If you’re often waking up multiple times through the night with things on your mind or struggling to fall asleep, you might be wondering what the best ways to improve your sleep and lower stress levels in the evening are.
It’s understandable in the present day that many people are finding it harder and harder to get a good night’s rest with so much going on in the world.
Being stressed can lead to all kinds of health difficulties, but one of the biggest ones is causing anxiety, which can lead to insomnia.
This can sometimes feel like a vicious cycle, and you might think there is simply no solution. Well, I am here to tell you that there are, in fact, lots of remedies and practical ways that you can get a good sleep while stressed.
So, while not all of the methods further below might work for you individually, persevere and give them all a try. Eventually, you will likely find one that works for you and helps you drift off to sleep healthier, more relaxed, and without having to resort to medications.
Why Does Stress Affect Sleep?
It’s common knowledge that anxiety and stress are strongly linked to lack of sleep, broken sleep, and insomnia. You will have noticed that when your mind is free of worry, it’s much easier to fall into a relaxed state, which makes drifting off to sleep a dream.
There is a scientific reason that stress gets in the way of getting a good night’s rest, and this is because when we are worried or stressed, our brains go into a state of “fight or flight.”
This state of mind means that our brains release hormones that either make the body stand and fight whatever the problem is or run away from it. Both these responses require us to be awake, which is why falling asleep can feel impossible when something is on our minds.
The sympathetic nervous system is what sends signals to the adrenal glands, which release noradrenaline and adrenaline. This can lead to an increase in your heart rate, blood pressure, and pulse rate. All these things combined mean the body and brain cannot relax.
The brain will have this reaction no matter what the situation is. So, whether you’re worried because you have made a mistake at work and have a meeting with your boss the next day, or simply because you feel embarrassed that you waved at a stranger earlier that day, your body will find it hard to wind up down. This is down to your brain working overtime.
Stress and Physical Health
As I mentioned previously, stress can harm our physical health, as well as our sleep. These health problems often include, but are not limited to, increased blood pressure, raised heart rate, chest pains, headaches and migraines, tingling sensations, high temperature, and muscle aches or spasms. Lack of sleep can cause problems you wouldn’t normally associate with sleep, such as asthma, diabetes, depression, and arthritis.
Research has also shown that stress and a lack of sleep can heighten underlying or already problematic health problems that you may have. This is because when we sleep, the brain and body repair and heal, and if you’re not getting adequate sleep, the body isn’t getting the time to recover as it should.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you will need to speak to a professional and try out any methods at home.
Another way that stress can negatively affect your health is when people turn to substances to aid their sleep, such as sleeping tablets, alcohol, and other drugs. Over time, the body will become accustomed to these substances. This runs the risk of the brain becoming more stressed and can also lead to physical addiction in the long run.
What Can Cause Stress?
Many factors can contribute to stress, and they can affect everyone differently. Below I have listed some common stressors that can lead to a problematic sleep schedule.
1. Money Worries
First of all, probably one of the most common causes of people losing sleep at night is worries over their financial circumstances, so if this is you, fear not, you certainly aren’t alone.
There can be many problems within our relationships that might cause us to lay awake at night, wondering how to repair broken friendships or solve an argument with our significant other.
It could even be that you’re paranoid about your other half becoming secretive, or you’re seeing them become distanced from you. Whatever the reason, problems in our relationships can significantly affect our stress levels.
Similar to other relationship problems, separating from a partner or any form of heartache can also impact our anxiety levels. Worrying about what caused it or what you could have done differently can play on your mind and keep you up at night.
If you’ve recently been experiencing health problems that you can’t explain or have an upcoming doctors appointment that is playing on your mind, it can be challenging to concentrate on anything else and can also prevent you from being able to relax.
Your sleeping environment is detrimental to how well you sleep. So if you’re sleeping in a room that is too warm, this can make an uncomfortable setting for sleep.
Also, if you’re already overly stressed, this increases your body temperature. The same goes for noise. It is easier to relax without any noise, so trying to fall asleep with the TV on, or if there is noise outside your room, can affect how you drift off to sleep. It can also cause a stressful situation when something is actively keeping you from drifting off.
If you’re worried about something in your day-to-day life, such as a new job, starting a new school, or perhaps waiting on the results of an exam, the feeling of anxiety can be so severe that it prohibits us from being able to sleep or relax. When we are worried, our bodies release a hormone called Cortisol, which makes falling asleep difficult.
10 Effective Ways to Reduce Stress Before Sleep
There are so many things that you can try at home to improve your general quality of sleep. Many involve changing your sleeping environment to one that feels calmer and more relaxing. Some of these methods also include trying something new that you may not have already tried.
So let’s look at some of the techniques that have been scientifically proven to increase the amount of sleep you get, help you drift off to sleep, prevent waking up during the night, and reduce how stress affects your nightly routine.
1. Power Naps
Sleeping during the day can throw off your circadian rhythm, which can mean that by the time evening comes around, you struggle to fall asleep at the regular time.
Power naps aren’t always a bad thing, and sometimes it can be highly beneficial. However, when not done correctly, for example, sleeping late in the afternoon, or sleeping for hours at a time, can dramatically impact how you sleep at night. This can create a vicious cycle, meaning you’ll be tired again the following day after not receiving the correct amount of sleep the night before. Therefore, you may find you need to nap the next day again.
The best thing to do is break the cycle. Skip your nap throughout the day, and try getting an early night. Train yourself to wake up to an alarm, and ensure you’re getting the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep per night.
If you feel you need to nap throughout the day, do it before 3:00 pm, and only nap for around 20 minutes. This should give you the energy booster you need while not playing with your circadian rhythm.
2. Create a Sleep Schedule
Putting a routine in place before you go to sleep can massively help you feel more in control of your schedule and prepare your mind for bed.
Your nightly routine can be anything you like, such as getting in bed and reading a book, watching a movie a couple of hours before sleep, taking a candlelit bath, or even practicing yoga. The central aspect to concentrate on is that you complete your schedule at the time every night, even at weekends.
Over time, your brain will start to recognize this as your wind-down time, and when it comes to going to sleep, you will be in a much more relaxed, stress-free state.
3. Breath Exercises
Breathing exercises are standard practices in meditation and yoga. This is because it helps to calm the mind and reduce stress levels.
The reason practicing breathing patterns can help with sleep is because, as well as helping your body to get into a relaxed state, it can also help you to concentrate on something other than your anxiety.
There are various ways to practice breathing for relaxation. Still, a popular one is to find a comfortable position when you are happy to fall asleep, and inhale, deep into your stomach, through your mouth, hold your breath for two to four seconds, then slowly release the breath. Repeat this process for as long as you wish. More often than not, you will find that you drift off to sleep while practicing. If not, you will feel much more relaxed, and drifting off will be much easier.
4. Cutting Out Caffeine
Everyone knows that a strong coffee in the morning is a great way to come around and get you out of that morning sleep when you’ve just woken up. However, when consumed in large quantities or at the wrong time of day, your nightly sleep pattern will likely be disturbed.
If you’re already stressed about anything else in your life, then caffeine is one you should likely try to avoid altogether. This is because when we drink caffeine, our heart rate increases. Also, our bodies release a hormone called adenosine, which can lead to a major crash in energy, so although it might wake you up in the short term, it can lead to feelings of exhaustion and depression in the long run.
Caffeine can also affect your general mood so that you may feel sudden bursts of energy, followed by feelings of irritability and anxiousness.
If you’re a coffee lover and don’t want to give it up entirely, it’s recommended to have one cup before midday and avoid it in the afternoon and evening.
5. Focus on The Positives
One of the main problems people talk about surrounding stress and sleep is lying awake at night and going over things that have happened or might happen in the future.
Although this may feel impossible, the best thing you can do is prioritize your thoughts. For example, if you’re worried about starting a job the following day, instead of working yourself up about all the things that could go wrong, focus on the positives, like new friends you can make and new skills you could learn.
It would be best to stay focused on what you can control. More often than not, when we’re worried about something, it’s something that we can’t change. You should let go of anything you can’t change and focus on the things you can change or improve.
This can be difficult to get into the habit of, but once you have mastered the skill, you will find that you’re generally more relaxed and content, which will help you significantly with your sleep quality.
Another thing to consider is your general priorities. Sometimes it can feel like there is so much to do in your day-to-day life that pressure builds up, and everything is too much. If this is the case, prioritizing your commitments is the best thing to do.
It can help to note everything down in order of importance and deadlines. Once you have done this, you can spread out your tasks and achieve them promptly without much pressure. Doing this will make you much more productive and feel more at ease.
6. Go Outdoors
Getting fresh air during the day, especially later in the day, can massively improve your ability to relax.
It has been proven that breathing in the fresh air can release hormones in your body, which promote relaxation and a restful night’s sleep.
Enjoying the sunshine during the day, when you get the chance, can also be massively beneficial to your stress levels. Scientists have proven that sun rays help the body to produce a hormone called serotonin which is known to boost your mood significantly. In turn, a good mood reduces stress levels and helps calm the mind during bedtime.
Exercise is one of the most recommended forms of stress relief in all aspects of life. Exercising daily will reduce feelings of fatigue and release endorphins which increase feelings of happiness.
Also, after exercise, you will feel a great sense of accomplishment, which can make you feel more confident in other aspects of your life. When you reach this, you will find your stress levels are massively reduced, and the ability to fall asleep at night will be much easier.
Mediation is a skill that requires quite a lot of practice, but once you have accomplished it, you will find that it’s a brilliant skill to use to reduce stress and improve sleep.
Mediation works by calming and healing the mind of anxieties. When practiced correctly, it can put you into a state of deep relaxation, so learning how to meditate in bed is one of the best things you can do if stress negatively impacts your sleep.
The wonderful thing about meditation is that it not only reduces stress but also boosts your mood, promoting feelings of contentment and happiness.
Suppose you’re new to meditating and find learning how to do it a little daunting. In that case, there are many aids you can use to get you started, such as applications on your phone, tutorial videos online, and tapes you can listen to, which will guide you step-by-step on how to get started.
9. Improve Your Sleep Setting
Where you sleep plays a massive part in how well you settle into slumber, and making some small changes around your bedroom can have a surprisingly positive effect on how well you sleep.
For example, changing your bed sheets regularly can reduce the buildup of dust, skin particles, and bed bugs. Sleeping with these in the atmosphere can affect our breathing during sleep and result in a bad night’s rest.
Having a complete change around in your room can also make a difference. Tests have shown that moving your bed as close to an open window as possible can impact how well you sleep.
Keeping your room clean and free from clutter is also an excellent way to relieve the mind of stress and reduce the buildup of dust and debris in your surroundings.
Also, ensure your bedroom is at an ample temperature and dark. Sleeping in a cool, pitch-black room has proven to be the perfect condition for a good night’s sleep.
10. Avoiding Alcohol
Many people find it comforting to reach for a glass of wine or a can of lager after a stressful day, but contrary to popular belief, this can have a majorly negative effect on your sleep health.
Although it may cause you to fall asleep quicker than usual, it can severely mess up your circadian rhythm, meaning that you skip vital steps of the sleeping process. In the long run, this can cause increased anxiety and higher stress levels and lead to long-term fatigue and depression.
It is advised that if you are going to drink alcohol, stop your consumption at least two hours before you plan on going to bed.
One of the biggest things you need to take away from this guide is that it’s not only what you do in bed that will change your sleeping habits but more what you can practice during the day and before you go to bed, such as exercise, meditation, and organization.
If you want to try out any of the remedies I have discussed here, then the most important thing to remember is that nothing is a quick fix. You will need to stick to your new routine for a few days or weeks before noticing any significant improvements. So, don’t give up if you don’t see results immediately. Although, a lot of this advice will directly affect your general mental well-being.
Another thing to remember is that if you think your stress levels are linked to any form of medical condition, you must seek help from a doctor, as there may be something underlying that home remedies just won’t work for. It will put your mind at ease to speak to a medical professional.
I hope that by reading this information, you now have a good idea about what’s causing your stress, how to overcome it, and most importantly, how to reduce it so that come evening, you can relax and drift off into a restful night’s sleep.