You know the drill when you’re stressed about a deadline. The day is much too short, so you stay up a few more hours and try to make some progress. Even if you get only three to four hours of sleep, you tell yourself, you can have caffeine in the morning to get through the day.
The next day you are seriously tired and have a hard time concentrating. You feel completely overwhelmed, and are more irritable with anyone in your way!
It’s a familiar situation to most people.
With increased levels of stress among adults of all ages in the United States, sleep quality and quantity take a hit. In other words, stress can affect how much and how well we sleep. In fact, in the recent Stress in America survey, 25 percent of men and 35 percent of women reported that stress was interfering with their sleep. They reported experiencing changes in sleep habits such as oversleeping, difficulty falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the night.
If you want to break the stress and poor-sleep-fatigue cycle, consider the following strategies to improve your bedtime habits.
Go to bed at the same time
Go to bed around the same time each night (or day if you do shift work). Even if you decide to get up earlier the next morning, you will be more rested and hopefully productive.
When people are stressed or tired, exercise may not be on the list of things to do. But even a short walk several times a week helps you feel calmer, sleep better and improve your focus on important deadlines.
Learn to turn off over-thinking
Learn to stop over-thinking, or “ruminating,” when trying to fall asleep or in the middle of the night. Before you’re ready to sleep, list all your tasks for tomorrow and other things on your mind. Writing the tasks down can help you get them “off your mind,” prioritize them in the morning, and let you see that you have been making progress.
Turn off your brain
Try not to activate or stimulate your brain before bed or in the middle of the night. Turn your brain off with relaxation or mindfulness techniques, focus on your breathing, listen to relaxing music. Try to avoid turning on your computer, phone, TV and other gadgets that would energize you in any way. Bright screens–small and large-are affecting the ability to fall asleep.
Talk with your health care provider
If nothing seems to work, your provider can assess possible factors affecting your sleep that you may not have considered: endocrine problems, side effects of medications, depression and anxiety, sleep apnea, among others. Ask for referrals, such as to a psychologist, to learn effective techniques that will help improve your sleep and better manage your stress.
You can develop skills to handle the many stressful parts of your life. More sleep and good quality sleep helps people feel and function better and reduces the risk for a host of physical, emotional, relationship and work problems.
Photo by torbein via Flickr