Are you stressed? Having difficulty sleeping? Is your difficultly sleeping causing you stress? You’re not alone.
A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology discusses how stress can effect our ability to sleep or stay asleep and the negative ramifications this pattern can have on our health, particularly cardiovascular health. Although the greatest risk of increased blood pressure and other negative health effects come from a combination of stress and lack of sleep over the course of many years, experiencing this type of sleep disruption for even a few days, weeks, or months can be difficult and have a large impact on our mental health–further exacerbating our stress.
So what are some techniques we can use to decrease stress and increase our ability to fall asleep and peacefully stay asleep?
Take time to process stress earlier in the day—often we run around all day, attempting to get everything done, and then when it’s time for us to go to bed, we lay down and suddenly start thinking about all the stressful things we have going on, try to come up with solutions, worry about the following day, etc. It is important to process all of these thoughts, but it should not occur while we are laying in bed. Instead, set aside time earlier in the day—after the work day, after dinner with your family, after the kids go to bed—to process these thoughts and emotions. Journal in either a freeform format—writing down your thoughts as they come—or in a more structured format (i.e. write down the most stressful occurrence of the day, and write down at least three things you are grateful for). Take fifteen minutes to pray, talk to God about your worries, ask Him what the best solution would be, and thank Him for the blessings in your day. Whatever way you choose to process your stress, intentionally set aside a few minutes earlier in the day to work through your thoughts and feelings. This way, when it is time for bed, your mind won’t be racing because you have already processed emotions, identified possible solutions, and acknowledged the positive things that happened during the day.
Light exercise—Although doing a more intense workout in the evening will wake us up and make it more difficult to fall asleep, doing light exercise such as stretching, squats, leg lifts, etc. will actually increase blood flow through our legs. Increasing circulation in this way can actually create a soothing effect to decrease stress and make it easier to fall asleep.
Keep your sleep space tidy—It can be all too easy for our life stress to pile up—literally. Although it can be difficult to keep our homes neat and clean at all times, prioritize tidying the spaces in which you and your loved ones sleep. Keeping the piles of clothes put away—or at least hidden away, putting that paperwork in a drawer, making your bed, can provide the visual space needed to allow stress to slip away when it is time for bed. Not having the visual reminder of the things we have to do while we are attempting to get a good nights sleep can make all the difference in our ability to peacefully fall asleep and stay asleep.
Make a plan—Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do tomorrow that will bring me joy, help me feel productive, or get me closer to my goal?” Asking and answering this question for ourselves allows us to set intentionality for the coming day, gives us something to look forward to, and helps remind us that we are control of our reactions, actions, and decisions.