Having Trouble Sleeping? Try These Expert-Backed Tips

Does anxiety have you tossing and turning every night? Are you having trouble falling and staying asleep? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Anxiety is high across the board right now—and for many people, that anxiety is translating into some serious sleep issues. But getting enough high-quality sleep is a must to protect your mental and physical health—which is especially important as we navigate through these times and resulting stressors.

“Short-term sleep deprivation itself can cause stress, irritability, trouble focusing, and reduce alertness,” says Dr. Kent Smith, the founding director of dental sleep medicine practice Sleep Dallas. “Long-term sleep deprivation increases a person’s risk for more serious chronic illnesses including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Getting at least seven  hours of sleep per night not only improves one’s physical health, but it can also help improve a person’s mental health and overall wellbeing.”

But how, exactly, can you get your sleep back on track? Let’s take a look at expert-backed tips to help get a handle on your anxiety, improve your sleep hygiene, and have an easier time falling (and staying!) asleep:

Why Some People are Struggling with Sleep Right Now

Feeling stressed, anxious, and worried can inhibit your body’s ability to fall and stay asleep. “Fear, anxiety, worry, and overall stress affect sleep because it causes our bodies to produce high levels of the hormone cortisol,” says Smith. “Excessive cortisol levels disrupt healthy sleep patterns and may result in short-term or long-term sleep deprivation.”

Sleep issues are a normal side effect of the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing right now. But the good news? There are ways to get your sleep cycles back on track—and get the high-quality sleep you need to feel your best. 

“Anxiety and insomnia can create a vicious no-sleep cycle,” says Smith. “However, practicing good sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques on a consistent basis may help break this cycle by making it easier for a person to fall asleep at night, and/or reducing the number of times [they] wake up in the middle of the night.”

Let’s take a look at some practices you can work into your daily routine to help better manage your anxiety and improve your sleep:

Get Your Sweat On

One of the best things you can do for your sleep happens long before your head hits the pillow—and that’s getting in a good workout.

Exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep,” says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. “Exercise helps the body set its natural rhythm and tells the brain that this is a time to be awake. It [also] boosts endorphins and provides an outlet to release tension and pent up energy.”

If you want to help manage your anxious feelings and improve your sleep quality, get your heart rate up every day. Head outside for a brisk walk or jog, search YouTube for a sweat-inducing cardio workout, or do a circuit of pushups, situps, and other bodyweight exercises. Whatever exercise feels fun and doable for you, make it part of your daily routine. Exercising each day can help improve your mood and reduce stress hormones (like cortisol)—both of which can make it easier to fall and stay asleep.

Just make sure to “stop exercise 4 hours before bed,” says sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus. Working out delivers a potent dose of energy, which is great during the daylight hours—but if you get the boost of energy too close to bedtime, it can actually make it harder to drift to sleep.

Say No to Screens Before Bed

The evening hours might seem like the perfect time to binge-watch Netflix, catch up on the day’s news, or scroll through your social media feeds. But if you want to get better sleep, it’s important to disconnect from screens well before bedtime.

“Our brains are not good at going from full throttle to sleep,” says Dimitriu. “There has to be time in between to slow down.” For example, “computers are interactive, and reward us for interaction with interesting bits of news and information. This keeps the brain going, and makes it hard to slow down for sleep time.”

The stimulation you get from engaging in screens can make it extremely difficult to fall asleep—but the light from those screens can be just as damaging to your sleep cycles. “Screens [on] smartphones or computers are bright and often have blue light, which also suppresses melatonin,” says Dimitriu. 

If you want to make it easier to fall asleep at night, disengage from all screens and electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, try reading a book until you’re feeling drowsy enough to turn off the light and catch some Zzz’s.

Adjust Your Sleep Environment

Your environment can make it easier or harder to fall and stay asleep. So, if you want to improve the quality and duration of your sleep, changing your environment is a great place to start.

According to Smith, a few easy changes to your sleep environment can make a big difference in your ability to fall and stay asleep. “Sleep in total blackness. If that is not possible, wear an eye mask,” says Smith. “Sleep in total silence. If that is not possible, use earplugs.”

If there are noises in your environment you can’t control (like loud neighbors or street noise), “a white noise machine can help drown out disruptive noises,” says Smith.

A quick adjustment to the thermostat can also make it easier to fall and stay asleep. “Sleep at the right temperature,” says Smith. “The optimal bedroom temperature for quality sleep is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Use Journaling to Manage Anxious Thoughts

If anxious thoughts are keeping you up at night, sometimes getting those thoughts out of your head and onto paper can make a huge difference in helping you get to sleep. “If you have trouble sleeping because your mind is racing, writing your feelings down can help relieve your mind of unwanted or troubling thoughts,” says Smith.

Keep a journal or a notebook by your bed. If your mind is racing and you’re dealing with anxious thoughts—whether that’s before you go to bed or if you wake up in the middle of the night—grab a pen and take a few minutes to jot those thoughts down.

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help get them out of your head, making it easier to relax—and easier to fall and stay asleep.

Unwind With Yoga and Deep Breathing

Your mind needs to be relaxed in order to fall asleep—but so does your body. “In most cases, people need a heart rate of 60 or below to enter into a state of unconsciousness,” says Breus. 

So, what are some good ways to unwind and relax the body before bed? “Practicing yoga or deep breathing are good ways to relax and improve the duration and quality of your sleep,” says Smith. 

Try using deep breathing techniques (like the 4-7-8 breath) or doing a restorative yoga practice before bed; both will help to relax your body and mind—and make it easier to get a good night’s sleep.

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