Psychological Benefits of Routines

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
4 min read

As soon as your eyes open in the morning, you must start making decisions. Hit snooze, or get up right away? Coffee before shower, or shower first? What should I wear? These morning decisions can cause stress. By cutting back on the decisions you have to make early in the day, you can get off to a better start. Make some choices ahead of time by having a routine and a schedule.  


Stress reduction is just one of the psychological benefits of routine. Organizing your time can also pay off in other ways. The result will be a happier, healthier you. 

Daily routines are helpful, but you may need a weekly routine for things that you do less often, such as grocery shopping or exercise. Set one or more routines, and you can reap these benefits:

Your stress level will fall. If you have a plan, you'll feel more in control. You will have made many decisions in advance, and you can focus on making good choices for the ones that remain.

You'll sleep better. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is the first step toward being better rested. Good sleep can give you a psychological boost. If you have trouble falling asleep, a bedtime routine can help.  

‌You'll enjoy better health. Meal planning makes it easier to stick to a healthy diet, but that means setting aside time for shopping and meal prep. Similarly, you can use a routine to boost your physical activity or to take your medication on time. A healthier body means a healthier mind.

You'll be happier. If you have a schedule, you can build in time for play. Yes, adults need playtime, too. Whether it's reading, playing a video game, or watching birds at a feeder, downtime is good for your mental health. Without a plan, you may come to the end of the day without having spent time on pleasure.

If you practice good time management, you'll set a good example for your children and be able to share your skills with them. In addition, having a family routine can help children feel safe and secure.

Researchers have found links between family routines and children's social skills and academic success. Also, routines are valuable for families during times of crisis. If a parent is ill, for example, children with routines are better able to cope.  

Family routines can reduce the chances of a child showing symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and other behavior disorders. According to one study, low levels of family routine are tied to oppositional defiant disorder, in which children are hostile and resentful. Researchers say that problem behavior is more common among children who don't have consistent morning routines, mealtimes, bedtime, and homework time.

The psychological benefits of routine can make a difference if you’re facing challenges, including:

Addiction recovery. People who are recovering from addiction need to replace bad habits. Planning ahead and staying busy can stave off boredom, which could lead to relapse. Good habits can improve self-image and confidence, which are often lacking in people with addiction disorders.

Bipolar disorder. Routines may help with bipolar disorder, according to one study in which people used a tracking device to monitor their schedules. Disruptions were tied to both "up" and "down" episodes. Those with bipolar disorder may have more sensitive body clocks, researchers say.

Othermental healthchallenges. In another study, scientists studied circadian rhythms, which are the periods of rest and activity that you go through in a typical day. Disruptions of these cycles triggered depression, mood disorders, and other problems. The researchers also found that people with disturbed circadian rhythms were more likely to be lonely and less likely to be happy.

If you already have a daily routine, start by modifying it. But don't make too many changes at once. Write down your new routine. It can be in the form of a schedule, or it can be a list with items to check off. Your chances of success will be higher if you do most things at the same time each day. 

Track your progress with a calendar or other visual aid. Reward yourself when you stick to your routine, but be sure the reward supports your goals. For example, you might reward yourself for exercising each day with a pair of new sneakers.

Routines need new habits, which can take time. In one study, people took an average of 66 days to create a new habit. Technology such as fitness trackers can be helpful in setting healthy habits. Many also track sleep, a vital part of any healthy schedule.

People who are trying to establish new routines and habits are told to be flexible, which can seem like a contradiction. In fact, failing to follow your routine for one day doesn’t mean you’re off-track. If you let yourself take a day off, it can be easier to return to your routine than if you think of any break in your routine as a failure.