In Counting Sheep (Part I) we described that sleeping is incredibly important for productivity, memory, judgment and mood. However, in our current society we sleep less and less due to a greater presence of stimuli or pressure/stress. Hence, we keep postponing: Bedtime Procreastination.
And stress and sleep are inextricably linked into a vicious circle of stress and exhaustion: Stress makes it difficult to fall sleep, less sleep is more stress, and more stress is less sleep, and so on. However, this also opens up the possibility of managing stress by managing sleep, and vice versa. That is exactly what this post is about: tips to sleep better, and, therefore, stress less.
Counting Sheep: Tips & Tricks
#1 Less Light
Your body uses light to set your internal clock to a 24-hour cycle, regulated largely by the hormone melatonin. Your body produces melatonin at night, which tells your body that it’s time to go to bed. But when your eyes take in light, this light reduces the production of melatonin, messing up your sleep rhythm.
#2 Discard your thoughts
Grab a pen and paper and write down what you're feeling, then physically throw them away. It's easy and symbolic. Research shows this trick will help clear your mind of negative thoughts. A clear mind = a more sleep-ready mind.
#3 Smell some lavender
Studies have shown that the floral scent relaxes the body and can even help with insomnia. As research has widely shown, our olfactory response is directly linked to the emotional center of our brain, causing a flood of warm and fuzzy feelings with a simple sniff. Unlike touch or taste, scents are directly correlated with past experiences. As a scent for relaxation, lavender can help calm the mind and body and treat insomnia almost instantly. Let's give it a try.
#4 Take some deep breaths
Whether it be a few yoga poses, progressive relaxation or meditation, engaging in a few calming exercises before bed can help quiet your mind so you can drift off to dreamland.
If these kind of exercises aren’t your thing, try just taking a few deep breaths before going to sleep. The inhalation and exhalation activates the body's naturally-calming parasympathetic system.
#5 Sleepy foods
We all know the old-school, grandma trick: a Mug of Warm Milk to make you sleepy. Foods that contain tryptophan (an amino acid that turns into relaxing brain chemicals like serotonin and melatonin), whole-grain carbs (which boost serotonin production), certain minerals (like calming calcium and magnesium), and some herbs can have a relaxing effect and help you sleep better. Besides the milk, you can try Half a Banana and a Handful of Almonds; Whole-Grain Crackers with Peanut Butter, A Small Bowl of Whole-Grain, low-sugar Cereal with Milk; Half a Turkey Sandwich; A Mug of Herbal (Decaf) Tea.
#6 Last but not least: Make the change gradual
If you’re currently going to bed at 11pm, don’t decide that tonight you’re going to get to bed by 9pm. Your internal clock resets at a rate of about one hour per day, and some body systems may take even longer. But more generally, when you’re making behavioral changes, instead of trying to jump all the way to the finish line right away and then missing, make the change gradual. More chances it will be lasting changes.