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Are You Too Stressed To Sleep? Here’s How To Sleep When Stressed

a profile image of TSA author Alex

Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

The sleep advisors presenter too stressed to sleep

2 April 2024 5 min read

Even a small problem in life seems bigger at night. That is why a good night's sleep is very important after a stressful situation, even if it is nothing major. But what if you are too stressed to sleep?

You need to know that stress is a natural reaction of the body. That is why it is a wrong approach to try to avoid stress in every way, including consuming sedatives and sleep medicine.

Many people choose such an approach even after a minor argument with a partner, boss or colleague. That is normal part of our everyday lives.

Stress is the way the body protects itself because it triggers a “fight of flight” response. But if the stress is constant, then it will become chronic, anxiety will occur, and probably insomnia.
It is necessary to learn how to relax. If you fail to learn how to sleep when stressed and anxious, it will leave consequences on your physical and mental health. Here are tips on how to sleep when stressed.

How not to be too stressed for sleep during the day?

There is no magic pill or bedtime routine that will make you sleep perfectly if you don't take care of yourself during the rest of the day. In order for sleep hygiene to be good, you need to pay attention to your diet, water intake, but also to limit stress as much as possible.

Avoid any stimulants

An image of a man drinking coffee and daydreaming.

Coffee, more precisely caffeine, has been a main stimulant for humans for thousands of years. There is nothing wrong with drinking one or two cups of coffee a day. A coffee nap is very helpful when we don’t have time for an afternoon nap. But if we ingest too much caffeine during the day, it will elevate cortisol too much. Cortisol is a stress hormone so daily stress plus caffeine is a sure path to poor sleep.

It should not be forgotten that coffee is not the only beverage that contains caffeine. Tea and even hot chocolate have a certain level of caffeine which is usually not as high as in coffee. Some other stimulants that people consume are energy drinks, nicotine and drugs. Those should be avoided at all costs, not only for sleep, but for overall health.

Exercise enough during the day

An image of a beautiful young woman exercising and doing pushups before bed.

Take a smartphone and check how many steps you have made on average in the last week. The average should be 10,000 steps a day, and most people are way below that average. You have to change that for the sake of the night's sleep. So walking will be the first step towards being physically active.

But that is certainly not enough. It would be advisable to go to the gym three times a week, and any additional physical activity is a plus for you. That can be yoga, pushups before bed or playing tennis. It is up to you to choose. The paradox is that today more than ever we have a fitness centers and sports field at our disposal and people are less physically active than ever before.

Stick to healthy food

an image of a healthy diet for an easier waking up in the morning

You cannot control whether you will have an argument with a colleague or whether you will encounter a road rage while driving from home to work. But you can control what you eat 100 per cent. For some reason, people often act as if diet has nothing to do with them and eat the first thing they can get their hands on, mostly very unhealthily.

Unhealthy foods do not have all the nutrients you need and that is why you will feel a lack of energy. In the long run, your immunity will be weak and then various diseases may occur. So focus on having three healthy meals a day and two snacks.

Protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats will help reduce stress, while sweets are only an instant solution because insulin blocks cortisol. Later simple sugar is going to increase inflammation and make you even more anxious.

Set a worry time

An image of a man suffering from anxiety.

Have you ever heard of the concept of “worry time”? This relatively new approach in psychotherapy has proven to be very successful. How exactly does it work? It is normal to feel anxious several times during the day. Sometimes it's a momentary concern, such as whether we get to a meeting on time.

Later you will remember something that has been bothering us for a long time. If every time such thoughts come to our mind we worry for a few minutes, the feeling of anxiety will be present constantly.

That's why we need worry time. Worry time is a part of the day, for example 15 minutes or half an hour that we will dedicate to worries. Whenever you think of something that worries you during the day, tell yourself that you will think about it during worry time. This way you will relieve yourself, and when worry time comes, you will be able to be fully focused on the problems. Then you will find a solution easier because your thoughts will not wander.

How to relieve stress before bed time?

We have told you that sleep hygiene is necessary otherwise a bedtime routine will not help you. That is certainly true. But the best results are achieved when you combine sleep hygiene during the day and a bedtime routine in the evening. So we will now focus on all the things you should or should not do a few hours before bed.

Do not use electronic devices before sleep

This is easier said than done. We are surrounded by devices both at home and at work. We forgot what it means to read a book before bed because we watch TV or scroll down the Instagram home page. You need to limit this and it would be best not to carry the devices to the bedroom at all.

Let it be your oasis without blue light. It is the light that the devices emit and such light affects the secretion of melatonin. Numerous studies have proven that melatonin, the main sleep hormone, is significantly lower if you looked at the screen in the last hour before bed. Filters that reduce blue light are good for the eyes because yellow is more pleasant than blue, but melatonin secretion will remain reduced.

Meditation

a woman meditates before sleep

Hollywood movies have created an image of meditation in our heads. That is why we think of meditation as Buddhism and Hinduism practice during which the highest level of consciousness is reached and even certain paranormal phenomena occur.

While that is true because there are monks who have reached a level of consciousness inaccessible to ordinary people through meditation, anyone can practice meditation very successfully.

Find tutorials and start meditating. Meditation will last a few seconds at first and then you will notice progress. You just have to be patient. It is a great way to get rid of stress and psychotherapists recommend meditation to anyone suffering from insomnia.

Body scan meditation

Although it has meditation in its name, it differs significantly from traditional meditation. However, if you have mastered your mind and body with the help of classical meditation, it will be easier for you to practice body scanning. You should also know that you can start with body scan meditation solely, without practicing classical meditation.

During body scan meditation you need to learn to connect with each part of your body. Focus on one part at a time and consider whether you are feeling any sensation or perhaps pain. That's how you “scan” your body. You can do it systematically or randomly, however you want. It is important to be fully focused at that point same as when practicing mindfulness meditation.

Using deep breathing techniques

Deep breathing techniques can help you fall asleep in 10 seconds. Deep breathing can be part of meditation, but also a separate method that helps you fall asleep quickly. There are different techniques, and the 4-7-8 method is by far the most popular.

You need to relax, then inhale and exhale slowly through your mouth before you start breathing through your nose. Then you need to hold your breath for 8 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat all this at least 4 times. Breathing is part of the military method and other progressive muscle relaxation methods as well. Many elite athletes use deep breathing during the most important moments of matches to reduce stress and regain focus.

Optimise sleep environment

An an ideal sleeping environment.

It is not enough to just turn off the devices. If too much natural or street light reaches your bedroom, it will also affect melatonin secretion. That is why it is important to prevent any sleep disturbances. The easiest way to make the room completely dark is to install blinds and blackout curtains.

The artificial light in the bedroom should also be adapted to that room. Consider a suitable bedroom light and you can add bedroom wall lights both for aesthetics and functionality. When optimising the sleep environment you need to think about the temperature in the room. It is healthy to sleep in a colder room since temperature significantly affects sleep. Of course, it shouldn't be too cold either.

Have a warm bath

An image of a woman having a warm bath in a bath tub.

Warm bath is the perfect way to relax after a day and get ready for bed. If you don’t have time for a bath, a warm shower is also helpful. Warm water will relax you both mentally and physically.

Also, when you're done with a shower or bath, you'll find it easier to fall asleep during the summer. While in the bathroom, you can use essential oils that offer numerous health benefits. Later in the bedroom use a lavender sleep spray that promotes healthy sleep.

Get a white noise machine

An image of a white noise machine.

White noise, also called hissing sound, is a combination of different sounds and frequencies that our ear can hear. White noise machines are used more and more, so they are often used even by psychologists in their offices. You can also get one for your bedroom. If you need white noise for a children’s room, many night lights for kids have that feature.

White noise is not the only type of noise that is beneficial for sleep. Brown noise and pink noise are very popular too. Brown noise is not named after color but after Robert Brown. These are even deeper sounds. Pink noise is easiest to compare to light rainfall.

Still too stressed to sleep?

There are moments in life when we are under so much stress that we have trouble sleeping even after we have tried all the relaxation techniques. Then sleepless nights are common, and we have a feeling that we almost never reach deep sleep.

Such periods can lead to generalised anxiety disorder, high blood pressure and many other health problems. If this is the case, seek professional medical advice. There may be some other underlying medical problem that makes it impossible for you to achieve restful sleep. Whatever the cause, you need to address it until it is too late. When sleep debt accumulates, it will take you days and weeks to reset internal clock. There are specialised places – sleep clinics where you can also seek help.

So, have you ever been too stressed to sleep? How did you deal with it? Feel free to share your stories down in the comment section!

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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