How did you sleep last night? I know I haven’t been sleeping well, especially with everything going on in the world right now. We’ve covered why time-blocking is so important right now, while everyone is cooped up at home. But what about sleep?
Around one-third of Americans are sleep-deprived. Which means millions of groggy people are struggling out of bed every morning. And it doesn’t get easier when you’re working from home!
Skimping on deep sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, and other metabolic diseases.
Unfortunately, regularly getting a full night of restful sleep is a lot easier said than done, especially when you layer on chronic stress (which seems like it’s waiting around every corner these days).
If you’re serious about reducing stress during this crisis so you can get better quality snooze time, try these (natural) suggestions:
1. Limit screen time – not just before bed
“Blue light,” or light emitted by our digital screens like cell phones, computers, tablets, and TVs can inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep, meaning it’s best to avoid screen time before bed.
Beyond blue light, your phone can be a source of stress that flies under the radar. That desire to send just one more work email, check the news, binge watch just one more episode on Netflix, or scroll through Instagram for just a few more minutes can have an effect so be mindful.
The truth is that your work emails can wait until morning, the news can cause more anxiety and Instagram can leave you with lingering feelings of insecurity or FOMO.
Try to limit your screen time – including your cell phone – at least a full hour before bed. This lets your body know that it’s time to wind down and lets your mind wind down and let go of stress.
And while we’re at it, I know it’s hard not to spend all day watching TV or following every news story right now but do your best to limit these activities. Blocking off times to check emails, news or watch TV will help your day feel more structured, and let you fully focus on other activities in-between.
2. Don’t ignore your diet
Stress eating is a real thing, especially when we’re all cooped up at home. But apart from taking in too many calories, binging can cause other problems.
It may come as a surprise, but what you eat can affect how well you sleep! Beyond the tried-and-true advice of not drinking coffee before bed, watching your carb intake or high, acidity foods is key.
There may be one of three vitamins and minerals your body is missing if you’re struggling with sleep.
Magnesium, sometimes referred to as “the original chill pill,” helps increase gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which slows down your thoughts and nerve activity, helping promote sleepiness. Though most of us can get enough Magnesium in our diets naturally, some people with GI disorders and people with chronic stress may have low Magnesium levels.
Just be sure that if you decide to take Magnesium supplements, you’re careful of your serving size. We love mindbodygreen’s new Magnesium+ supplements. And of course, you can get it naturally from these foods:
- Black Beans
- Peanut Butter
Zinc, like Magnesium, plays a role in the synthesis of melatonin, which is famous for sleep-promoting abillities. Getting enough Zinc helps your body to produce melatonin, which means a more regular sleeping-waking cycle.
Our bodies don’t store zinc, so it’s important that you get this crucial mineral from the food you eat. Meat is an excellent source of Zinc, as is shellfish. For vegetarians or vegans, there are even more options:
Oh yeah, and dark chocolate. Which means we have a guilt-free excuse to indulge!
Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) and decreased iron intake have both been shown to impact your sleep, with shorter sleep length and altered REM sleep cycles, sometimes leading to depression and anxiety as well as daytime fatigue.
To keep your iron intake up, make sure to have healthy sources of protein. With something for every diet, try any these options:
- Lean beef
- Firm tofu
- Beans and lentils
- Dark chocolate
Just be sure to pair any plant-based sources of iron with some vitamin C-rich foods like oranges or bell peppers, which help increase your body’s ability to absorb iron.
3. Take a relaxing warm bath or shower
When we’re all worried about spreading germs and staying clean, having a bath or shower can go a long way towards not just keeping your body clean, but soothing your mind before sleep.
That’s because having a warm shower or bath is about more than just personal hygiene. A shower combines the natural white noise of the water with some precious time alone to contemplate your day, and it also provides a physical routine that lets your body and mind know it’s time for sleep.
3. Soothe your mind with meditation before bed
The benefits of meditation when you’re trying to beat stress have been extensively studied. Everything from your sense of self, self-esteem, lower blood pressure, lowered anxiety levels, to improved sleep can be yours with regular meditation.
Try a few moments of meditation before bed to help ease your mental stress and improve sleep overall sleep quality.
But how do you meditate? For the complete beginner, try this basic, one-minute meditation you can do anywhere (even in bed):
- Take a deep breath.
- Breathe in through your nose
- Breathe out through your mouth.
- Breathe in, and feel your lungs expanding,
- Breathe out, and feel a sense of letting your worries go.
- Breathe in, and feel your body fill with air,
- Breathe out, and feel the release of your tension.
- Breathe in, focus on feeling alive and awake.
- Breathe out, focus on feeling your muscles relax.
- Breathe in a sense of fullness and peace.
- Breathe out, pushing out your tension and stress.
Repeat this simple meditation whenever you start to feel your stress levels rise, to keep yourself grounded and calm.
Another great way to incorporate meditation into your nighttime routine is by adding a quick yoga session to your bedtime routine. Yoga helps decrease your stress and tension by letting you focus on creating calming, deep breathing patterns.
My personal favorite way to practice yoga on the cheap is streaming it on YouTube, but right now there are a ton of free resources no matter where you live. Peloton has great class offerings for both meditation and yoga and they’re offering a 90-day free trial.
4. Start a journal
Almost another form of meditation, making journaling a regular part of your nighttime routine can help relieve your mind of any pressing worries or stress, giving your mind a chance to unload all your cares for the day before hitting the sack.
Make sure you write down anything that’s swirling around inside your head. Anything you need to remember for the next day. Any concerns or fears you want to put aside before bed. Let yourself write without fear or judgement. This isn’t the time to contemplate how valid your fears or worries are, but a time to let your brain let G-O. This lets you mentally put your worries, fears and stress aside, letting your mind be calm, free and easy before bedtime.
5. Diffuse essential oils
Essential oils are wonderful for promoting restful sleep and stress relief! These powerful natural tools for holistic health are becoming much more popular and widely available, making them a great option for supporting a solid night’s sleep. Here are some of my favorite essential oils for sleep:
- Lavender: Any list of relaxing essential oils wouldn’t be complete with Lavender. It’s sweet, dry, and herbaceous-floral scent is known for producing a tranquil environment that is calming and peaceful.
- Chamomile: This oil is a traditional and effective way to promote calm and relaxation. It has a strong, sweet scent that blends well with Lavender.
- Ho Wood: This oil has a woody, floral scent and is high in calming linalool, making it a great choice when you’re looking for a soothing oil at bedtime. It also blends well with the other relaxing oils like Lavender and Chamomile, adding a woody note to your homemade sleep blends.
- Vetiver: Not always thought of as “sleepy,” but Vetiver has an intense earthy, woody, and smoky scent that encourages relaxation, and pairs perfectly with Lavender.
And as a bonus, your essential oil diffuser also acts as a cool mist diffuser, helping keep your breathing clear.
You can read more about natural herbs and essential oils for more restful sleep if you want even more ideas.
6. Try some soothing white noise
White noise is technically a sound that remains constant across all hearable frequencies. While white noise can be mechanical static, it can also be soothing natural sounds like rain falling, ocean waves or a soothing forest with birds chirping
But how does white noise help you sleep?
Any of these soft sounds work to help you sleep by creating a masking effect, with the constant sounds blocking out the sudden changes in noises around you—like your partner snoring, the dog barking, a truck rumbling down the street or your cell phone vibrating—that can wake you up during the night and interrupt your sleep. And even if you do wake up, white noise makes it easier to fall back asleep, avoiding middle-of-the-night anxiety.
While your cell phone undoubtedly has apps for white noise (and I’ve used them in a pinch), I usually use other methods. If you have an Alexa or Google Home, both have free apps for almost any kind of white noise.
- “Alexa, play rain sounds.”
- “Alexa, play ocean sounds.”
- “Alexa, play white noise.”
- “Google, play fireplace sounds”
- “Google, play river sounds”
- “Google, play forest sounds”
- “Google, play white noise”
If white noise isn’t for you, try listening to an audiobook! Sometimes when you just can’t turn off your head long enough to fall asleep, grab your headphones, choose a book and get listening. Let yourself listen to someone softly and focus on the words to help block out unwanted stressful thoughts.
Those are our top 6 tips to beat your stress for better sleep. I hope they help you sleep more deeply and recharge your body and mind during this difficult time. Do you have any tips for sleeping more deeply during times of stress? Leave them in the comments below, we’d love to hear how everyone is coping.
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Stay safe and healthy!
Editorial Contributor, Blendtopia