Do These 5 Things to Get a Better Night’s Sleep During Stressful Times

We’ve all been there:

It’s late. It’s dark. It’s bedtime. But even if your body is tired, your brain is wired and running at full speed—leaving you staring at the ceiling and counting how many hours are left before your alarm clock goes off. 

Stress (helloooo, global pandemic!) is a potent sleep-killer that can drag you into a vicious cycle. You see, sleep deprivation itself is stressful to the body and is correlated with a wide number of health problems—let alone a cantankerous attitude. The less sleep you get, the more stress your brain and body feel, and the more stress you feel, the harder it is to get enough sleep…and down the rabbit hole of late-night TV binge-watching we go. 

The good news is scientists have spent a lot of time and effort in researching ways to help people sleep better—and believe us when we say a lot of people could use this kind of help. According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly half (45 percent) of all Americans don’t sleep enough on most or all days of the week.

If you’re one of them, keep reading to find out what you can do to get those much-needed Zzz’s during these stressful times. 

First Things First—Yes, Sleep Really IS That Important

If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:

Sleep is NOT an inactive or “wasteful” part of your day. Researchers and doctors now know that sleep is a highly physiologically active state that your body needs to regulate all the important metabolic, hormonal, musculoskeletal, and neurological ongoings in your body. Sleep is an essential process that helps repair and regrow your tissues, cells, and organs, and it’s an absolute must for your short- and long-term well-being (and your family’s, too). 

People who routinely get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night can expect to enjoy benefits such as better moodbetter weight management, and even increased lifespan. Getting enough sleep is also one of the most important things you can do to manage and reduce your stress!

Meanwhile, consistently getting six or fewer hours of sleep per night has been shown to increase the risk of a LOT of problems, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Food cravings
  • Car crashes and other accidents
  • Decreased effectiveness of certain medications
  • Impaired immunity
  • Sexual dysfunction and decreased libido
  • Respiratory infections, including the flu and the common cold
  • Pain
  • Cognitive impairments, memory loss, and decreased focus and learning
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Of course, we don’t just need to know WHY sleep deprivation is problematic—we need to know HOW to correct it, too. Let’s turn to the research and see what you can start implementing tonight to help you sleep better.

5 Ways to Sleep Better
1. Be Regular

Consistency with your sleep schedule is considered one of the most important things you can do to help you sleep better. In his eye-opening book (no pun intended), neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker rates having a consistent sleep schedule as the number one “sleep hygiene” technique a person should have (sleep hygiene being a collection of practices shown to improve the quality and quantity of your nightly rest). The reason? Having a consistent routine helps your body regulate its circadian rhythm (aka your internal biological clock) which tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. 

So, head to bed at night and hop out of it in the morning at the same time every day—yup, weekends, and vacations too.

2. Make Your Bedroom a Calming Environment

Sleep experts agree that your bedroom should only be used for rest and romance. The goal is to see your bedroom as a calming and special place that should only be entered when you’re about to sleep or be intimate with your partner. In other words, if you struggle to get enough sleep or don’t feel well-rested when you wake up in the morning, consider keeping your phone, TV, tablets, laptops, e-readers, books, and any other activities or devices out of your bedroom.

When it is time to tuck yourself in, be sure to lower your bedroom’s temperature to between 63 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body temperature naturally decreases as you enter sleep, so if your room is too warm it may keep you awake. Also, only get into bed when you’re actually sleepy, and if you’re still awake after about 20 minutes, get up and go do something relaxing in another room until you get sleepy again. All of this will help you establish your bedroom as a healthy and calming environment for sleep.

3. Get the Right Kind of Light Exposure

There’s another reason to keep things like phones and TVs out of your bedroom, other than the fact that they stimulate you and distract you from sleep. It turns out ambient light exposure—and especially blue light from digital devices—can disrupt your circadian rhythm and throw off sleep-related hormones, which are majorly light-sensitive. So, the goal is to get your room as pitch dark as you can—and ideally so dark you can’t even see your hand when you hold it in front of your face. 

In addition, consider:

  • Installing blackout curtains
  • Removing nightlights (get them out of your kids’ rooms, too!)
  • Wearing an eye mask
  • Dimming or turning off lights in your home within one to three hours before bedtime
  • Install blue-light blocking devices or apps on your devices, or try blue-light-blocking eyewear

Not all light is the enemy of sleep, however. About 10 to 20 minutes of early morning sun exposure (without your sunglasses) helps regulate the levels of a major sleep-related hormone called melatonin and has been shown to help people snooze better. So, try taking your morning cup of joe outside. 

And about that…

4. Eat and Exercise (With A Few Caveats) 

Eating a healthy diet (think: high in nutrients, low in processed- and pro-inflammatory foods) supports the tissues, neurotransmitters, and hormones involved in the sleep-wake cycle. But be aware that eating late at night or having a large meal too close to bedtime makes sleep more difficult by affecting hormones and blood sugar levels. Close up the kitchen at least two to three hours prior to bed.

If you drink any caffeinated beverages, do so in moderation and try not to consume any past mid-morning or noon. It takes about six hours for your body to metabolize half of the caffeine you ingest (caffeine’s so-called “half-life”), meaning that late afternoon pick-me-up from your local coffee shop could still be keeping you up at nine or ten p.m. since there’ll still be caffeine floating around in your system.

Unlike caffeine’s stimulating effect on your body, alcohol is a sedative—but don’t let this fool you into thinking it’ll help you sleep better. Even if you seem to fall asleep faster after a couple night caps, it’s clear from the research that alcohol disrupts sleep cycles, meaning the quality of your sleep can suffer bigtime. Moderation is key here, too. 

Beyond a healthy diet, regular exercise has also been shown to help people fall asleep better. Just avoid working out too close to bedtime since the energizing effects of exercise may keep you up.

5. If You’re Going to Nap, Nap Right

To nap, or not to nap? That is the question on a lot of people’s minds. 

While napping during the day doesn’t “make up” for any missed sleep from the night before, it may boost your performance and mood. So feel free to grab a short nap during the day if you’re struggling—just not longer than 30 minutes and not later than three p.m. or so, since this may disrupt your sleep/wake cycle and even make you feel groggy and less energized.

The Bottom Line

Health professionals agree that getting enough quality sleep every night is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall well-being, manage or prevent chronic diseases, and simply help you feel and function better every day. But even if the idea that “sleep matters” makes intuitive sense to you, that may not be enough on its own to help you sleep better—especially in the super stressful wake of COVID-19. 

But consistently practicing good sleep hygiene is well worth the effort. The right sleep-promoting habits will not only help you get better rest but will also help you feel less stressed. So, if you’re really struggling with insomnia, talk to your doctor—but don’t neglect some of these simple and research-based techniques, first.

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Tricia
Tricia
21 days ago

A good nights sleep makes a world of difference and since I struggle with insomnia, I cherish those nights when I‘ve slept through the night. I’ll continue to incorporate some additional tips noted above.