11 Easy Little Nighttime Habits to Get Parents Ready for the Next Day

updated Feb 14, 2024
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Credit: Shutterstock, u-konserve

I have to admit: by the time we’ve finished putting our kids to bed, I’m just about ready to go to sleep myself. Between the books, bedtime stories, and lullabies in the dark, it’s hard to motivate myself for anything more than turning on the TV or scrolling Instagram for an hour.

But if I can peel myself away from a screen long enough to get a few things done, the whole next day goes more smoothly. I’m not alone in this — while working on this story about morning habits, I heard the same from many friends: A good morning starts with some effort the night before. So here are 11 little nighttime habits and rituals that make life easier for our families in the morning.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Pack Lunch for the Next Day

We’ve learned the hard way that if we don’t pack lunch the night before, we’ll be jogging to the bus stop in the morning. We’ve also learned that our kids are more likely to eat food they choose for themselves, so now, I ask them what fruits, veggies, and proteins they want to have available as we build the grocery shopping list for the week. A divided Bento-style container (we have these square U-Konserve ones) helps them remember to pack the different food groups, and we have a lower shelf in the pantry dedicated to their snacks and add-ons, like trail mix, seaweed snacks, and applesauce packets, so it’s easy for them to grab what they need. For my lunches, I’ll pack leftovers from dinner straight into lunch-sized containers, or I’ll bring in a big bag of arugula on Monday and cut up the mix-ins the night before.

Take a Quick Break after the Nighttime Routine

While bedtime itself is relaxing, the night up until then usually isn’t: It’s a rush to finish up work, fetch the kids, feed them dinner, get homework done, go to sports practice … and then get their teeth brushed, pajamas on, and snuggle in with a book. So once we say the last goodnight, my husband and I give ourselves 10 minutes to catch up on work emails or texts before we launch into the next phase of homemaking. Set a timer and let yourself take some solo time without your partner to do a quick wrap-up. It’ll let you feel more prepared for the next phase!

…Then Plug in Some Headphones

Most of the nighttime tasks I need to do are fairly mindless, and I’ve found that the housework can feel like a treat if I’m catching up on a favorite podcast (lately, the Embodied series) or book on Audible (like Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries, though sometimes I’m using it to catch up to my daughter if she gets ahead of me on Harry Potter). For this, I love my airpods, because I don’t have to worry about cords or carrying around my phone.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Close the Kitchen

We usually try to get the dinner dishes done right when we finish eating, but if it doesn’t happen then, it certainly happens before the grown-ups go to bed. “I hate waking up to dirty dishes in the sink,” says my friend Olivia in Brooklyn, who has two kids. She also runs the dishwasher every night so she can start each day with a full set of dishware. In our house, doing the dishes also includes a quick swipe of the dinner table and kitchen counters with a multi-purpose surface cleaner (one in a scent I love — like Mrs. Meyers Lemon Verbena — makes that chore nicer.)

Tidy the House — But Set a Timer

“I like the apartment to be reset before I wake up,” says my friend Laura, a parent of one in Queens, New York. It makes the day feel fresh, plus everything is easier to find in the morning if it’s where it’s supposed to be! TikTok influencer Monica Brady uses collapsible laundry bins to gather items and move them between rooms during her quick house reset to cut down on trips back and forth. If I’m having trouble motivating, I’ll often set a timer for 15 minutes so it doesn’t seem so daunting — and I’m often surprised that I’m just about done when it goes off. (It almost feels this easy.)

Put Your Gear by the Door

“I always put my toddler’s mask, coat, and hat on the counter by the back door so it’s easy to grab on our way out,” says my friend Maya in College Station, Texas, who has two kids. My children are older, so I remind them to put everything they need into their backpacks, and to put their backpacks in the hallway by the front door. We also have their computer chargers plugged in right by the door, so they can charge while inside their bags. If there’s anything we need to grab at the last minute, like lunches that need to be refrigerated, a visual cue next to the coffee helps, like an empty lunch bag — or a big, shout-y sticky note.  

Prep Breakfast

A few of my friends like to get breakfast going the night before, like soaking overnight oats or making a batch of hard-boiled eggs. Make-ahead muffins or egg bites that can cook in batches and freeze or refrigerate are also good options. “If I am ambitious, I will remember to put all the pantry smoothie stuff in the blender carafe and refrigerate it the night before, that way the oats/chia seeds/nut butter soak up the liquid and the banana gets cold,” says Laura. A few to consider:

…And Coffee!

“I get the coffee all ready to go the night before,” says Lisa, a mom of three in Birmingham, Alabama, who makes sure her Keurig is filled with water to save a step in the morning. Laura does the same — loading the grounds and water, “So all I have to do in the morning is push the on button.”

Credit: Emma Fiala

Review the Calendar

“My husband and I always talk about the next day’s schedule the night before to figure out if we need to change our routine, since it’s usually his responsibility to take care of the toddler and mine to take care of the baby,” says Maya. Similarly, I always take a look at our schedule (and the weather!) to make sure there’s nothing coming up at home, school, or work that would take us out of our routine or require extra gear. If anything’s important, it gets a post-it near the coffee.

Set Out Clothes

Particularly if I have a meeting the next day or the kids have some sort of spirit day at school, we pick out our outfits the night before. I have one child who is particularly particular about her outfits — for her, we often choose a week’s worth of outfits on Sunday and set them on her dresser, so we don’t spend time searching for favorite t-shirts in the morning rush. (You can also grab a hanging organizer for the closet to make everything super-clear.) If I’m planning to work out early in the morning, I set out my clothes in the bathroom so I don’t wake up my husband while I’m getting ready.

And Don’t Forget to Wind Down

After all that getting ready for the next day, it’s easy to forget the one thing that helps the next day go smoothly: Getting a good night’s sleep. I find that setting aside a little time to wind down before bed helps. That can be whatever relaxes you — watching a little TV, reading a book, etc. — but generally not checking work emails or scrolling. I like to do a little 5-minute yoga routine, and if I’m not planning to work out, I find that showering the night before is relaxing (bonus: It saves a little time in the morning). Spray some lavender on a pillow, put on the sound machine, and drift off into dreamland. You deserve the rest too! 

This article was originally published in February 2022.