Stress can take a toll on the body, in many different ways. One significant issue that can arise is the inability to sleep, or poor quality of sleep. A big reason this occurs is because we are unable to relieve stress and relax before bed. It’s difficult; life can really suck sometimes. It’s important to develop techniques to relieve stress and improve sleep hygiene so that you are able to fall asleep, stay asleep and get good quality of sleep.
So much of what we do in life hinges upon being well-rested. Research suggests that the long term effects of sleep deprivation can include being at increased risk of health problems (like heart disease and diabetes), a weakened immune system, and difficulty concentrating, not to mention moodiness and daytime sleepiness.
Since sleep is so important, it’s also important to recognize those things that interrupt sleep and those things that improve it. A big one, that I’d like to address here, is stress and how to relieve stress. Stress management is an important part of dealing with day-to-day life; we all experience it, and unless you can manage it effectively, it will get in the way of being able to lead a well-rested and healthy lifestyle.
I’ve personally struggled with sleep issues as I’ve gotten older and I’ve found some relaxation techniques that have helped me to relieve stress before bed. If you are in the same boat or ever have been, hopefully, these help you too!
First, Make Note of Your Current Bedtime Habits
Before you can go about fixing a problem, you have to know what is currently happening. Answer these questions:
- What is my current bedtime regimen? (Do I have one?)
- What is my quality of sleep? Do I feel well rested every morning?
- Am I going to bed at the same time every day?
- Do I wake up frequently during the night?
- Is there a pattern to my sleep disturbances?
Do you regularly have bad habits around sleep or is it more likely to occur during certain periods of high-stress levels and when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed? Or maybe there’s some personal things that you’ve faced and only then were you unable to relax before bed. Make note of what’s been happening so that you can more effectively target when and how to intervene to reduce stress and feel better.
If you sleep disturbance in situational, then you know to incorporate your stress-relieving steps during those times of high stress and anxiety. If it’s more of a regular daily occurrence, then you’ll need to take a good hard look at your everyday routines.
Some Techniques to Relieve Stress and Relax
I’ve listed some simple ways to lower stress that you can hopefully incorporate into a daily routine, or if not, perform them regularly. Some of these require longer commitments, and others are quick stress relievers that you can do at the end of any day and hopefully it helps!
1 – Gym Time
There’s a lot of people who advocate for this first thing in the morning because it can kick start your day and give you the energy throughout. However, if you’re an anti morning person like me, or an anesthesiologist who already wakes up before dawn, waking up even earlier can be torture.
If you’re not a morning person, go after work. You don’t even have to go every day; just establish a regular routine for exercise. Stress causes an increase in your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) which can lead to weight gain. Exercise can not only offset the effects of cortisol but also aid in stress relief by helping to let go of whatever negative thoughts plaguing you, to focus your thoughts (or empty your minds) and leave you with no choice but to just relax.
2 – Yoga and breathing exercises
If hard exercise is difficult to come by (or you’re anti-gym like I am), then yoga is another great way to focus your thoughts and reduce anxiety. There are yoga workouts that also help with building core strength and upper and lower body strength if you need to feel the burn.
Otherwise, doing relaxing yoga moves and postures, and deep breathing exercises is a great way to relieve stress, calm down, quiet your thoughts and lower your blood pressure. I use an app called Down Dog, however, there are also YouTube videos in abundance to help you out, for FREE.
On the note of deep breathing, you can do this during the day as well. Whenever you start feeling overwhelmed, take 15 minutes (whenever possible) and take some deep cleansing breaths and try to empty your mind. It seems basic, but this is a simple way to help lower stress hormone levels, lower your heart rate (if needed) and help you continue on in whatever situation you’re dealing with.
3 – Meditation
Hand-in-hand with Yoga is meditation. You don’t need to do pigeon pose to relax (if that’s not your thing). You just need to be in a state of silence and stillness. There are apps out there to help with this as well. One way is the Insight app. There are tons of free options within the app that talks you through deep breathing exercises and different meditative states.
Another option is the Muse headbands–I’ve tried this. I didn’t necessarily feel relaxed after, but it definitely teaches you how to sit still and helps you get used to emptying your mind. (just fyi: I get no kickbacks if you use that link. So click away and see if its something that’ll work for you)
The whole idea with meditation is to focus on something outside of your stressors. By doing so you’ll relieve stress and start to relax. In the beginning, this will be tough. Our brains have a tendency to run away from us. However, meditation is possible with persistence and discipline.
For instance, pay attention to where you’re at right now. Take a deep breath. Pay attention to your breathing. The rise and fall of your chest. The sound of your breath. Just focus on that. Exclude everything else. It’s really hard to do this for any extended period of time. So start small. Start with five minutes before bed and slowly extend it. Use the apps out there to help you out. It can make a huge difference.
4 – Therapy
This, of course, isn’t something you’d do right before bed (unless you’re able to do the telehealth thing with a therapist), but regularly seeing someone that you can talk to can do wonders to relieve stress and manage stress in a healthy and productive way. I’ve been seeing one, and even though she told me I don’t need to come in anymore, I decided to continue. It’s only once every couple of months or so, but it helps to know that I have someone who will not only listen but give me feedback and teach me tools/techniques of managing all the moving parts of my life.
Sometimes when I’m home at the end of the day and something is bothering me, I’ve been able to use those techniques I’ve learned and deal with the issue. It has definitely improved my ability to let go of stressful thoughts and handle my worries effectively before going to bed.
Therapy is a very important tool for mental health. There is a lot of stigma surrounding it, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just talking to someone. Just like you maintain your physical health with good nutritious food and exercise, so should you maintain your mental health with good long talks and in-depth discussions about your thoughts and anxieties.
In addition, when you’re dealing with stressful situations, how you speak to yourself during that time can have an effect in how you are able to cope. Positive selftalk can go a long way towards helping you manage your stress response and improve your ability to maintain your daily relaxation techniques.
5 – Shut off social media and reduce screen time
Much of our stress and anxiety comes from the comparisons we make between our lives and those lives of people we see online. However, we have no idea what is really going on with anyone, do we? Getting off of social media, and shutting out the external noise of what we should be doing, seeing, wearing, etc, is a great way to relieve stress that we both create for ourselves and carry throughout the day.
In addition, the blue light from our phones and TV screens can be detrimental to our ability to fall asleep. So, making sure that you avoid a screen in the 30 minutes to hour leading up to bedtime can go a long way towards helping you get the rest you need.
What can you do with your time instead?
Literally, anything else that makes you feel good and helps you unwind. You can read, cook, clean up, prep for the next day, listen to music, or pick up any activity or hobby to keep you busy, distracted and stress-free. Click for more ideas for Things to do at Home.
6 – Hot showers/baths
Kind of self-explanatory. Wash away the stress of the day and utilize all those bath oils/soaps that you’ve collected and treat-yo-self. At the same time consider lighting candles and playing relaxing music.
7 – Eat dinner early
If possible, I’d recommend eating early dinners. This way you’re done with the task of cooking and have some time to unwind and sit and do some of these activities I’m mentioning. In addition, I’ve read that going to bed with a full stomach can lead to nightmares. Eek.
8 – Create ambiance
You don’t need to be in a bathtub to do this. You can relieve stress by just lighting some aromatherapy candles or incense. It’s not just for romance. The ambiance it creates, and the soothing smells work together to reduce stress and give you that sense that of relaxation and calm.
9 – Drink a hot beverage
A common choice before bed is to drink chamomile. I’m not a huge fan so I gravitate towards other herbal options like lemon/ginger or turmeric flavored teas.
You can also do this in the middle of your workday if you’re feeling stressed. My choice here is something with caffeine, so then I’ll choose a flavored green tea. There are also white teas and black tea options you can choose from.
I caution against drinking caffeinated teas in the evenings as that can disrupt your sleep; so look for the decaf versions of whatever you like.
10 – Pamper yourself
Try a face mask, do your nails, use scented lotions, etc. Whatever little thing you can do for yourself at the end of the day to give you a boost and make you feel good and relieve stress and tension that has built up!
If finding that quiet is harder for you, maybe try to take some extra minutes for yourself in the bathroom as you get ready for bed. I know my mom has done this. She would lock herself in the bathroom, do her usual nighttime routine and then take some extra time just for herself before coming out.
We all have stressors that we deal with on a daily basis. Managing stress, knowing how to cope and handle them so that they don’t affect your ability to take care of yourself is really important for maintaining your health. It’s not just physical, but emotional and mental health as well.
The more you’re able to unload at the end of each day, and relieve stress, the better you’ll be able to sleep, and the better you’ll able to wake up ready to tackle a new day. It’s a cycle that feeds itself. So, each day take time to make yourself number one; say yes to yourself and be good to you.
What are some of your favorite ways to unwind? Share below!
Featured and pinnable image courtesy of unsplash.com
Sanjana is a physician anesthesiologist, avid traveler, and entrepreneur. She founded The Female Professional in order to give women a voice and a platform to express themselves. With her experiences as a physician, as a CEO of a startup, and as a writer, she understands the struggles and frustrations that women face. She also understands what it takes to move past those things and come out on top. Through this platform, Sanjana aims to empower women to be their best, authentic, selves, achieve work/life balance, and live life to the fullest.