blood pressure.
If your heart rate is chronically elevated because of poor oxygenation, the blood vessels, and their resistance to stretch, will negatively be impacted over time as well.
So one of the easiest ways to keep your heart healthy, and to not add excess work for the heart, is to make sure you are well oxygenated.
The reason this is SUPER important is as evening approaches, most often our nocturnal oxygen saturation drops by around 4–5% in the evening.
So assuming you are at 98% during the day, that means in the evening you can be as low as 93% at night.
Oxygenation levels of less than 98% during the day will also have proportionately less oxygen levels at night.
Again, this is of concern because as oxygen saturation goes down, heart rate increases.
In other words, low oxygen at night will increase the workload on the heart.
Over time, this can lead to hypoxia, or decreased oxygen to the body.
When we think about this in the context of brain — it can lead to cognitive impairment, cognitive decline, and even stroke.
You always want your brain to have adequate amounts of oxygen.
What you do during the day is what allows you to get through the night.
A few easy ways to improve oxygenation overnight in otherwise healthy individuals:
Quit smoking if you haven’t already. This is a physical crime against your body.
Brisk walks daily for 30 minutes (bonus points for walks in the evening after dinner)
Daily focused breath work
Don’t sleep on your back with a pillow flexing your head forward, obstructing your airway and destroying your cervical curve.
Learn to sleep on your stomach.
Add plants like Snake Plants or Aloe Vera to your bedroom — these plants typically absorb CO2 overnight and release Oxygen in to the bedroom air.
7. Protect Your Bedroom
“My bedroom is my sanctuary. It’s like a refuge, and it’s where I do a fair amount of designing — at least conceptually.” — Vera Wang
I have written about this previously, as you should protect your sleeping space the way you protect other valuables in your life.
A few gems from that article include:
Darken the lights in the evening and reducing your exposure via devices in the hours preceding bedtime
Reduce the temperature of bedroom (somewhere between 60–65°F / 15–18°C).
Sleep with breathable clothing…or better yet…buck naked
Charge your phone in your kitchen, or anywhere except your bedroom.
Remove all electronics from your bedroom (including the TV on the wall)
8. Boatloads Of Sex & Orgasms
‘Sex’ is as important as eating or drinking and we ought to allow the one appetite to be satisfied with as little restraint or false modesty as the other.” — Marquis de Sade
The ultimate parasympathetic experience.
When we think about sex in the context of neurological benefits, the pros of sex are too important to ignore:
All our vital marker improve:
It decreases cardiac output
Heart rate drops
Blood pressure drops,
Breathing rate slows
Aids in digestion.
As well, it allows for intimacy, bonding, and connection time with your partner. Serotonin and dopamine levels skyrocket, and as I have written about previously, this is incredibly healthy for relationships.
There is no better way to start your sleep than with an orgasm