Stress and insomnia frequently go hand in hand. Racing thoughts are difficult to quiet no matter how physically exhausted you may be when your head hits the pillow. Then, tossing and turning through the night leaves you too fatigued to function at your best the next day, fueling more anxiety and sleeplessness.
There’s a physiological reason for this. Stressors like anxiety and worry can send the body into fight or flight mode. This state of hyperarousal usually fades once the threat is gone. But chronic stress keeps the nervous system in overdrive, pumping out hormones that keep you alert even when it’s time to rest.
If you’ve been stuck in a cycle of wired nights and exhausted days, your body and mind need help remembering how to relax. Use the strategies below to break free from unhealthy sleep patterns and finally get some solid shut-eye.
Understand where your stress resides
There’s one place stress doesn’t live: the present. Anxiety typically means fixating on the past or worrying about the future. In focusing on awareness of the present moment, the practice of mindfulness helps you understand when your mind starts to drift from what’s happening right now. Not only can this stop stress in its tracks, by incorporating mindfulness into your routine, you can begin to shift your thought patterns in the longer term.
It’s easy to bring more mindfulness into your life. Just a few minutes of meditation or breathing exercises each day can make a big difference. There are many meditation and mindfulness apps to explore including Insight Timer, which has a library of more than 10,000 free meditations.
Unburden your mind
Find yourself having stressful dreams or jolting awake in a panic? You could be having trouble letting go of the day’s worries. If that’s the case, experiment with a simple journaling practice to lighten some of the mental load. Before bedtime, take a moment to write down whatever is on your mind, whether it’s tomorrow’s to-do list or anxieties left over from a busy morning. The simple act of putting it onto paper signals to your brain that it can move on (and leave you to sleep in peace!).
Use your mind to relax your body
The body naturally tenses up during stressful events to protect us from pain or injury. But with chronic stress, our muscles never drop their guard and remain continuously tightened. If you’ve ever woken up stiff and groggy after a full night’s sleep, tense muscles could be the culprit. You can gently encourage them to relax with a quick nightly body scan.
Focus your attention on an area of your body and mentally tell it to soften and relax. Begin with the area behind your eyes, followed by your jaw, neck, and shoulders. Continue on, relaxing one part of your body at a time. You may drift off effortlessly before even making it all the way through.
Make your bedroom a haven for rest
Create a relaxing atmosphere to prime your body and mind for deep, uninterrupted sleep. Turn off electronics and keep the lights dim as you get ready for bed. If you sleep near a window, draw your curtains or pull down the blinds to keep outside light from getting in.
Consider temperature as well. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your room between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit to promote a good night’s sleep.
If you’re in a busy neighborhood or have family members or roommates with a later bedtime, white noise or ambient music can help mask disruptive sounds. The Relax Melodies app lets you create your own unique mix of relaxing music and sound, and the Slumber app has a library of sleep-conducive stories and soundscapes.
Ask your provider for additional resources
Stress can be difficult to manage, and it may take some trial and error to figure out what helps you sleep better. If you’re struggling to break the cycle after experimenting with different tactics and find that the sleep deprivation is negatively impacting your mental health, it may be time to talk to your doctor. There are therapy techniques and medications that can help treat insomnia, other sleep disorders, or mental health disorders that contribute to your sleeplessness. If your doctor recommends medication, we’ll be here to help.
Take the stress out of medication management
Alto Pharmacy makes it simple to live your healthiest life by providing an easier, more supportive, and more affordable prescription experience. Our pharmacists are here with information and answers, even during nights and weekends. And the Alto app gives you control and convenience in managing your medications, with auto refills, medication bundling, and custom dosing reminders.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.