Updated: April 20, 2023
By Brittney Stefanic, guest writer
We see you.
You are working from home. You’ve got children to entertain and emails that needed replies hours ago.
Things are more chaotic than you ever recall.
Creating more fear is not the intention here but it is important to recognize that we are living in stressful times. For most of us, stress rears its ugly head throughout the day. But, we can end up feeling the brunt of it in the evening and at the bedtime hour. By that point, we are at the end of our ropes.
We’re exhausted, both mentally and physically. And, we can’t help but worry about what tomorrow is going to bring.
Read on to learn more about the importance of sleep, and what you can do to improve sleep when stressed.
Without going into a full biology lesson, it’s important to know the impact that stress has on your sleep. Knowing this information will allow you to see why sleep is so vital.
When you’re stressed, your body produces excess levels of cortisol, a hormone that is responsible for the “fight or flight” response that is typically needed in times of stress. During periods of prolonged stress (right now, for example), cortisol levels are maintained at a higher level. This puts your body and brain in overdrive.
When cortisol levels are higher than normal, biology prevents us from shutting off our minds in order to rest. But without proper sleep quality and quantity, our bodies continue to produce more cortisol, and a vicious cycle is started.
The bottom line here is that during times of heightened stress and anxiety, we need to improve our sleep as much as we need toilet paper, rice and beans, and even Netflix!
Sleep educators agree that we need sleep EVEN MORE THAN all of these other things!
8 Ways to Improve Sleep When Stressed
1. Practice Yoga
Practicing yoga during your bedtime routine has relaxing effects and can improve sleep. Before bed, consider doing a light 15 minute yoga flow to calm your racing mind and decrease your stress. It’s a good idea to get your kids involved and practice some relaxing kids yoga poses and calming yoga breathing techniques! For example, holding poses like child’s pose, forward fold, and savasana (corpse pose), help you focus on breathing and slowing down to reduce stress.
2. Put Down Your Device
Sleep studies show that when you can remain device-free for one hour or more heading into bedtime, your body may be more prepared for bed than if you were on your device right before closing your eyes.
Why? The blue light that’s emitted from devices inhibits the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. When melatonin levels are low, your body is simply not as prepared for sleep. For children, it’s important to have screen time mindfulness during the day and night in order to prevent a hormonal mishap.
This tip is of particular importance when you’re falling into the rabbit hole of social media and news updates. So, put down your device before bed to help your brain and body rest and reset.
3. Drink Chamomile or Passion Flower Tea
Both Chamomile and Passion Flower are herbs that reduce activity in the central nervous system. When our central nervous system is calmer, we see an increase in relaxation, enhanced mood, better sleep, and pain relief.
4. Count Sheep (or Breaths!)
The repetition involved in counting sheep, counting breaths or counting backwards from 100 helps the brain focus on one thing instead of racing thoughts induced by stress. If you lose track of what number you are on, continue to focus on the sequence while letting yourself drift off to sleep.
5. Reduce Background Noise
When going to sleep, it’s best to play calming music (ideally instrumental). You can also use a white noise machine or fan. Podcasts and other music can be useful as a distraction, but this can also result in overstimulation if the mind is already in a state of stress or overdrive.
If you get to the end of your bedtime routine and find yourself still stuck in negative or fearful thoughts, consider a 10 to 15 minute meditation or body scan. Finding and focusing on your breath while letting thoughts come and go is a great way to alleviate stress. And, to start with body scans, you can use guided meditation audio tracks. These can be highly effective once in bed, plus body scans walk you through “turning off” parts of your body to prepare for sleep.
During times of prolonged stress, getting your thoughts out of your mind and onto paper can provide relief and reduce anxious thoughts, according to Harvard Medical School.
One particularly helpful journaling technique to use during a bedtime routine is to visualize removing fears and thoughts from your mind. Then, write this down and release these thoughts onto your page.
8. Move Your Body
Exercise is shown to reduce stress. However, it can disrupt sleep if done too closely to bedtime. So, when engaging in high intensity workouts, be sure to exercise at least three hours prior to bedtime to allow for your endorphins and cortisol levels to decrease. If you are looking to add movement into your evening, consider practicing yoga to reduce cortisol levels.
Don’t Let Stress Steal Your Sleep
Above all else, give yourself grace and compassion.
Use these 8 tips for a new bedtime routine so that you can improve sleep when stressed. And remember: You don’t need to use all eight steps every night. Instead, select the suggestions that feel most useful for you. Then, create a bedtime pattern and be consistent when implementing a new routine. You’ve got this! ?
Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family sleep consultant and founder of Sleeper Teachers Sleep Consulting. As a recovering worry-wart and enneagram 1, she understands firsthand that it’s easy to let fear and a racing mind steal your sleep, especially with all that’s going on in the world at this time. But as a sleep educator, Brittney believes in the healing power of sleep, rest and recovery for the whole family. Brittney and her team love educating and supporting families around the world in finding sleep solutions. You can follow the teachers on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook @sleeperteachers for sleep tips, tricks and tidbits.