Stress is notorious for preventing sleep. Most people find that no matter how relaxed they feel before going to bed, their stressful thoughts seem to keep them awake, as they focus on the negative issues in their lives right when they’re trying to get more sleep.
This is a problem, and what makes matters worse is that sleep itself is an important part of coping with stress. If you are unable to get enough sleep throughout the day, your mind and body will be more prone to severe stress, which in turn can make it harder to sleep at night. This can become a vicious cycle if left untreated.
Obviously the best way to improve sleep is to cut down on your stress. There are ample stress reduction strategies that you can use to cope with the day’s stresses. But what about sleep-specific strategies for when you have had a stressful day? Below are several methods of improving sleep when you are dealing with stress.
Tip 1: Create a Routine
One of the reasons that routines are considered boring in a relationship is that they’re too comfortable. There is very little excitement in a routine, because you’ve done the routine so many times in the past that your mind simply shuts off, no longer seeing the activity as anything very memorable.
In addition, there is a phenomenon known as “state dependent learning.” Essentially, your body learns better in situations that resemble the same state that you were in when you learned them.
By combining these two phenomenon, you can actually improve your sleep. The key is to develop a long, intricate routine that you perform before you go to bed every night in the exact same order every time. For example, turning off the lights in the same order, putting pillows on the couch in the same place, checking on the stove even if you already know it’s off, etc.
Doing this every night without fail is an effective way to essentially bore your brain and become more comfortable, preparing yourself for sleep. Your mind will learn that it’s time for bed, because you always perform these same activities before bed, and eventually you’ll find going to sleep afterward to feel easier and more natural. You may even start to get very tired before you’ve even reached your bed.
It’s important that none of these activities involve electronics, or anything that can cause you stress. They need to be boring and comfortable, so that your mind and body can learn to shut off. It takes a while for this to work, but if you’re dedicated you’ll find that a good, long routine is a great tool for letting stress melt away before bed.
Tip 2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
There are several relaxation strategies and techniques that are believed to reduce stress.
For example, deep breathing is a technique derived from yoga involving controlled breaths, slowing your heart rate and making it easier to feel in control of your environment. Others include visualization and meditation.
All of these may be valuable for your stress, but are not always the best strategies for right before you go to bed. One that may be more valuable is known as progressive muscle relaxation.
A serious issue when it comes to sleeping with stress is tension in the body. It’s very hard to feel relaxed when you feel physical tension. Progressive muscle relaxation attempts to deal with this feeling by tiring out the muscles so that they’re essentially forced into relaxation.
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing each muscle as hard as you can, one at a time, for ten seconds each. This level of tension drains all of the energy out of the muscle so that the muscle is too tired to feel tense:
- Start at the muscles in the right foot.
- Tense the muscle for 10 seconds.
- Move to the left foot.
- Tense the muscle for 10 seconds.
- Continue until you reach your facial muscles.
In addition to preventing muscle tension from keeping you awake, there are many that theorize that progressive muscle relaxation can improve mental relaxation as well, as a result of the mind/body connection. When you feel less physical tense, you tend to have less stressful thoughts.
Tip 3: Distract yourself from Stress
This strategy will absolutely not work for everyone, so you should make sure that you believe this is something that will work for you. But some people find that what they really need when in bed is a distraction.
For some (emphasis on some, as others will find this to keep them awake more), some type of technological distraction can be helpful. For example, listening to funny podcasts or watching low stress television. These distract the mind from stressful thoughts making it easier to fall asleep.
However, for this to work, several things need to be in place. For one thing, you cannot be someone that is kept awake by sounds or light. Most people are, so this strategy will be ineffective. Second, you cannot actually watch or pay attention to these things. If you have a podcast on, make sure it’s very quiet so you can barely hear it. If you have the TV on, it should not only be quiet but your head should be turned away from it so that you’re not actually watching the TV or staring at the light. Rather, you simply hear the TV in the background and there is a bit of extra light in the room.
This method of dealing with stress can be surprisingly effective for those that can sleep with a small amount of noise or light. The noise gives them something to focus on, which in turn replaces/drowns out any of the stressful thoughts that are keeping them awake. You should still avoid watching TV or doing stressful activities in your room during the day, however.
Tip 4: Take a Break from your Bedroom
Sometimes the key to improving sleep is simply to change your environment temporarily so that you can get a break from the way you feel in your room.
One strategy for this is to simply sleep elsewhere – on the couch, in the guest room, on a large recliner, etc. Doing this makes you feel “different,” and that different feeling may make it easier for you to get comfortable.
This would not be a permanent change, of course. Just a break from the norm so that you can stop associating your bed with poor sleep. Again, one of the key reasons that stress effects sleep is not only from the mental distractions (thinking stressful thoughts), but also the way that having those stressful thoughts in bed associates your bed with stress. Sleeping elsewhere for a short while can reduce that association, and be a helpful way to calm your mind and body when you do go back into your bedroom.
Tip 5: Find a Pre-Bed Stress Reduction Strategy
This was touched upon this site before. Journaling is a surprisingly effective strategy for reducing stress because it takes the thoughts you had in your mind and puts them on paper elsewhere, essentially telling your brain that it’s okay to stop thinking about it because it won’t be forgotten.
Other people find something known as “positivity journaling” to be effective as well. This is similar, except it involves writing down only positive things and thoughts that you had throughout the day. The idea is to end your day with something positive, and forcing yourself to come up with a high minimum of genuinely positive things that happened.
Still others prefer their own stress elimination tools. Some enjoy praying, because it gives them a feeling of hope, which helps their anxiety. Others use breathing exercises to tire the mind and body and make it easier to simply roll into bed without feeling sleep. All of these can be effective in their own ways, and you can mix and match the ones that work best for you.
Finding Sleep in a Stressful World
It’s clear that stress can have a fairly significant impact on your sleep. Yet often it’s not just the stress that keeps you awake – it’s also how you handle that stress and how you contribute to the way you feel when going to bed. The above list are strategies that can reduce the stress you experience when you are ready to sleep, and can help you finally get that rest you need.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera suffered from intense sleep deprivation as a result of his daily stress, which is why he focuses on living stress free with tips and strategies at www.calmclinic.com.