The Perfect Ending: How To Have a Relaxing Night

Key Points

  • Having a relaxing night is a great way to end a stressful day.

  • Relaxing music, baths, reading, crafts, and other low-key activities make a night more relaxing.

  • Make almost every night a relaxing night for the sake of good sleep.

Some nights you just want to stay in and relax. No plans, no parties, no hanging out at the bar — just a nice relaxing night of unwinding before you get some shuteye.

Your busy lifestyle doesn't make that easy, and it's hard to turn off your brain when it's been buzzing all day. How do you put together a nice relaxing night?

The right answer is whatever is right for you. Everyone doesn't find the same things relaxing, but some ideas work for almost everyone. Peruse this list to choose what works for you and design your perfect night of chill.

Set a Deadline for Work

In this age when many work from home, it's often difficult to set boundaries between work and free time. Technically, you're always at the office when your office is also your home. Don't think that way!

Start your night off right by giving yourself a hard deadline to log off. Whatever's left can wait till tomorrow. Make it definite by shutting off your computer and muting alerts from whatever workplace app you use.

Turn Off Unneeded Lights

Because the human brain evolved long before electric lights, encroaching darkness sends an important signal to your mind and body that slumber time is near. Once you shut down your computer, turn off any other unnecessary lights.

If your room light has a dimmer switch, turn it to the lowest setting that still allows you to see.

Reading a book in dim light

Make a Simple Dinner, or Order In

Some people find cooking relaxing. If cooking is a pain in your neck and more stressful than relaxing, take advantage of your favorite restaurant's delivery service or scale back your dinner plans. It's OK to have snacks for dinner once in a while, as long as they're not too unhealthy.

A light evening meal can benefit your restfulness. Eating too much dinner before bed disturbs sleep because digestion creates energy.

Take a Bath

How many times have you said you were going to go take a nice, long, relaxing soak in the tub? Science is on your side.

A 2019 study at the University of Texas reports people taking a warm bath one or two hours before bedtime fell asleep faster and enjoyed better sleep quality.

The theory is that the successive heating and cooling of the body triggers the production of melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it's time for sleep. This tracks with other findings that cooler temperatures trigger melatonin.

Be sure your bedroom isn't too warm before you turn in for the night.

Some aromatherapy blends for the bath include herbs with a reputation for relaxation, such as lavender and ylang-ylang. Aromatherapy candles on the edge of the tub are also effective.

Taking a bath

Listen to Relaxing Music

Music profoundly affects many people's moods. "Music hath charms, etc., etc."

Selecting the right soundtrack for your evening wind-down is crucial.

Music for relaxation is a different genre than music that helps you drive, dance, or focus at work. A little night music affects your brain quite differently.

Looking for the perfect sleepy-time playlist? A group of British neuroscientists measured the vital signs of listeners to determine one.

The top pick, "Weightless," is a collaboration between the musical group Marconi Union and sound therapists that was produced specifically to relax people. Other songs on the list aren't so engineered, they're just mellow — like Adele's "Someone Like You," and Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing."

For more ideas, check out Snooze's review of relaxing sleep apps, most of which offer streaming music selections. The apps may require subscriptions for more complicated services like meditation guides and sleep tracking, but the music is usually free.

Just Listen to Relaxing Sounds

If easy-listening music isn't your thing, you can induce similar effects with non-musical sounds. Most of those sleep apps offer nature sounds, like lapping waves, breezes, and waterfalls, as well as artificially created "white noise" options.

This is especially handy if you live in an urban area and want to mask outside noises without creating your own racket.

Read or Listen to a Story

Reading in bed is a popular way that many people swear helps them fall asleep. The possible downside is that becoming too engrossed in the book keeps you up too late.

Man with headphones in bed

For bedtime stories, avoid novels and focus on magazine articles, essays, and short stories. Another option is to re-read a book you love: you can enjoy dropping back into that world without needing to find out what happens next.

If you prefer audio to text, some of the aforementioned sleep apps offer audio bedtime stories for adults, with narrators telling calming stories in soothing tones.

Meditate and/or Pray

Another thing that sleep apps often include is meditation guides. Meditation is a practice for unwinding after a busy day. It gives you a chance to stop running around, quiet your thoughts, and process your day.

If praying is part of your life, taking time in the evening to give thanks for your blessings and ask for guidance sets a relaxing night off on the right foot.

Solve a Puzzle

Word puzzles and jigsaw puzzles refocus your mind from the day's worries. This is relaxing unless you are the purpose-driven type who can't sleep until you solve it.

Electronic puzzles and games also work, although the experts discourage bringing your eyes too close to a bright electronic screen right before bedtime. There's evidence that the blue light in those screens discourages melatonin production.

Write in a Journal

Nightly journaling is a practice many people use to process their thoughts and experiences before they go to bed so they won't be nagging them during the night. Writing in an actual book by hand rather than with an electronic device is a good way to slow yourself down for the evening — and keep your eyes off a bright screen.

If you're not the writing type, a video journal performs a similar function.

Writing in journal in bed

Have a Cup of Tea

Hot drinks have relaxing qualities for similar reasons as hot baths, but avoid those with caffeine if you want to relax. Many herbal teas include traditional soothing plants like chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, and passion flower to add to the calm.

A shot of CBD or something stronger also works, but don't drink too much alcohol before bed. It knocks you out at first, but then it disturbs your sleep cycle.

Do Something Crafty

Even in the digital age, most adults enjoyed at least one low-tech craft as children: drawing, coloring, crocheting, building model planes, making jewelry, etc. In adulthood, it's easy to lose track of those activities because there's so much work to do and so many Twitter fights to have.

Reconnecting with some long-ago favorite hobby or pastime is a great way to unwind in the evening. The activity doesn't have to yield productive results as long as you enjoy it.

Revisit a Favorite Movie or TV Show

Like reading, streaming video is potentially relaxing as long as you don't get too engrossed in it. A good way to avoid that is to watch something you've seen and enjoyed before. Reruns are comfortingly familiar, and there's no need to spend time processing what you've seen or wondering what comes next.

Sit back and enjoy the show.

In choosing your program, be careful of the genre. Even a familiar movie with a lot of action or suspense might keep you awake.

Give Yourself the Spa Treatment

Primping yourself with a hair treatment, facial, manicure, and/or pedicure is a fun way to occupy yourself. It's similar to a craft in the way it focuses your mind on a manual project, but with the bonus that you end up looking great!

Try a DIY treatment like a homemade avocado face mask to make it extra crafty. Many recipes are available online and are often highly effective without busting the budget. Of course, if that sounds like too much work, just put on some premade products and chill out.

Woman with face mask in bed

Stare Out the Window

Stopping and gazing out into your garden or the street outside pulls you out of your own thoughts and forces you to pay attention to the world. Study the sky, the people, the plants, the buildings, the animals — whatever happens out there.

If you have a porch or deck — and weather permitting — sit outside and breathe the evening air as you watch the world go by. It's your life, and you deserve to spend some of it doing absolutely nothing.

Hang Out With Your Pet

You probably feel it, and science supports it: interacting with pets, especially the furry ones, lowers blood pressure and the stress-related hormone cortisol.

"Petting and holding an animal allows you to appreciate the beauty of nature,” says Jeremy Barron, director of geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins. “It’s relaxing and transcendental.”

Pets also provide perspective because their concerns are different from human concerns. If your work worries consume you, just look at your cat sleeping on the couch and consider how much they don't care.

Take a Stroll

During the warmer part of the year, taking a leisurely evening walk around the block is a good way to unwind. If you have a desk job, walking burns off your pent-up restlessness from sitting all day but doesn't hike up your energy too much.

This is also a good "pet hangout time" if you have a dog that needs walking.


Doing light stretches at the end of the day prevents those morning aches and pains and helps you relax. Your body carries around tensions you don't notice until you try to stretch and realize how tense you are.

Be sure you know how to properly stretch. Stretching cold muscles too abruptly risks injury.

Many sleep apps include stretching guides. There are also stretching instructions on exercise websites and YouTube channels.

Woman stretching at night

Give and/or Receive a Massage

If you have a willing housemate, learning massage is a great way to help each other relax in the evenings. This is another activity with many online tutorials.

The most important factor in this activity is to listen to your partner's reactions — when you hit the right spots, when you push too hard, etc. If you choose to massage on bare skin, using a massage oil with a relaxing aromatherapy blend is a nice touch.

If you live alone there are self-massage items such as roller balls and foot massagers to iron out those kinks prior to bedtime.

Choose Your Favorites, and Make It a Routine

Unless you have a lot of free time, you can't do all these things every night. Still, once you find your favorite relaxing activities, work them into a routine you're able to follow on most nights.

Establishing a routine is an important part of sleep hygiene — the habits you form around going to bed each night. Just as night follows day, our bodies tune into the rhythms of our lives and form habits around times to sleep, wake, eat, and so on.

Getting a consistent routine of relaxation tells your body and mind it's time to go to sleep. This stops your tossing and turning, thus giving you better sleep during the night.

Learn all about nighttime habits for better sleep at Snooze.

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