It's 2 a.m. and you're wide awake, restlessly tossing and turning. Understandably, with the current pandemic and constant unsettling news going around, it can be hard to unwind once your head hits the pillow. However, you certainly aren't alone — many are battling when it comes to falling asleep when stressed.
"As many of us continue to experience anxiety surrounding COVID-19, it is absolutely normal that our sleep is suffering," Julia Glowinski, a sleep consultant and registered social worker at Straight Up Health, tells TZR. "Quality sleep is of the utmost importance at this time because of its effect on our mental health, physical health, and immune system."
During this uncertain time, it's especially important to stop using your phone right before bed. "The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you should stop using electronic devices, like your cellphone, at least 30 minutes before bedtime," Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CFTP, CHIMP, and therapist at Talkspace, tells TZR. "Electronics make it harder for us to fall asleep easily. They not only stimulate us to think about different things but condition us to keep looking for more information, preventing us from falling asleep."
This could also mean scaling back your news exposure. "I recommend limiting watching the news or social media," Glowinski explains. "Give yourselves a set time to get the information you need at some point during the day."
Want some more tips on how to keep stress away at night? Follow the eight steps below to help you catch up on some sleep.
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Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Reduce Anxiety During The Day
Your sleeping habits rely partly on your daily rituals. "Reducing our overall level of anxiety during the day will have a positive impact on our sleep," Glowinski explains. And staying in touch with loved ones, even virtually, will help to reduce feelings of unease. "One of the ways to do this is is by ensuring that we maintain our relationships virtually by phone or online, which helps us to feel connected. This experience of positive connection can reduce the loneliness and anxiety that many experience at night."
Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Get In The Habit Of A Routine Sleep Schedule
Establishing a consistent sleep schedule can be tricky when you're isolated at home, but doing so can aid in easily falling asleep. "Maintaining a set sleep schedule reinforces our natural circadian rhythms," Erin Rossi, Certified Sleep Science Coach and writer at Simply Rest, tells TZR. "When you go to bed at the same time each night, the natural desire to sleep at this time gradually increases." She says that sunrise alarm clocks are another great way to reinforce the circadian rhythm. "These 'clocks' fill your bedroom with natural, warm light in the morning to help you feel more alert. At night, sunrise alarms gradually dim, signaling the mind and body to relax."
Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Give Yourself Time To Wind Down
"The most important thing you can do is to give yourself enough time to wind down and prepare for sleep," Dr. Michael Grandner, Casper's sleep advisor, tells TZR. "It might take 15 minutes, or it might take an hour. Some people need longer. But whatever it takes, you want to budget for that time in your nighttime routine." He says to do this you need to disconnect from anything that will cause unnecessary activation or excessive distraction. "Both of these can make it harder to sleep. You want to land into bed like an airplane, slowly descending, only touching ground when you are ready."
Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Stop Your Mind From Wandering
"It is important to avoid thinking of items that may cause stress, like computers, email, cellphones," Catchings states. "Those could make us start wondering about work or personal responsibilities and increase the stress levels we are trying to reduce."
So instead of having these worrisome thoughts roam around in your head, write down happy thoughts. "Keep a journal by your bed and write down the top five or ten things you are grateful for that day before you go to sleep," Shawna Robins, sleep expert and author of Powerful Sleep — Rest Deeply, Repair Your Brain and Restore Your Life, tells TZR. "Science tells us that acknowledging the positive things in your life can literally rewire your brain to be calmer, happier, and more hopeful. It can be something as simple as a tree or flower outside your window, the warm sunshine, your pillow, the air your breathe, your loved ones, or a smile from your neighbor."
Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Practice Breathing Exercises & Meditation
"I like a few breathing exercises," Robins explains. "The 4-4-4 pattern, 4 counts breathe in, 4 counts hold, and 4 counts breathe out, is great. I also like breathing to words like let go or relax. So breathe in 'let' and out on 'go' or breathe in on 're' and out on 'lax'. You can also breathe into different parts of your body and breathe out any stress or tension you might be holding there."
And meditation can also help to relax. "Guided meditations which focus on body scans or breathing techniques have been shown to improve time to fall asleep and sleep quality," Conor Heneghan, Fitbit's research scientist and sleep expert, tells TZR. "Even simpler cognitive tricks like trying to count backwards from 100 in threes has been recommended by sleep experts as providing enough cognitive distraction to help calm your mind. Progressive muscle relaxation techniques, in which you clench and unclench various muscles in the body, has also proved effective for some people."
Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Create A Calming Space
An easy way to sleep better is by creating a calm space. "Your environment plays a significant role in your ability to find deep, restful sleep," Rossi notes. "To create the ideal sleep space, make sure you have a comfortable and supportive mattress and a clutter-free bedroom. A broken down or sagging bed can force the body into awkward sleep positions, leading to frequent wake-ups due to discomfort. While clutter in the bedroom can induce feelings of stress and make it difficult to relax."
Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Sometimes it's best to do something else if you've been trying to fall asleep for a long time. "For those lying in bed awake at bedtime, or throughout the night, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, CBT-I, strategies are very helpful," Glowinski notes. "One strategy is limiting the time we are awake in our beds while trying to sleep. If after 20-30 minutes you are still awake, leave your bedroom and do something calming for 20-30 minutes." She says only when drowsy you should return to your bed and try to fall asleep again, and repeat if necessary. "This helps us associate our bed with sleep, rather than the anxiety and frustration of not being able to sleep."
Tip For Falling Asleep With Stress: Use A Weighted Blanket
It's not a miracle worker, but it can certainly assist in falling asleep when stressed out. "Weighted blankets can also be very helpful in reducing anxiety," Glowinksi explains. "They use deep touch pressure stimulation and can reduce cortisol and increase serotonin."