Stress Less and Sleep More

The dishes aren’t done. The car needs an oil change. The office is moving into a new building next week and packing hasn’t even started. Oh, and a coworker is sick, so the workload is about to quintuple. This long to-do list can cause anxiety and stress, which can in turn make it difficult to fall asleep.

What’s a busy person to do when she’s trying to go bed but her brain is overwhelmed and wired? Can a person tell her brain to stop worrying? Is there a way to decrease anxiety without taking a pill? How can a person de-stress before bed so they can get quality sleep?

“Meditation is really helpful,” says Amy Landolt, a Chicago-area acupuncturist who specializes in sleep disorders at the Northshore Acupuncture Center. “I also recommend yoga and breathing exercises,” she says. “Just changing your breathing can help. Breathe from your belly, not from your chest.”

Landolt, like many sleep experts, recommends eating right, getting exercise and going outside for at least 10 minutes a day.

Clinical psychologist Jori Reijonen, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and is certified in behavioral sleep medicine. She recommends writing down what stresses you out, and getting out of bed if a racing mind keeps you awake.

“Insomnia is much more common than people realize,” she says. “There’s a relationship between diagnosable anxiety disorders and sleep problems. Anxiety can cause sleep problems but long term sleep deprivation can cause symptoms of anxiety as well. It can sometimes be difficult to see where it began.”

Calm the Mind

Try these tips to relax and get to sleep.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can help relieve a stressed mind, says Reijonen, who recommends such therapies for her patients. This is a system where a person tenses certain muscles, such as the neck and shoulders, and then releases the tension, according to AnxietyBC, a Canadian non-profit that focuses on anxiety treatments. . That tense and release then is used on various parts of the body until the entire body is relaxed.
  • Change the narrative. Instead of saying “I’ll never fall asleep tonight,” think positively. Say, “I’ll fall asleep shortly and wake up rested.” It might take a few nights for this to work. If it doesn’t, that may signal a need for a sleep therapist or doctor appointment.
  • Consider a lavender sachet or lavender lotion. Certain smells such as lavender can help a person calm down and relax, says Landolt. Lavender-scented items include sachets, lotions and oils.
  • Try a meditation app. These apps might offer guided mediation to help calm your mind, akin to attending a class but without having to leave your house. Landolt likes Headspace because the voice that tells you to relax, and to breathe in and to breathe out is so soothing.