Too Stressed to Sleep? These Strategies Can Help.
Stress and sleep can form a pretty vicious cycle. No matter how physically exhausted we feel when our heads hit the pillow, we just can’t seem to quiet our racing minds. Then, after tossing and turning our way through the night, we’re way too fatigued to function at our best. This leads to more anxiety...and on and on and on.
Stressors like anxiety and worry send our bodies into “fight or flight” mode. Normally, this state of hyperarousal fades away once the threat is gone. But chronic stress causes our nervous system to continually work on overdrive, pumping out hormones that keep us revved up and alert even when it’s time to sleep.
If you’ve been stuck in a cycle of wired nights and exhausted days, your body and mind need help remembering how to relax. These strategies can help you break free from unhealthy sleep patterns and finally get some solid shut-eye.
Understand where your stress resides
In the world of mindfulness, we hear a lot about “present moment awareness.” That’s because it’s the one place your stress doesn’t live. If you’re anxious about something, you’re either fixating on a past scenario or worrying about a future event. You’re so stuck looking forward or backward that you can barely focus on the task at hand. The practice of mindfulness is meant to break these toxic thought patterns by helping you become aware of when you’ve drifted from the present moment. In this way, it can actually stop stress in its tracks.
Try listening to a guided mindfulness meditation as you transition out of “work mode” in the evening or while lying in bed if you can’t sleep. The Insight Timer app is a fantastic resource for free meditations, or try Calm, one of the most popular apps for meditation and sleep. If your employer offers access to Modern Health you might also try their “Body Scan for Sleep” in-app meditation.
Remember—you can’t change the past or control the future, no matter how many times you turn a situation over in your mind. Your best bet is to try to live where your stress cannot.
Unburden your mind
If you often find yourself dreaming about a stressful project or jolting awake with a worrisome thought, a simple journaling practice can help. If your mind is swirling with worries as you fall asleep, you could be carrying that mental load into your dream state. Before you go to sleep, spend some time writing out whatever is on your mind. List out items on your to-do list and journal about any anxieties from your day. The simple act of writing it down will signal to your brain that it’s okay to let it go. That way, your brain can go about its nightly tasks and leave you to sleep in peace.
Use your mind to relax your body
According to the American Psychological Association, the body tenses up during a stressful event as a way of protecting us from pain or injury. With chronic stress, however, our muscles never drop their guard and remain continuously tightened. If you’ve ever woken up stiff and groggy after a full night’s sleep, your tense muscles could be the culprit. Try gently encouraging them to relax with a simple nightly body scan.
Focus your attention on an area of your body and mentally tell it to soften and relax. Begin with the area behind your eyes, followed by your jaw, your neck, and each of your shoulders. Continue like that, relaxing one area of your body at a time. You may find you drift off effortlessly before you’ve made it all the way through.
Make your bedroom a haven for rest
It’s important to set up a relaxing atmosphere that will prime your body and mind for deep sleep. Turn off your electronics and keep the lights dim as you get ready for bed. If you sleep near a window, make sure that your curtains are drawn to shield you from any outside light or simply hang a blanket or sheet. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping the room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for the most sleep-conducive environment.
If you’re in a busy house or area, white noise or ambient music can help mask any disturbances. The Relax Melodies app lets you create your own unique mix of relaxing music and sound, and the Slumber app has a whole library of sleep-inducing stories and soundscapes. Lastly, if you really want to set the mood for sleep, try a diffuser or pillow mist with relaxing essential oils such as lavender or chamomile. Details like these will be especially helpful as you adjust to the time change at Daylight Savings Time. When your mind associates your bedroom with the feeling of being drowsy, you can hit the pillow a little earlier throughout the week and still easily fall asleep.
Stress can be tricky, so you may need to experiment a bit to find what works for you. If you just can’t seem to break the cycle and a lack of sleep is negatively impacting your mental health, talk to your doctor. There are therapies and medications that can help with insomnia and other sleep disorders. If your doctor does recommend a prescription sleep aid, we’ll be here to help. Let our team take care of the details while you focus on rest.
Ready to take the stress out of your prescriptions? Our team is available 9 am - 9 pm PT Monday - Friday and 10 am - 6 pm PT on weekends; reach out via phone, text or the app.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.