If you’re finding it hard to sleep because of stress, there are a few things you need to know in order to improve your sleep.
Stress and poor sleep are evil twins who can trap you in a vicious cycle. Stress triggers insomnia, while successive nights of poor sleep ratchet up stress. Over time, chronic sleep problems can lead to something worse, like depression and anxiety, and again, depression and anxiety can also cause sleep issues, says Jonathan Alpert, a licensed psychotherapist in New York and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. To help boost your sleep IQ and break free of the sleeplessness/stress cycle:
- Heed your sleepy cues. Do you doze off watching TV, but force yourself to stay awake until the end of the show? Falling asleep on the couch is a clear sign you’re tired; staying up past that point will leave you overtired, which makes it harder to sleep. Hit the hay at the first doze-off; DVRs exist for a reason.
- Don’t get in bed if you’re not tired. If you lie awake for more than 30 minutes, you may be under-tired. Instead, putter around a while longer, make tomorrow’s to-do list, read, or have a quiet conversation with your partner until you feel tired. When you find that ideal “sleep window,” try to stick to it.
- Ban the blue light. The range of light emitted by most screens stimulates your brain. Make your bedroom a device-free zone, says Alpert, who also suggests using an old-fashioned alarm clock rather than your phone. “Unconsciously, your brain may not ‘allow’ itself to get into too deep of a sleep knowing a call or text might come through.”
- Move it. Exercise is doubly helpful. When you challenge your body during the day, you reduce stress and improve overall health. But you also “prime” your body to sleep more soundly at night.
- Have sex. “After an orgasm, the hormones prolactin and oxytocin are released,” says Alpert, “which promote feelings of relaxation and calm.”
- Watch what you consume. Chances are you know to avoid caffeine after the late morning (experiment with times that work for you), but there are other things you eat or drink that could be interfering with sleep. Spicy foods could be a culprit, says Alpert. Same goes for alcohol, which may knock you out initially, but has been shown to lead to more restless sleep.
- Reframe the problem. “If you’re anxious about being a poor sleeper, try to change the way you think about it,” says Alpert. “It may be a fixable issue related to lifestyle.” Focus on things you can control about your sleep issues, such as practicing good sleep hygiene and altering your sleep environment.