Sleep is a critical component to our health and one of the best coping strategies for stress. Unfortunately, when we’re stressed, our sleep is the first thing to suffer. The more stressed we are, the more sleep we skip and then a funny thing happens—the lack of sleep actually causes more stress and a vicious cycle begins.
If you’ve been riding the sleep-stress roller coaster, it’s time to stop.
The Sleep Struggle
Studies show that more than 50% of Americans don’t get enough sleep. There are many reasons for the growing epidemic of sleep deprivation. Some people are so busy that they choose to forego sleep in order to get achieve more, whereas others are so stressed that they can’t sleep.
Stress results in physiological and emotional consequences that affect sleep. Chronic stress results in increased cortisol levels, which can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. Furthermore, stress leads to over-thinking, over-scheduling, and anxiety, all of which can affect sleep.
Throw in a little caffeine and you have a perfect recipe for insomnia. If you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping soundly, try these tips for making sleep—and your health—a priority.
- Make a Sleep Plan: Make sleep a priority by creating a sleep plan for yourself. Schedule sleep just as you would schedule any other appointment—and honor it! Determine how much sleep you need and what time you need to arise and then count backwards to determine your bedtime. Be sure to allow an extra 15 minutes for your bedtime ritual so that you’re not short-changing yourself on sleep.
- Create a Bedtime Ritual: Establish a bedtime ritual for yourself. Create a calm, soothing routine that you carry out each evening. This might flow from face washing to teeth brushing to reading to writing in a gratitude journal. Find a routine that works for you and helps you achieve a state of calm.
- Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene: Sleep hygiene refers to our behavioral approaches to sleep. Our contemporary habits make it difficult to wind down. Start a “slowdown” process in the evening by turning off cell phones, computers, and televisions. Dim the lights for several hours prior to sleep. Avoid working late or other activities that will stimulate your mind.
- Set Yourself Up for Success: Create an oasis of calm in your bedroom. Invest in a quality mattress, pillows, and sheets. Make sure the room is cool and dark. Eliminate anything stimulating such as computers or bright clocks. Consider incorporating some white noise into the room with the use of a fan or noise machine.
- Avoid Stimulants: For several hours prior to bedtime, avoid anything that may interfere with sleep, including alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, exercise, and large meals.
- Make a Waking Plan: Establish a standard waking time that you adhere to daily—even on weekends. This will help train your body to stay on a sleep schedule.
- Manage Stress: Incorporate practices into your life to help manage stress. Some people find that a daily meditation practice helps alleviate stress, while others prefer yoga, tai chi, or relaxation techniques. Find something that works for you.
- Follow the 15-Minute Rule: If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up. You may wish to try a quick yoga pose, a few minutes of meditation, or a walk around the block. Do something to take your mind off the fact that you can’t sleep—and then try again when you’re ready.
- Seek Help: If you have an ongoing struggle with insomnia, consider seeking help from a sleep expert. Often they can identify a physiological cause for sleep disruption (such as sleep apnea) and can offer many remedies, including herbal sleep aids.
Goodnight and good luck!