It’s your favorite part of the day—and, we’re guessing, the unhealthiest. Make over your evening routine to get the relaxation you deserve without overdosing on sauv blanc, mint chip, Netflix, or your iPhone.
For years, the story of my me time—those precious hours between the end of dinner and the beginning of sleep—has read like a handbook titled What Healthy People Don’t Do at Night.
Wine. Tube cookie dough. A laptop-tablet-TV trifecta of sleep-sabotaging blue light. And, yes, part of this has to do with having children: Preschoolers and teenagers alike have a way of sending parents into a post-bedtime roundoff, back handspring, double-pike tumbling pass into our vice of choice. But honestly, I engaged in these subpar evening health habits before kids, too. Because if you’re a woman and you spend your day doing anything other than lounging at a pool, you need some time at night to unwind. Time to treat yourself. And, more often than not, time for all bad health to break loose.
“At the end of the day, we are full of emotions that need to be processed: anxiety from work, exhaustion from running around all day,” says Christine Carter, PhD, a sociologist and happiness expert at the Greater Good Science Center, based at the University of California, Berkeley. “But we’re so exhausted that we just want to zone out, so we turn to numbing behaviors like consuming social media, sugar, alcohol, and TV.”
It’s hard to keep this behavior in check, because by the time we’re wrapping up the day, we’re fresh out of willpower. “Our brain is done making good decisions. We did that all day at work, parenting, cooking, errand-running, exercising, and more,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, of Washington, D.C., the author of Body Kindness. “So we make irrational choices: eating ice cream straight out of the container instead of savoring just one dish; two glasses of wine, not one.”
Not that scraping the bottom of the Nutella jar is the end of the world. “There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a big bowl of ice cream or a gourmet cupcake,” says Scritchfield. “But all too often, we’re mindlessly engaging in these behaviors night after night, not truly enjoying them and sometimes waking up feeling guilty about them, which is the opposite of how me time should leave us feeling.”
Your mom probably didn’t have these me-time issues—maybe because there hasn’t always been an expectation that women deserve time to themselves in the first place. In today’s world, where self-care is the buzzword du jour, we know better. But while we’re trying to carve out more time to decompress, modern life has become the opposite of a decompression chamber. There are emails around the clock, overscheduled kids begging for homework help, and panic-inducing politics all over your Facebook feed. (Where did all the cute babies go?!)
Look, we need time to relax; done right, it enhances our productivity, creativity, and concentration. Research from the University of Michigan shows that lacking enough me time can be more detrimental to a couple’s relationship than problems with their sex life. Try these strategies to make those post-dinner, pre-bed hours a little less of a regretfest.