After a long day there’s nothing quite like just crashing in front of the TV and vegging out; plus you probably deserve it.
Still, those couple of hours before bedtime can have a big impact on your waistline, fitness and wellbeing so it pays to try and ensure your evening habits are as healthy as possible. Here are twelve ways to make your evenings healthier.
1 Set a Sleep Schedule
Sleep is a biological imperative and vital to good health.1According to the National Sleep Foundation it’s best maintain a consistent sleep schedule. In other words, go to bed at the same time each and every night. Adults need around 7 – 9 hours sleep per night, while older adults (65 years and older) need 7 – 8 hours.2 So work back from when you need to get up so you know when you need to be in bed.
Sleep schedules work for children, helping them to get in tune with their circadian rhythm and are linked with better memory, attention, and emotional and psychological wellbeing. Sleep is equally important for adults, and a sleep schedule can work for you too.
How to: Our bodies love consistency. Aim to go to bed and to wake up at similar times each day. Having a consistent sleep routine trains the brain to feel tired when it’s time to go to sleep.
2 Cut Down on Caffeine
Caffeine, found in tea, coffee, some sodas and chocolate, is a powerful stimulant and can disrupt your normal sleeping patterns. Consuming caffeine too close to bed time can mean you end up staying up later than you should and get less sleep than you need; sleep being essential for health.
How to: Stop your caffeine consumption around 4pm to 6pm depending on your individual sensitivity to ensure you are completely decaffeinated by bedtime and get a good night’s sleep.
3 Mindful Eating & Watching TV
TV is a great form of entertainment but it can also be very distracting (and super easy to get sucked into a Netflix binge). And who doesn’t like to munch away in front of the TV? Alas, with attention focused on the latest plot twist, people often fail to realize just how much they are eating; the hand just automatically moves from the potato chip bag to the mouth.
In other words, it’s incredibly easy to overeat when you are watching TV.6 Making this less of a problem requires a three-prong approach.
- Make sure your TV snacks are low calorie and healthy – air-popped popcorn and vegetable crudities are much better than nuts or candy.
- Be more aware of how much you are eating in front the TV. And generally when eating, enjoy each mouthful – the different flavors, colors, textures, and tastes. Chew it properly and then ensure there is a long pause until you take another mouthful. Don’t just graze mindlessly. Mindful eating is associated with a lower daily calorie intake.78
- Only dish up a sensible-sized portion. Do not sit down with a family-sized bag of your favorite snack. If you have it, you’ll most definitely eat it. So leave the rest of the bag, far far away in the kitchen.
4 Take a Walk After Dinner
Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise around. Gentle, effective and enjoyable, a post-dinner walk can aid digestion and gives you a great opportunity to spend time with your family other than sitting in front of the TV.
How to: 20-30 minutes is plenty and will add up to a whopping extra 73,000 calories of expended energy which is equal to around 20-lbs of fat a year! Indeed, a brisk walk after a meal may actually improve blood sugar control.910
5 Watch the Alcohol
Alcohol has a mild sedative affect which can help you get to sleep quicker. However, it can lead to disruptions later in the sleep cycle and cause daytime sleepiness the next day. Research suggests that even small amounts of alcohol (less than two servings a day for men or one serving per day for women) can reduce sleep quality.1112
6 Dim the Lights
Though more energy efficient, LED lights tend to produce more blue light (“cold light”), which suppresses melatonin production. Red light (“warm light”) is not thought to have this effect, though more research is needed.1516 However, a 2020 study in mice has found the opposite to be true.
As the evening progresses, gradually reduce the brightness of the lights in your lounge and bedroom to help you transition from wide awake to ready to sleep. There is software and apps that will gradually dim the display on your computer and smart TV and there are programmable lamps that do the same thing.
7 Avoid Overstimulation Close to Bedtime
Do stories about dishonest politicians or unscrupulous business practices make your blood boil? If so, you really need to avoid watching the news too close to bed time. The angst that the news can cause may lead to you becoming over stimulated and unable to relax which will prevent restful sleep. The same is true of dealing with work-related emails or phone calls.
How to: Stay away from things that you know will “wind you up” so that you are relaxed and ready for sleep at bedtime.
8 Be a Discerning TV Viewer
TV is entertaining but can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Apart from blue light, watching TV keeps you alert and stimulated, preventing you from falling asleep or going to bed if you’re heading down a Netflix binge.19
Instead, seek out shows that can educate and entertain you like nature and history shows, or watch a re-run of your favorite TV show. It’s more relaxing, won’t involve heart-stopping plot lines, and is great for winding down.
Even better, lull yourself to sleep with a bedtime podcast, designed to bring on the zzz’s.
9 Stretch During the Ad Breaks
Most people spend a very large proportion of their day sitting – be it at work, school or in the car. All this sitting is very bad for your posture and can have a negative effect on your general mobility and flexibility. Stretching before bed can reduce night cramps, while meditative movements, such as yoga and tai chi, have also been shown to improve sleep quality.2021
Rather than make matters even worse by spending all of your leisure time sitting in front of the TV, punctuate your evenings with mini stretching workouts. So as not to disrupt your viewing pleasure, stretch during the ad breaks.
How to: Focus on your hips and hamstrings as these muscles are the most likely to be over tight as a result of sitting. As you will be stretching cold, ease gently into each stretch and don’t force it.
10 Relax & Unwind
A warm bath or shower, some relaxing music, or meditation can aid sleep.222324 Anything that helps ease the tensions of the day and promotes relaxation is a good idea before you head off to bed. Maybe it’s just a cup of warm, comforting cocoa.
Like the cool down after a hard workout helps you go form active to sedentary, taking the time to relax and unwind before trying to sleep means you’ll slip off to sleep much more easily.
How to: Try a few different routines and then stick with the one that gives you the best results.
11 Make Your Bedroom a Tech-Free Zone
Taking your smart phone or tablet to bed or watching your TV in bed can be very distracting and may prevent you from going to sleep in a timely fashion. It’s all too easy just to check your emails and then end up answering messages or logging into your favorite social media site when you should be sleeping.
Furthermore, these electronic devices emit blue light, which makes the brain think it’s still daytime. As a result your body doesn’t produce the hormone melatonin needed to fall asleep and changes your normal circadian rhythm so you stay awake.2526
How to: Shut down your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before going to bed to allow your brain switch off and melatonin rise.
Ideally, leave your tech devices downstairs and enjoy unplugging for the night so you sleep better. If you need some pre-sleep entertainment, try a book – and not an e-book either (though portable e-readers such as kindle emit less blue light)!27
12 Play White Noise
Traffic, dogs barking, noisy neighbors, creaking floorboards – all these noises can conspire to keep you from sleeping properly. While earplugs can be helpful, they are not always comfortable. Instead, use a white noise generator to drown out extraneous noise so you are free to sleep.
How to: Some white noise generators produce a non-descript hiss, which helps you fall asleep faster.28 Or maybe you prefer the sound of rain, waves, or a babbling brook. These soothing sounds are pink noise and have been shown to improve sleep length and quality.29
If you usually use headphones, an under pillow speaker is a more comfortable alternative. More simply, a fan can also be effective.
Don’t stumble through life like a grumpy and exhausted – use your evenings to recharge your batteries. By making your evenings healthier, you’ll make your days way more enjoyable, energetic, and super productive.