Feeling stressed? You’re not alone, and you’re probably feeling it in your sleep, too. Life’s stresses are caused by many things such as social stress, diet, life being a total unpredictable dumpster fire… I get it. But the crappy thing is that sleep and stress go hand in hand; the worse rest you’re getting, the more stressed you’ll become. Here are a few suggestions to help you sleep better even if you’re stressed.
The gut and the brain: A vicious cycle
We often hear about how stress affects our digestive health, but did you know it goes both ways? The foods we eat (or don’t eat) can leave us feeling irritable, raise our blood pressure and heart rate, and decrease our energy levels. By eating the right foods and limiting those questionable ones, we can help get our body back into a healthier cycle and improve our sleep quality.
A few foods that affect your mood include; white flour, salt, caffeine, and sugar. Glucose is something everybody needs to live. However, too much can be a bad thing. Foods with too much sugar increase blood sugar levels, which releases the stress hormone cortisol, which, well, stresses you out! White flour is so overly processed that it doesn’t have any of the benefits of whole grain (i.e., fiber). Because of this, it gets digested and absorbed extremely fast, causing spikes in your blood sugar. Salt and caffeine can raise your blood pressure and heart rate (and make your body release more cortisol), so maybe set down the chips and your iced coffee. Let’s get into some foods to kick those unhealthy habits.
Instead of coffee and a donut, try making yourself a smoothie with some chia seeds and flaxseeds. Chia seeds are chock full of omega-3s to help your brain get going, and flaxseeds have lots of healthy fiber, healthy fats, b vitamins, and more! Switch that white bread to whole grain (or whole wheat). Diets with more whole grains have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Keep that heart healthy! Switch salty snacks for some veggies. But, also remember baby steps. Don’t add more stress by trying to go on a hardcore diet. You can still enjoy the occasional latte. It’s all about moderation.
Creating bedtime routines is a great way to decompress for the day and have a little “you time.” Take a warm bath or shower and meditate about the day. Start a skincare routine. Just make sure it isn’t something too strenuous; remember, you’re trying to unwind for the day. You want these routines to take you away from all the stresses of the day.
These are things that you enjoy doing and are something just for you. Start by setting some time aside for yourself before bed. Think about the things that make you happy and relaxed. Try to avoid a screen, if possible, within this routine, as blue light from screens can have a severe impact on your melatonin (sleep hormone) levels.
Turn your brain off with white noise.
Studies have shown the benefits and drawbacks of white noise (or pink noise, or brown noise, etc.). This isn’t a one-size-fits-all, but if you have trouble turning off your brain and are constantly being alerted by other noises, or noisy thoughts, white noise might be the solution for you.
White noise is a sound made by combining several different frequencies, allowing it to cancel out (nearly) all other noises around it. It creates a gentle ‘shhh’ sound, much like the static on older TVs. There are lots of apps that play a constant stream of white noise and their variations. Try them out and see which one is best for you!
Day and night
Humans are generally diurnal creatures. We are awake during the day and sleep at night. If you are indoors all day with little to no light, it may be hard for your body to know if you should be awake or asleep. If you can, let some light in. Open up some windows, make it brighter.
At night, it’s best to make sure that your room is as dark as possible. And for goodness’s sake, put down your phone! (See blue light above) Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. It relies on both light and dark to know when to wake up and go to sleep. Once the lights go out, melatonin is released. If you are already stressed, your melatonin levels are probably all wacky. Try to balance them out a little better by turning out all lights in the bedroom. (That includes your phone!!)
To nap or not to nap?
Naps. The best, amirite? But those extra snoozes can be detrimental to your sleep cycle. Studies have shown the benefits of power naps (naps under 30 min). Still, anything longer than that can have the opposite effects you were hoping for. Longer naps can leave you feeling disoriented, tired, and groggy. Not only this, but you are messing with your internal rhythm, causing you to lose sleep at night.
If you want to keep your daytime naps, keep them short and at a regular time every day. But if you’re like me, where the temptation is too great just to sleep all day, it’s best to cut them out altogether.
Exercise is good for your body. We all know that. But simple workouts can also improve your sleep (and also relieve stress!). Exercise releases endorphins (the happy hormone) which make you feel good both mentally and physically. But when you exercise is key to helping you improve your sleep.
Exercising regularly has been shown to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, help you stay asleep longer, and feel more energy during the day. However, if you’re running laps before bed, you might not be getting those benefits. Exercise also releases epinephrine and adrenaline, which are both stimulants that will get you way too amped to sleep. Keep that body moving throughout the day, and limit the activity within a couple of hours before bedtime.
Healthy habits are essential to get you to sleep better. Start with one or two and develop your own routines. With better sleep, you can help lower some of your stress and finally break that cycle of sleepless nights and worn-out days. Sweet dreams!