You probably don’t need a scientific study to tell you that it is difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and feel well rested the next morning when you are too stressed out. Stress is your body's way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. Thousands of years ago, these feelings were produced when someone’s life was in danger fighting a wild animal. Today, we feel it when we know we have a big presentation at work or our children have a lot of activities they need taken to. The reasons may be different, but the toll on your body is the same. Feeling too much stress increases your physiological and psychological reactions in ways that are incompatible with the state your body and mind need to enter relaxed, restorative sleep. That doesn’t mean you body can function on less sleep; it just means you need to take steps in order to fix the problem.
Tip #1 Fit Exercise into Your Daily Routine. Right now you may be saying “How can I add one more thing into my schedule if I am already stressed out?!” This is understandable. Yet, fitting in exercise doesn’t necessarily need to mean going to the gym for two hours. Instead, just park further away from the building at work, take the stairs over the elevator any chance you get, and go for a brisk walk on your lunch break. Purchase an inexpensive set of light weights, like five or 10 pounds, and do arm exercises a few times a day at your desk.
If it is important to you, you’ll find a way to fit it in- and it should be important to you. A regular exercise routine in and of itself can help to reduce your stress levels. Numerous studies have shown that exercise can contribute to more sound and restful sleep. Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. This deep sleep also helps to control stress and anxiety (among other things). Not only does exercise itself help with stress, it helps you sleep better which also helps with stress. It’s a win win for you!
Remember though, this tip only works if you exercise at least three hours before bed. Otherwise, it will have the opposite effect.
Tip #2 Practice Guided Imagery. You can’t fall asleep. Instead, you keep going over and over your reasons for stress and worries, contemplating them from various angles. It’s almost like they’re playing on a continuous loop that you can’t shut off. Does this sound familiar? This is a classic symptom of too much stress. You can turn it off, with a little effort.
To begin, get into a comfortable position in bed. Close your eyes and relax. Begin to visualize a scene, memory, or story that you find calming. Remember, this is unique to you and not what someone else can tell you is calming. It may be a favorite vacation spot, a relaxing activity like curling up with a good book, or a special day you spent with someone you love. The key here is to find something that allows you to focus your attention on something pleasurable and let go of other thoughts. Create this scenario in your mind. Visualize all the details of the image or story, as slowly and carefully as you can. Any time you find your mind drifting to an unrelated thought, like one of those pesky worries about what happened at work that day or something that must be done in the morning, acknowledge it and mentally turn away from it. Focus back to your relaxing imagery. It’s okay if this takes time before it works, each time you practice you will get better at it. The idea in this exercise is to focus all of your attention on an image or story that you enjoy, so that your mind can let go of worries or thoughts that keep you awake.
Tip #3 Set Your Sleep Environment up for Success. It is now fairly common knowledge that staring at your phone, browsing the internet and catching up on social media posts, right before bed will make it more difficult to fall asleep even for someone who isn’t extra stressed out. Your phone emits “blue light,” which disrupts the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep cycle. Not only will this result in more sleepless nights and fatigue, but can also lead to a variety of health problems, including depression and anxiety. Not to mention, you may be making yourself more worried by obsessively checking your emails or calendar for tomorrow.
Set yourself up for success by turning off electronics and rotating your clock away from you, so you aren’t tempted to check the time and remind yourself how much sleep you are missing. If you feel it has been too long, change your environment a little bit. If you sleep in an adjustable bed, consider moving your head and feet to a different angle. If you don’t, you may want to get up and move to the couch for a little while.
Are you worried about yet another sleepless night spent worrying as you stare at the ceiling? Don’t keep doing that to yourself! These are great ways to help get you started shaking off the stress and getting some seriously deep sleep. Sleep well- you deserve it!