Find Calm and Sleep Well Even if you are Stressed
What helps you get a rejuvenating night of sleep is not only what you do in the few minutes before bed. You can do things throughout your whole day that will set you up to relax from stresses at bedtime and sleep well through the night.
You only experience the kind of stress that keeps you wound up at night when you face situations that feel out of your control. The more you have control, the less stressed you feel. Strive to control what you CAN control in any situation.
We can’t really “manage stress”. What we can do is “manage ourselves”. Here are 9 strategies (some from my book Success under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure’s On) to ‘manage yourself’ as you go throughout your day that will help you sleep well at night.
1. Take Breaks
I’m sure you “know” you should take care of yourself (allowing time to be “Off”) and I also know you are probably saying to yourself: “Who has the time? It’s indulgent to take 3 minutes for myself, in that time I could be making doctor’s appointments for my children, sending my boss an update, (or if you are a woman you might even feel guilty if you don’t spend that time cleaning!)” I’m especially speaking to you here if you are a woman: we are 35% less likely to take breaks (and we are also more likely to have challenges getting a good night sleep!)
An optimal way of going through your day is to have times of “sprints” (intense focused concentration or mental/physical exertion) followed by brief periods of “recovery” (relaxing and replenishing your energy, even if it’s simply 3 minutes of deep breathing mental vacation.) When you exert energy and then follow it with a brief period of rejuvenation, these intermittent times of relaxation train your body to balance your On (exertion) and the Off (relaxation) button. Research from the Energy Project shows that you will get more energy and feel more calm from this approach, and yet you’ll be even more productive. You will have engaged your Off button throughout the day, so your nervous system won’t be so hyped up from being Always On. Your body will already have the experience of calm and relaxation…you will be able to ease into sleep. (See chapter 4 of Success under Stress for many tools to press the Off button during busy days)
2. Stay Rational not Reactive
If you are intentional about staying focused on facts in interpersonal situations (and not on how you feel personally) it will help you to not react and then regret things you said (or didn’t say and now kick yourself for it). Then you won’t have to rehash the situations in the middle of the night!
3. Minimize Interruptions
The average business professional faces 7 interruptions (and up to 35 incoming emails) per hour. You can be in charge of how you respond to these incoming distractions. You can train people to not expect to hear from you in the evening or early a.m. If you respond only to the interruptions that are your current priorities, and if you train the people you work with (and live with) on the best times to engage your attention, you will cut out some of the distractions that derail your day. Then you can end the day feeling satisfied with your accomplishments – and not feel guilty before bedtime or overwhelmed with what has to be done tomorrow.
4. Regular Bedtime
Sleep experts advise to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning – even on weekends. A regular sleep routine keeps your biological clock steady so you rest better.
Exercise which includes some vigorous exercise improves the length and quality of your sleep. It stimulates longer periods of the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep. It gets all your stress out! For sleeping, its best to exercise in the morning or during the day because aerobic exercise keeps your body temperature elevated (and burning calories and fat) for about 4 hours afterward and its optimal for sleep when your body is cooled off.
6. Eat bedtime snacks that promote sleep
Some nighttime noshes help you sleep and decrease mid-sleep waking. Try cherry juice, kiwis, or walnuts – they keep the amino acid tryptophan working longer within your body and are natural sources of the sleep promoting hormones. Or combine carbohydrates and either calcium or a protein that contains tryptophan (these combos boost serotonin, a naturally occurring brain chemical that helps you feel good and calm.) An example might be a banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter, or a half piece of toast and some slices of turkey.
7. Pre-Sleep Wind Down Ritual
Start your sleep time wind down about an hour before you want to be asleep. Start by finishing up whatever is stimulating you. Do what you must to empty your head to let go of thoughts you might hang on to: Write down the ‘to do’ items that will float through your mind. Write down your worries (and the solutions you are committed to carrying out in the morning).
Once in bed, have a pre-sleep ritual to counter the build up of stress hormones throughout the day. You might want to consider a brief reflection on what you are grateful for. Doing this will change your energy as it takes you out of your mental exertion and puts you into your heart energy. It will make you think of beautiful images as you fade off into the sleep sunset…
8. Know Your Sleep!
There are a few Apps and sleep sensors (such as the Zeo or the Fitbit) that can you help you track your hours of sleep and awakenings so you can course correct and make sure you’re getting what your body needs to recover.
Start to become more aware of the activities you do, the things you eat and drink, etc. and how they affect your sleep. Eat spicy food or have a glass too much of alcohol…how does it affect your sleep? Wind down and read before bed…how does it affect your rest?
9. Use natural aides to press the Off button.
You can create a state of short-term relaxation with Chamomile tea or breathing in essential oils with relaxing aromas such as lavender, vanilla, cinnamon. Also, most of us who are stressed out or live in urban environments are unknowingly deprived of the mineral magnesium, potentially causing insomnia and anxiety. So fill your tank with a magnesium supplement before bedtime. It relaxes your muscles and helps you drift off to sleep easily.
10. BONUS Kiss, Hug, and Snuggle
This one is not just for Valentine’s Day: Make a special moment of at sleeptime with someone you love. Kissing and hugging someone you are in a relationship with has been shown to help you physically de-stress and find calm. Find ways of interacting with each other that make you feel safe and soothed. Maybe it’s a favorite position in which to cuddle. Yes, cuddling with a furry pet also gives you the benefits!
You don’t have to let stress get the best of you. There are SO many things that you can control during stressful days to stay calm and sleep well through the night. (This article is an excerpt of my special report 19 Ways to Sleep Well Through the Night and Wake Up Rested, Even if you are Stressed. You can get the rest of that report here)