When stress interrupts your sleep on a nightly basis, it sets you up for chronic insomnia. Here’s how to feel less stress and sleep more
1. Jot down a list of stressors
‘Every night a couple of hours before bed, sit down and make a list of all the issues, problems, and things you have to deal with,’ says Donna Arand, clinical director of Kettering Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio. ‘Next to each item, write a solution or plan.’
When you’re ready for bed, put the list by the bedroom door. That way, if thoughts of your problems arise as you’re trying to sleep, you can tell yourself, ‘I’ve got a plan and I’ll work on it tomorrow,’ says Arand. The reassuring presence of your plan by the door will give it a concrete reality that will allow you to shift your mind to more peaceful things.
2. Put work in perspective
A Canadian health agency that tracks health-related statistics reported recently that on-the-job stress has reached alarming levels. They point to the fact that the workplace no longer has any boundaries and that work has spread into every corner of your life. It’s gotten to the point that 52 percent of employees take work home’almost double the number who did in 1990.
A joint study of 314 workers conducted by the University of South Australia and the University of Rotterdam found that workers with higher levels of active leisurely activities, such as exercise, hobbies, and social activity, were able not only to bounce back from workplace stress better than their always-on-the-job coworkers but also sleep significantly better than others.
3. Turn off your technology
Although each new, more multifaceted electronic device that appears in the marketplace promises to make the logistics of our lives a snap, they may actually tie us into too many never-ending webs. Being able to keep in touch with the kids is a boon to working parents. Allowing the office to track you down after hours is not. We need to keep the two things separate, save discrete times in the day to receive and answer business e-mails, and learn to screen the after 6:00 p.m. cell phone calls. And under no circumstances should you check your e-mail right before bed.
4. Spend less money
According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, four of the top 10 stressors we experience are related to money’how we get it and how we spend it. Given that, doesn’t it make sense that if we want less and are content with less’smaller houses, fewer gadgets, and simpler forms of transportation’our stress levels will go down?
Perhaps that applies to our career choices as well. A recent poll of nearly 2,000 Americans reveals that 22 percent declined a promotion or refused to seek one because they thought the job would be too stressful.
5. Plan for stress
How do you deal with stress? Pig out on chocolate mousse? Skip meals? Refill your wineglass a couple of times after dinner? All of these classic stress responses actually make falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult. But if you realize that you’re one of those who responds to stress in a way that will sabotage your sleep, plan ahead of time how you’re going to handle something you just know is going to raise your stress level.
If you know the big year-end sales conference is coming up next week and you’ve got some pretty lofty goals to achieve, for example, get into bed an hour early every night this week, which will give your body a biochemical boost of stress-proofing growth hormone to ride into the week.
6. Have some laughs
If you like to unwind in front of the television each evening, tune in to one of the channels that offers a few laughs. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine asked 16 people to watch a funny videotape while the researchers measured various biochemicals related to stress. The result? When study participants watched the tape, their levels of stress hormones dropped significantly and levels of the antistress growth hormone rose 87 percent.
7. Cut yourself some slack
If you know a situation will add to your stress level, avoiding it when you’re not sleeping may well be the
healthiest thing you can do. One woman who worked the counter in a bakery found herself tossing and turning every night as she thought about all her stressors’her kid, the mortgage, her husband’s health, the whole nine yards.
But one morning the lack of sleep, her stressors, and the fact that she had to deal with customers niggling back and forth between caraway or sesame seeds put her right on the edge. So she swapped places with a baker in the back of the store. The baker’not unhappy with the change at all’waited on customers while the stressed-out counterwoman peacefully kneaded dough.
That night, the counterwoman slept well.
8. Plant an herb garden
Line your bedroom windowsill with lavender plants, pinch off some leaves before bed, and slip them into your pillowcase. Studies show that the effects of herbal fragrances such as lavender reduce stress levels. In one study people exposed to lavender showed an increase in the type of brain waves that suggest increased relaxation.
9. Take Fido to bed
In one analysis, researchers evaluated the heart health of 240 couples, half of whom owned a pet. Those couples with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels when exposed to stressors than the couples who did not have pets’a sign that stress is less likely to be affecting their sleep.
10. Get physical
Burn off a rush of stress with a 15-minute walk. Studies show that those who regularly exercise sleep better than those who don’t.