One of the most proactive approaches to soothing stress involves something you’re definitely already doing: sleep.
A good night’s sleep can help you stay alert, adaptive, and calm, even if your train is running late or your kid’s diorama project is due a week sooner than you thought. When we say “a good night’s sleep,” we’re referring to both quantity and quality; the number of hours you clock in bed aren’t the only factors that contribute to feeling well-rested. For example, even picking the right sleep position can affect sleep quality.
But even though sleep is a great stress reducer, there’s a catch-22. Sometimes when you’re super stressed, it’s hard to fall or stay asleep. Stress can contribute to those tossy-turny nights, leading to a vicious cycle of stress and insomnia.
If this dance sounds familiar, we’re sorry. These simple bedtime habits can help fight stress and promote sound sleep, so start trying them out tonight.
Use your bed for sleep and sex only. That means no eating, watching TV, mindlessly scrolling Instagram, or conducting video conference calls from under the covers. These activities can make it harder to associate your bed with sleep.
Skip the coffee and nightcaps! Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can keep you awake. Sure, alcohol may seem like it’s helping you fall asleep initially, but it actually reduces REM sleep (the stage of sleep that helps us feel most rested). Plus, these drugs may increase anxiety, making you further prone to feeling stressed.
Exercise—if it works for you. An evening workout might tire you out and help you fall asleep, but some people find late-day workouts wake them up, making it harder to sleep. If you’re in the latter group, schedule your workout at least three hours before bedtime. Otherwise, many studies show there’s nothing inherently wrong with exercising before bed. (Plus, exercise can reduce stress as well).
Give yourself a bedtime routine. Following the same pattern every night before shutting off the lights can signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep.
Pick a consistent bedtime. To avoid the jet lag effect, try to sleep and wake up around the same time every day—even weekends, if possible.
Avoid bright lights. Yep, that means your smartphone, tablet, laptop, and television.
Take a hot bath. However, you may find an evening bath (or shower) energizing instead of relaxing, so find what works for you.
Don’t torture yourself by tossing and turning. If you can’t sleep after half an hour, try a relaxing activity like reading, listening to soothing music, meditating, or doing this insomnia-fighting yoga routine.
If your inability to sleep is severe and is causing stress, consult a doctor; you may have a sleep disorder. If stress and anxiety is what is keeping you up at night, consider meeting with a therapist to address these issues in a healthy, supportive environment.