After a long stressful day, your bed is probably the one thing you'll think about on your commute home. Once you've done your evening rituals, your mattress, and pillow beacon to you, promising rest and an escape from the day's worries.
What happens then when you finally get under your covers and realize that you can't fall asleep because you're thinking about your stressful day? It may cause you to get even more stressed, and it only makes the probability of getting sleep even harder.
While stress and sleep don't go well together, it doesn’t all have to spell doom.
Here are seven things that you can try out to help you fall asleep faster and sleep throughout the night when you're stressed.
1. Don't drink caffeine or alcohol
Drink coffee no later than 2 pm. If you're more sensitive to it, do not consume any past noon.
Coffee isn't the only culprit. Chocolate, both solid and liquid, black and green tea, energy drinks and soda can also affect your sleep.
A swig of alcohol can make you drowsy, but research shows that it ends up fragmenting your sleep.
Women in particular have a hard time staying sound asleep and only get to rest for a short period after a night of drinking.
So while you might think having a few drinks is just what you need in order fall asleep after a stressful day, it's actually the exact opposite!
2. Relaxation before bedtime
In the evening, decrease stimulations as much as you can.
Do things that wind down your day: read a book, take a bath, chat with your partner about your day or cuddle with your pet.
Dimming the lights every day at the same time will signal to your mind that it's time for your body to power down.
If you need to use your phone or computer before bedtime, download and use a blue light filter app. The blue light in our screens contributes to insomnia.
The dimmer your screen is, the more relaxed your eyes will get.
Also, when you're on your phone, tablet or laptop, do not watch or read content that will stress you more or cause you to be overly emotional.
Have you ever watched the news before bed and the last thing you saw was a story about a string of robberies going on in your neighborhood, or other negative news? Chances are you probably stayed up thinking about it.
Depending on your preference, slow background music or ambiance noises can help keep your mind off your thoughts and help you drift off.
Something I like to do is use a wireless bluetooth speaker (I just got this low price one from Amazon and it works perfectly), and play serene sounds from YouTube while I sleep. It's soothing and creates a relaxing atmosphere that makes it easier to fall asleep.
Take the time to turn your room into a haven, a getaway of sorts. A cluttered room tends to increase our stress levels. Invest in a good mattress and pillow as well.
We spend almost a third of our lives sleeping, so make it a worthwhile investment.
3. Keep a stress journal
Identify your stress triggers and deal with them early in the day. You can keep a stress journal where at the end of each day, you write your feelings down.
Doing so quiets your mind and reduces the likelihood of you tossing and turning. Don't do it in bed though. Otherwise, your brain will associate it with a space that brings about heightened emotions.
The good thing about writing in a stress journal before bedtime is because your mind is better at problem-solving then compared to when you're half asleep. If something, in particular, stressed you out during the day, you'll be able to come up with a way forward.
When we're half asleep, we're likely to think of the issue over and over again and never quite find a solution to it.
Schedule 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time. Take a sheet of paper, physical or electronic, and joint down what's stressing you out, what your next steps are and what the solution to the problem is. Nothing is too silly.
You can also get more in-depth and ask yourself how holding on to the stress is affecting you and what an ideal situation is.
Don't write vague solutions like "promote world peace." Break your answer down into many actionable steps. It makes working toward the solution less ominous and more achievable.
It may feel like extra work, but if you compare the time you spend trying to sleep every night, the benefits will convince you otherwise. Be sure to execute and revise your way forward.
Not checking things off can also lead to added stress with a lot of "I wish I did…" before bedtime.
Remember, you won't always have a solution. Writing it down and accepting whatever it is will be more helpful.
If you've just been fired, in this case, the immediate resolution has more to do with coming to terms it. Once you've done so, the next solution will be to update your CV and look for a job.
If worries come knocking when you're in bed, continually remind yourself that you've done the best you possibly could.
4. Don't toss and turn
It may feel like asking for the impossible if that's all you ever do in bed. It requires retraining your mind to associate bed with sleep only.
On days when you wake up in the middle of the night, instead of just laying there trying to go back to sleep, after 15 minutes lapse, get up and do a boring or relaxing task.
You have likely woken up because you're stressed, so instead of staying in bed and worrying some more, get something done that requires little energy. Start putting together your grocery list for the week or pick up that book you abandoned because it's dull. Whatever it is, you'll soon feel tired and sleepy.
Once that happens, get back into bed and sleep.
5. Change your perception of sleep
The more you stress about not being able to sleep, the harder falling asleep becomes. If the idea of going to bed gives you anxiety, slowly start talking yourself out of the negative perception you have. For instance, remind yourself that you need to sleep because you have a long day tomorrow.
Even when sleep fails you, choose to focus on a positive memory and allow your body to relax.
You can also practice mindfulness, being in the present. When a worrisome thought drifts into your mind, let it go on by and continue focusing on your breathing, body or surrounding. It makes all the difference.
Two people can each get three hours of sleep, yet one person won't be as tired as the other depending on how they've trained their mind and body to feel about sleep. Falling asleep shouldn't feel like a chore.
6. Your sleeping position matter
You have slept every day since the day you are born, but for some reason, you're unable to find a comfortable position. You end up moving around all night, only to end up in the place you started in. You'd think after all those hours spent sleeping, you'd know what position gives you a better night's sleep.
Don't let this worry you; it's typical.
If anything, most of us change positions that we first get into bed in every night. Here's a great video from Doctor Jo that explains the different sleeping positions and which one might be ideal for you:
The same sleeping position won't work for everyone. For instance, someone with chronic low back pain, might be more comfortable in a certain position than someone with a stiff neck or someone without any pain at all.
If you suffer from insomnia, most people fall asleep almost immediately when they lie on their back. It may take some getting used to but worth a try.
7. See a doctor
Don't head over to your local pharmacy and ask for sleeping pills. See a specialist to determine the cause of your insomnia.
Don't wait for longer than three months to seek help.
You can also see a behavioral therapist to help you deal with whatever is causing stress to eat away at your sleep. They'll be able to help you come up with better ways of coping that won't keep you up all night.
Don't Let Stress Ruin Your Sleep
The effects of stress can make life harder. With a good night's sleep, our minds and body are better equipped to deal with what comes our way.
Use the tips above to stop letting stress ruin your sleep.