All of us experience our fair share of stress. And one of the worst things about stressful times is when they negatively impact your sleep. After all, if you battle insomnia, it can make it a struggle to get through your day, which can add to your stress levels.
Causes of Poor Sleep
You can usually tell you’re not going to get a great night’s sleep before it happens. You know the routine: You can’t shut off your thoughts. Your muscles are tensed. Your heart rate may be increased rather than slowing down for the night.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” In a 2017 study, 45% of Americans polled reported sleeplessness due to high stress. Here are seven strategies for improving the quality and quantity of your sleep, especially when you’re really stressed out.
1. Deep Breathing
Try some deep breathing exercises close to bedtime. One option is the 4-7-8 technique. It’s pretty simple: You breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then breathe out for eight seconds. This can reduce anxiety and help you get to sleep.
Another deep breathing technique is to breathe into your belly, allowing it to expand, hold this breath for a few seconds, and then release it. This may be easier if you don’t feel like keeping to the exact ratio of the 4-7-8 method.
Deep breathing in some format will help you slow your heart rate, an essential component of falling asleep. It can help you to focus on something other than the stressful events of your day.
2. Relaxation Techniques
Many people enjoy practicing yoga, and it comes with benefits for your sleep as well. Breathing is a key aspect of yoga, but the stretching and physical poses themselves also can improve your sleep.
Poses like Wide-Knee Child’s Pose and Corpse Pose are among several that may help you ease into a state of relaxation. Doing a few of these poses close to bedtime can help you fall asleep more easily, regardless of your stress levels.
Meditation may be a useful tool in helping you to relax before bed as well. It’s fairly easy, requires no medications, and can be added to other sleep strategies. Try sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and simply focusing on your breath. It may feel foreign to you at first, but even a short few minutes of meditation can help you to calm your mind and breathing, leading to better sleep overall.
3. Relaxing Bedtime Rituals
For those struggling each night to get enough sleep, it might be worth changing your bedtime sleep routine. If you’re always going at full speed, never slowing down, then trying to go to sleep instantly will be a challenge.
It’s a good rule of thumb to start winding down for the night at least 30 to 60 minutes before you want to actually go to sleep. Then, decide on a couple of activities you can do every night to help signal to your body that it’s time to relax.
A few ideas for your bedtime routine include writing in a gratitude journal, taking a warm bath, reading a good book, or drinking a cup of herbal tea. You don’t have to do all of these; just think of what fits your personality. It’s best to avoid screens near bedtime as well. The blue light from your smartphone or laptop will confuse your brain into staying alert.
4. Get Sunlight Early in the Day
Studies have shown the importance of getting exposure to sunlight in the earliest part of the day. In our modern society, we have technologies that keep us up at all hours, day or night, but this isn’t always a positive thing.
According to a study cited in the journal Sleep Health, workers who get the most exposure to light between 8am and noon tend to fall asleep more quickly at night and experience fewer disturbances to their sleep compared to those who have low light exposure in the morning. Plenty of daylight exposure is also linked to decreased depression and stress, so it’s a win-win.
5. Create a Peaceful Sleep Environment
Make your bedroom a comfortable and peaceful environment you use primarily for sleeping. An important part of sleep hygiene is to keep the area where you sleep sacred to sleep. Try not to bring your work into your bedroom. That can make it hard for you to shut off your mind and slow down for bedtime.
You can make your sleeping environment a peaceful one by investing in comfortable bedding — think of not only sheets and blankets, but also pillows and mattresses. Lighting is also a factor. If there’s a lot of bright light outside your room, you may need blackout curtains or shades. When your bedroom is cool and dark, you’ll sleep better.
Of course, quiet is another essential part of a comfortable bedroom. If you live in an area where there’s frequent noise on the street or in the hallways, quality earplugs can help you sleep better.
6. Keep a Regular Bedtime
To improve your chances of sleeping well each night, it’s essential to go to bed at approximately the same time every night. We know, it’s hard to avoid the habit of staying up later on weekends or when you’re on vacation.
But the more consistent you are with your bedtime, the better you’ll sleep. Your body’s internal clock gets used to going to sleep and waking up at the same time if you stick to a bedtime. Likewise, it’s better not to sleep in extremely late on your days off, as it throws off your entire cycle of sleeping and wakefulness.
7. Watch Your Diet
Eating healthily throughout your day will improve your chances of good sleep. Plus, a balanced diet can help you to cope with stress, which in turn helps your sleep cycle.
An obvious culprit of poor sleep is caffeine. Most of us need to avoid consuming caffeine too late in the day. This depends on what time you need to go to bed, of course, but often 2pm or 3pm is a good cutoff time for caffeine. Others may need to stop the java by noon. Figure out what works best for you and aim for no caffeine or other stimulants four to six hours before bed.
You Can Sleep Soundly Even When You’re Stressed
Stress can rob you of a lot of the rest you need. Fortunately, these strategies can make it easier for you to fall asleep at night, sleep longer, and experience fewer disruptions to your precious sleep, even if you are under stress.