Stress is inevitable. Even the most serene among us experience stress from time to time. It’s known to cause all sorts of problems with our mental and physical health, and one of the most destructive can be the way it impacts sleep.
When you’re stressed, do you find it hard to drift off? Do you lie awake in bed worrying about all of the things that are causing you concern? Do you stay up late, trying to solve problems that seem to have no solution? You’re not alone.
The relationship between stress and sleep is so common that it’s even made its way into our language. We use the phrase “losing sleep over it” to mean something is causing us stress. According to the American Psychological Association, more than a third of adults feel tired because stress is interrupting their sleep. And the converse relationship is also true – 21 percent of adults feel more stressed when they don’t get enough sleep.
So how do we break the cycle of stress and sleep loss? Here are a few tips that may help you achieve peaceful slumber even in the most stressful of times.
Sleep on a Schedule
Consistency is vital to a good sleep routine. Our bodies are conditioned to respond to routines and schedules. Routines give us cues as to what to do next and set the stage for healthy behaviors. This means setting a sleep schedule and sticking to it is a wonderful way to practice good sleep habits.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. So choose a bedtime that allows you plenty of time to get adequate sleep. Start a bedtime routine of brushing your teeth, changing into pajamas, and all of the other things you normally do before bed. By the time your head hits the pillow, your body and mind should have had plenty of cues that you’re going to sleep.
Then, set an alarm to wake up at the same time each day, even if you don’t have to go to work or school. Don’t hit the snooze button and don’t laze about in bed once the alarm has gone off. Instead, get up and start your morning routine, just as if you were preparing to go about a normal workday.
The more consistent you can be with sleeping and waking routines, the better. This means bedtime and wake time on the weekends should look very much like they do on weekdays. It’s okay to deviate from this routine now and then, and you certainly shouldn’t stress over it when you do. But try to maintain a set schedule as often as you can manage it.
Get Out of Bed
With so many people working from home and sheltering in place these days, many have begun using the bedroom to work, watch tv, and do other activities. Unfortunately, this interrupts the sleep cues associated with getting into bed and lying down on your pillow.
The best practice is to get out of bed once your alarm goes off and not return to the bed until you’re starting your sleep routine. Make your bed a place where you only sleep (or other intimate activity) and nothing else. This way, whenever you get in bed your body will take that as a cue for sleep.
Exercise at the Right Time
It’s amazing how often exercise is the key to healthy habits. In this case, when you exercise is just as important as how. Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress and release tension, but you may be surprised to know that it can also interfere with sleep.
Physical exertion can temporarily raise your body temperature, which makes it harder to get to sleep. Most experts recommend exercising in the morning or afternoon, at least three hours before bedtime. This gives your body time to cool down afterward and will relieve stress without interrupting sleep.
Create a “Wind Down” Routine
Your brain isn’t like a lamp. There’s no off switch. Instead, it’s best to gradually wind down your activity in the evening. About an hour before bedtime, it’s time to begin to wind down. This means turning off screens (blue light from screens can interrupt your body’s natural rhythms), avoiding energetic activities, and perhaps even incorporating soothing habits.
Some people like to wind down with a good book. For others, journaling or listening to soothing music is helpful. You may find a cup of soothing tea like chamomile is useful. Some people like to wind down with meditation or even yoga. Throughout your day, take note of activities and interests that tend to energize you and be sure to avoid those in the time just before bedtime.
Look After Your Health
There are a number of health concerns that could prevent a good night’s sleep. Aches and pains, allergies, migraines, stomach problems, and other concerns could keep you awake long into the night. And untreated medical concerns can create more unwanted stress, compounding the problem.
If you’re experiencing health problems that might keep you awake, give DispatchHealth a call. Our medical teams can help with everything an urgent care treats, and more. And since we come to you, you won’t have the added stress of being exposed to all sorts of germs in a clinic or hospital.