The old adage about not going to bed angry may have some scientific merit, recent research suggests.
Sleeping on negative emotional memories could make it harder to let go, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
Scientists at Beijing Normal University and Stanford University showed 73 men photos of human faces along with disturbing images of dead bodies, injured people or crying children. The men began to associate the faces with the upsetting images, and were then told to suppress their memories of the latter while being shown the faces again. The men were shown the faces twice: first before bed and again in the morning. They had a harder time suppressing the unpleasant emotional memories after a night’s sleep than before they slept.
The message is clear: Sleep and negative emotions don’t mix. Indeed, a review of previous research published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology suggests that anxiety and stress can interfere with your Zzzs.
“Holding onto certain emotions at night that are leftover from daytime can have a profound impact on sleep and even one’s ability to fall asleep,” says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan psychotherapist and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.”
So, how can you cope with your emotional burden to sleep better?
Practice self-compassion, suggests Dr. Friedemann Schaub, a physician and the author of “The Fear & Anxiety Solution.” In other words, it’s okay to feel sorry for yourself when you are angry, stressed or sad.
Putting your feelings on paper can bring relief from anger and upset. “When you write it down, you are signaling to your mind: ‘Right now it is out of my hands, out of my control. I can deal with it another time,'” says Schaub.
If you are still fuming, try to find something to laugh about. Watching cat videos or a comedy show may help to distract your attention from a marital spat or family problems.
Setting boundaries between work and home can help you cope with stress. “Make a decision to shut down your devices and get out of the work mode at least a few hours before bedtime,” says Alpert.
Finally, try to shift your focus from negative emotions to positive thoughts. Once you are tucked in, visualize something relaxing, like a day on the beach, says Schaub.
“Give your mind a little vacation,” he says.
For more tips to conquer stress before bedtime, try these five yoga poses before bed.