How to Decrease Stress for Better Sleep

A blaring alarm clock is the first thing that sets the snowball effect of a stressful day in full motion.  Struggling to get out of bed, hitting the snooze button too many times and you’re too late to eat breakfast before work.  After sitting in traffic during your commute you get to work and find three urgent messages from your boss, there’s no hope for the day to slow down.  By the time you get home, after sitting in traffic yet again, it’s time to make dinner, tidy the house and rest your head on your pillow while all the stressful thoughts of what you didn’t accomplish today invade your brain preventing you from falling asleep.  Stress is stress.  We all have it and we all cope with it in different ways.  But there are ways to help calm yourself when your stress levels start to peak.  Being able to eliminate stress in little ways will help you rest easy at night and get better sleep.  Here are a few tips for calming down.

The first step to calming down is to figure out what exactly is causing it.  You may be sleeping eight hours each night, but do you wake up still feeling tired?  It will be worth your while to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss you sleep quality and see if there’s an underlying sleep disorder that is preventing your from getting deep sleep.  When we don’t get enough sleep, stresses become more difficult to deal with because we don’t have the full mental capacity or energy to solve the issue.

I think we can all agree that stress makes us lose focus and become unproductive.  Taking a step back and trying a deep breathing exercise can help calm your nerves and refocus your energy.  In my weekly yoga class we work on our breathing, so I can vouch for the effectiveness of breathing exercises.  Inhaling and exhaling for equal counts of four, in through the nose and out through the mouth, can help reduce your stress.  It’s really important to focus on yourself when stress seems to be taking over.  Giving yourself a little more me-time, even if it’s just a minute of deep breathing, will help you cope with stress.

Don’t let the stress of a busy day keep you from hitting the gym.  If you think you don’t have time to go to the gym in your busy day then think again.  You don’t even have to break a sweat; just take a walk around the office when stress starts piling up.  Getting your heart rate up will reduce hormones that counteract stress.  I think that Elle Woods, the fabulous main character of Legally Blonde, said the best quote about stress and exercising:

“Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

If something is stressing you out, then take a minute and just walk away from it, seriously.  If it’s at work, get up from your desk and step outside, a little sunshine can’t hurt and can improve your mood.  If it’s a fight with your significant other, walk into the other room to cool off.  Any kind of movement will help with stress, whether it’s a light walk or a session at the gym lifting weights.  Getting active to deal with stress will not only have you feeling great, you’ll also look great too!

After dealing with a day of stress, don’t you just want to grab a pint of ice cream or a bacon cheeseburger to pat yourself on the back?  DON’T!  Well, please, reward yourself, YOU DESERVE IT, but don’t run to the nearest junk food item.  You can celebrate with better snacks that are still delicious.  I’m a big fan of chocolate covered anything, so I suggest if you’re looking for a sugary “Job Well Done” then reach for some chocolate covered strawberries.  I’m also addicted to peanut butter so instead of grabbing a bag of chips, I go for a handful of baby carrots and dip them into peanut butter (I hear celery is delicious with peanut butter as well).  Also, another benefit of carrots and celery you may ask?  They’re super crunchy so you can chomp out some of your built up stress (carefully though, no need to chip a tooth!).

The most important tip (at least to me) is to not bring your stressful thoughts into bed.  Having a racing mind will keep you from falling asleep and achieving restorative deep sleep.  My mom always told me to grab a pen and paper and write down whatever thoughts were keeping me up at night and it actually works (thanks mom!).  Give it a try!  Next time you let stressful thoughts flood your brain, write them down so that they’re out of your head, especially if it’s a to-do list.  How often are the thoughts that keep you up at night about what you didn’t get to finish that day and what you’ll have to do tomorrow?  Write them down so that you won’t forget about them in the morning and you’ll be able to sleep much easier knowing that you have all your thoughts in one place (thank me later).

There will always be stress, but now you have different techniques to try when times get tough.  There’s no foolproof way when it comes to coping with stress; it’s just like sleep tips, everyone reacts differently to them.  All that matters is that you try something so that you can find the best method for coping with your own stress.  Improving your ways of coping with stress will make it easier to sleep at night and we all know how sleep directly affects both your mood and health. 

 

Contributor: Emily Barrett

Stop Hitting the Snooze Button!

As the Sleepy’s Snooze Director, it’s easy to understand that I am passionate about snoozing.  But there is one type of snooze that I am against, and that is the dreaded snooze button.  You may love your snooze button so much that you hit it over 14 times, but your love of delayed waking isn’t helping you at all.  I for one think that there shouldn’t even be a snooze button option any more, but before you swear me off for dismissing your love affair with that dreaded button, hear me out on the detriments of hitting the snooze button.

One of the most valuable hours of sleep is the one hour before you wake up.  Setting your alarm for an earlier wake up time so that you can incessantly hit snooze is counterproductive.  Chopping up that last hour of sleep into ten minute increments basically means you won’t be getting any extra sleep at all. 

Don’t you feel groggy once you finally stop hitting the snooze button and get out of bed?  That’s because you aren’t getting enough uninterrupted, quality sleep.  Think about it… If you set your alarm to wake up at the time you normally get up after your snoozes, you’ll be getting uninterrupted sleep until then.  You’ll wake up with more energy and it will be easier to get out of bed because you were getting quality sleep for a longer period of time.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate that surprise of the blaring alarm clock each morning just as much as the next guy, but I have ZERO desire to hear my alarm go off more than once.  That is why I’ve put together a few tips to help you ease up on your usage of the snooze button so that hopefully you too can get out of bed on the first try.

Your first mission, should you choose to accept it, is to just get out of bed as soon as your alarm goes off.  At the very least, you will want to sit up in bed after you turn your alarm off.  Moving around will make you less likely to doze back asleep.  You will also want to try and expose yourself to light early in the morning.  Setting automatic blinds to open an hour before your alarm clock will let the sun shine in and wake you up much more gradually than a loud beep from the alarm.  You could also invest in a light alarm clock that will gradually become brighter to help wake you up in time.  Once you’ve gotten yourself out of the bed, head to the bathroom and splash some water (more on the cooler side) onto your face to really make you feel awake.  Do you make coffee every morning?  Then you may want to consider getting a coffee maker with an alarm on it so that not only will your coffee be made for you by the time you get out of bed, but also that the aroma will wake you up.  If all else fails then put your alarm on the other side of the room or even in a different room so that it forces you to get out of bed and turn it off.

So there are a few tips to try to wean you off of your snooze button addiction.  Which ones do you think you’ll try?  Have you tried any before?  What do you do that I didn’t mention?

 

Contributor: Emily Barrett

The Importance of Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is a bit of a confusing term.  Some may think it is a sleeping disorder similar to sleep walking where the victim unknowingly showers while they sleep.  Others may think that it’s a neurosis someone may suffer from that makes the person change their sheets every night before going to bed.  As helpful as showering while sleeping may be, and how annoying it would be to change the sheets each and every night, sleep hygiene is neither of these two things.  Sleep hygiene is a set of good habits to accomplish to prepare for a great night’s sleep.

I know how busy life can get and that we all have demanding schedules.  What I am going to suggest for optimal sleep hygiene is not adding more on to your plate, rather I am going to suggest changing the times or eliminating certain things from your daily routine.  You don’t have to take on every suggestion, but you’ll definitely want to try a few of the options to see if they help you relax, which prepares you for restful sleep.

Remember when you used to have a bedtime? I do, my mom would put me to bed at the same time every night when I was younger as she tucked me into bed with my Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal.  Now that I’m in the real world with a real job (yes, being the Snooze Director is a real job), it’s just as important to have a set bedtime.  Good sleep hygiene starts with having a set bedtime and wake up time that you adhere to everyday (even on the weekends).  Your body will grow accustomed to relaxing more easily as it gets used to falling asleep and waking up at the same time everyday.

Do you already pump iron at the gym? That’s great, but do you go after work or later in the evening?  That’s not so great.  You’ll want to get your workout done first thing in the morning or complete it no later than three hours before bedtime.  Right after finishing your workout, your body will experience an endorphin high that gives you an energy boost, which is why it is highly recommended to run through your exercise regimen first thing in the morning.

I remember when my mom used to help me get ready for bed, the routine consisted of a bath, putting on pajamas, reading a book together and then Winnie the Pooh and I were off to dreamland probably half way through reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  It’s just as important to have a relaxing bedtime routine even as an “adult,” (I still haven’t come to terms that I can refer to myself as an adult).  Taking a hot bath or shower before bed will relax your muscles and ease your way into restful sleep.  Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed and read a book instead or listen to relaxing music.

Now here are some things to avoid in your daily routine that promote quality sleep.  While napping can be helpful getting you through your day (if you have the opportunity to), just make sure that you don’t nap too late in the day.  You’ll also want to keep your nap less than 20 minutes, so that it won’t mess with your sleep cycle.  Having caffeine after 2pm is a big no-no; caffeine stays in your system for a long time and can turn your sleep cycle upside down.  Don’t forget that caffeine isn’t just a regular cup of coffee; it’s also in tea, decaf beverages, soda and chocolate.  If you’re having a hard time without your afternoon coffee, try drinking a cold glass of water or get up and walk around the office for an energy boost.  Lastly, if you think that night cap is helping you sleep, that’s not entirely true.  While studies have found that those with alcohol in their system fell asleep quickly, their quality of sleep was nothing to brag about.  Drinking too close to bedtime will keep your body up at night, which decreases the quality of sleep you’ll get because you spend less time in the REM stages of sleep.  As a rule of thumb, finish your alcohol consumption no later than three hours before bed.

All of these suggestions are to reduce stress and ease your mind and body into restful sleep.  Giving one or two of these a try each night will help you get to sleep quicker and stay asleep for longer.  Don’t forget the importance of a supportive mattress, when it comes to getting a great night’s sleep.  A mattress that was purchased more than eight years ago might not be properly supporting your body and will promote tossing and turning each night, which decreases the quality of sleep you get.  The body benefits tremendously from quality sleep.  Making a few small changes to your daily routine will help maximize the benefits of sleep for your body and mind.

 

Contributor: Emily Barrett