Tips to help you sleep when you’re stressed
W Whether you’re worried about a big project at work, dealing with relationship issues, or feeling overwhelmed by headlines, stress can keep you up all night. So how do you fall asleep when your mind races nonstop? When counting sheep just doesn’t work, try these expert-approved tips to clear your head and get the zzz you need.
1. Create a routine
Our bodies are equipped with an internal 24-hour clock — aka your circadian rhythm — that craves consistency, according to Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and managing editor at SleepFoundation.org.
So, even if your usual routine ended recently, try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. “Maintaining a sleep regimen will train your body to [fall asleep] at the right time each night,” Fish says. Try to go to sleep in the same 30-minute window every night and wake up in the same 30-minute window every morning — yes, even on weekends.
2. Set Screen Time
You may be tempted to check your work email or update the latest addresses one last time before you fall asleep. Blue light from screens can disrupt your sleep cycle, says Fish, so turn off your devices — including phones, computers, TVs, and tablets — at least an hour before bed. Instead, try reading a book to start preparing your brain for sleep.
3. Watch your nutrition
If you’ve been eating into your feelings lately, you’re definitely not the only one. But what you eat and drink before bed may affect your ability to sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try these tips:
- Plan to finish dinner at least a few hours before you head to bed—eating a large meal right before bed may disrupt your sleep cycle, says Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, a board-certified sleep medicine physician at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
- If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy meal to keep you going.
- Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, and avoid alcohol right before bed.
4. Take a hot bath
Research suggests that soaking in a bathtub an hour or two before bed may help you fall asleep faster. Michael Breus, MD, a fellow at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says a hot bath can increase your core body temperature. When your body cools down again afterward, it mimics the natural drop in body temperature that occurs before bed and helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Make your bathroom more relaxing by dimming the lights and lighting a candle with the soothing scent of lavender.
5. Make your bedroom a haven
Fish says your bedroom should be reserved for sleeping and relationship. If you work from home, don’t set up your work station in the bedroom. Remove any visible clutter—which can make your mind race, says Fish—and close your closet doors. Keep your bedroom as cool and dark as possible. If you struggle with feeling anxious at bedtime, a heavy blanket may help you relax, says Dasgupta.
6. Adjust the noise
Fish says investing in a white noise machine, or downloading a white noise app to your phone, can mask ambient sounds so they don’t keep you awake at night. Incorporating white noise into your bedtime routine can also send a signal to your body that it’s time to get ready for bed, helping you fall asleep faster.
7. Create a mental gratitude list
Instead of letting your mind wander while you’re lying awake in the dark, focus on creating a mental list of things you’re grateful for, Breus says. You may also want to keep a gratitude journal on your nightstand so you can write it down.
8. Focus on your breath
If you’re still too stressed out to sleep, Breus recommends trying a technique called 4-7-8 breathing. Begin emptying your lungs by exhaling forcefully. Then, breathe in through your nose for four seconds; Hold your breath for seven seconds. Then exhale forcefully through your mouth, making an exhale sound, for eight seconds. Repeat the cycle several times.