Insomnia can be debilitating, leaving you exhausted and affecting your productivity and mood. Stress is one of the most common causes of short-term insomnia. When you’re stressed, your body ramps up production of cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that prepare your body to face a threat. This primes you for fight-or-flight, making it hard to relax and fall asleep.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to break the cycle of stress and insomnia. With some lifestyle adjustments and relaxation techniques, you can learn to calm your mind and body, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.
Reduce Stress Levels
To resolve the root cause of your insomnia, focus on reducing stress during the day. Identify your main stress triggers and find ways to minimize or cope with them. For example, if your job is causing much of your anxiety, talk to your boss about adjusting unrealistic deadlines or delegating certain tasks. Or if conflicts with a loved one are keeping you on edge, have an open discussion about resolving the issues.
Exercise is also one of the most effective stress relievers. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes per day of moderate activity like brisk walking, cycling or gardening. This stimulates production of endorphins, your body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
Be sure to give yourself time each day to unwind through relaxing hobbies like reading, crafting or listening to music. Activities like yoga, tai chi and meditation help calm the mind and body. Getting enough sleep every night is also essential for managing daily stress.
Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Having a consistent nightly routine signals to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Ideally, you should start this routine 60 to 90 minutes before your target bedtime.
A warm bath can help relax tense muscles and quiet your thoughts after a stressful day. The drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath also triggers drowsiness. Reading a book, listening to calm music or doing light stretches are other good activities to include in your pre-bed routine.
To promote sleepiness, dim the lights in the evenings and avoid electronics like TVs, computers and smartphones. The blue light from screens suppresses melatonin, a hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. Finish eating at least two hours before bed so your digestive system doesn’t keep you awake.
Make Your Bedroom a Sanctuary
It’s easier to fall asleep in an environment designed for rest. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Use curtains, an eye mask and a fan or white noise machine to block out light and muffle sounds. Replace an old mattress or bedding if necessary so you are comfortable.
Reserve your bedroom just for sleeping and intimacy to associate the space with rest, not wakeful activities. Don’t work, watch TV or use electronics in bed. The ideal temperature for sleep is around 65°F. You can also use lavender oil, a natural sedative, to scent your room. Remove all clocks to avoid anxiously watching the time when you can’t fall asleep.
Adopt Relaxation Techniques
Practice relaxation techniques in the evening to quiet a racing mind and decompress from the day’s stressors. Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting calmness. Try slowly inhaling through your nose for a count of 4, holding for 4 counts, then exhaling for 6 to 8 counts. Repeat for several minutes.
Progressive muscle relaxation involves systematically tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout your body. Clench your toes for 5 to 10 seconds, then release; repeat with your leg muscles, abdomen, back, arms, neck and face. This helps relieve tension and distracts from worrying thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation increases alpha brain waves associated with relaxation. Focus your attention on the physical sensations of breathing. When thoughts intrude, acknowledge them briefly and gently return your focus to your breath. Loving-kindness meditation, where you wish well-being for yourself and others, also evokes tranquility.
Get Out of Bed If You Can’t Sleep
Don’t just lie awake frustrated for more than 20 minutes. Get up and do a quiet, calming activity like reading, drawing or working on puzzles by a dim light. This prevents you from associating your bed with insomnia and anxiety about not sleeping. Return to bed only when you feel sleepy again.
Avoid trying to sleep when you know you won’t, like when your mind is racing. Distract yourself with relaxing activities until the panic subsides. Don’t watch the clock or consume media that stresses you out. Jot down your racing thoughts on paper to empty them from your mind. Deep breathing, meditation and muscle relaxation can also help stop obsessive thoughts.
Seek Extra Support If Needed
If you’ve tried these tips for several weeks without improvement, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. You may need cognitive behavioral therapy to change detrimental thought patterns or medication to help temporarily while implementing lifestyle changes. A counselor can also teach effective coping strategies for excessive stress.
The cycle of stress and insomnia can rob you of restorative rest, but simple lifestyle measures can often get your sleep back on track. Focus on identifying stress triggers, adopting a soothing pre-bed routine and using relaxation techniques. With time and consistency, you can train your body to wind down at night and sleep peacefully through the night.