How To Fall Asleep When Stressed
There’s nothing more frustrating than laying in bed staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning to ruminate on thoughts hoping, wishing, even praying to switch your mind off as you attempt to get some shut-eye.
More and more people are suffering from stress and anxiety, especially in our modern-day fear-driven society. For many, whilst laying there struggling with sleep, you may find yourself getting more worked up only to exacerbate the issue further, leaving you feeling too awake to drift off. At the same time, it’s important to remember that having one or a few nights of poor sleep will not be drastic to your health or performance. However, continually battling with insomnia can create a vicious cycle of concern and contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorders.
In stressful situations, it’s essential to ensure positive sleep hygiene practice such as going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and avoiding bright lights at night time. However, in acute situations, sleep hygiene practices may not be enough. Therefore, I thought I would provide you with some different ideas that could be valuable for you to help break the cycle and support you in falling asleep when feeling stressed.
Try these five tips:
- Work through your stresses during the day rather than bottling them up, so you’re not left thinking about your problems whilst trying to sleep. You can do this by talking to someone about what is on your mind or writing in a journal if you do not wish to share your issues. Doing this will allow you to get the thoughts out of your head. You can then emotionally detach and see them objectively, from a 3rd person point of view. Rather than contemplating and thinking your way out of a challenging situation, actions like this often leave you discovering that the problems are not as bad as you initially thought, therefore easing your concerns. In acute sleep issues related to stress, I use techniques such as thought challenging processes to allow people to work through their problems, often bringing down emotional issues from 8 or 9/10 to 3 or 4/10, increasing your chances of drifting off.
- If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes due to rumination or stress, leave the room and practice some relaxation techniques. Outside of the room, try nasal breathing using the 4 7 8 0 technique to ease anxiety and help you feel more relaxed. Once sleepy, take yourself slowly back to bed and get some rest. Staying in the bedroom when you’re not feeling tired can cause a poor bed association.
- Use a progressive muscle relaxation technique to help reduce tension in the body that could be contributing to mental alertness. I enjoy either Jason Stephenson’s Yoga Nidra or the voice of Michael Sealey to relax. However, you need to discover a voice that resonates with your sound frequency, so these are just some examples.
- Our autonomic nervous system regulates the level of alertness vs level of calm, which we term the arousal state. The ANS likes pattern and routine because it makes it more energy efficient. The brain is part of this system, and therefore our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are anchors into our surroundings, rituals and routines. Like an athlete may have a pre-match routine to help anchor a performance state, we can use evening routines to produce calm and sleepy conditions. When I am running with high-stress levels, I like to create an environment that feels relaxing. All lights are off other than a couple of candles. I’ll make myself a herbal camomile tea and will slow my breathing. Scanning my body, I stretch our parts that feel tight, breathe into the area, and release the tension using a prolonged exhale. Moving slow, I will sip on my tea and blow out my candle, slowly taking myself to bed once finished. Is there anything you can be doing as a consistent routine to aid in relaxation?
- Avoid additional stressors such a technology, emails, caffeine or even family members should you have heated arguments. While this may be obvious, many people go towards these things as a distraction from stress and use them as a coping mechanism. Therefore, it’s imperative to have self-awareness of your habits and avoid these at all costs should you be struggling to sleep.
These are some examples of techniques that can help you get some sleep whilst feeling stressed. However, as mentioned before, the best way to reduce the cycle of poor sleep is to recognise that having acute sleep issues will not be a significant problem in the short term despite it being frustrating. Plus, if you have the time, you can always use a daytime nap to help rejuvenate yourself if you lack energy as long as you keep it early in the day and don’t turn that into a habit.
Martin McPhilimey BSc MSc MRes
Consultant, Coach, Scientist.