Stress Reduction before Bed: Sleep Better to Feel Better
Episode #10 of the course How to be good at stress by Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura
Welcome to the final lesson of the course!
We’ve learned a lot about stress, and hopefully, you’re putting your new understanding into practice. Now, I’m going to ask you to do the hardest thing yet: Go to sleep.
Insomnia and stress become a vicious cycle because stress may aggravate insomnia, and lack of sleep exacerbates stress, anxiety, and depression. Even short-term sleep deprivation can impact mood, leading to confusion and an aggravated stress response.
Without sleep, your performance suffers. Research shows that ongoing sleep deprivation continues to reduce performance, and even mildly sleep-deprived individuals (getting seven hours of sleep) perform less effectively and less efficiently. Mild sleep deprivation also impacts your body. Consider this study, which shows that getting less than seven hours of sleep per night makes you three times more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep at least eight hours per night.
The biggest problem might be that sleep deprivation may make it hard for you to judge your own impairment. Sleep deprivation impacts your cognitive performance, making it harder to judge accurately, and research shows that sleep deprived people overestimate their performance ability. In other words, when you’re tired, you do worse, but you think you’re doing fine.
Sleep also matters for the health of your brain. According to the research, ongoing sleep deprivation may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Also, psychologists at the University of Bonn found that just 24 hours of sleep deprivation can lead normal, healthy individuals to experience symptoms of schizophrenia.
Bottom line: You need sleep. It is the most important and most effective form of stress recovery. You need a sufficient amount of high-quality sleep every day to have your best relationship with stress.
Getting good sleep is a combination of the right environment and the right mindset. For environment, think about your bedroom and your bed. You’ll sleep best in a room that is dark, quiet, and cool (ideally, between 60° and 67°F [16-19°C]), and on sheets of natural materials, like high-quality cotton. Your bedroom should be only for the two s’s: sleep and sex. Everything else, including electronics, are off limits because you want to associate your bedroom with sleep and relaxation.
Your pillow matters too. If you regularly wake up with a headache or have chronic neck pain, your pillow may be the culprit. One research study reported that exercise combined with the right pillow both improved sleep and reduced chronic neck pain. Your best pillow will depend on a variety of factors, including sleeping position, but if your pillow is more than two years old, it’s time for a new one.
Talk Yourself to Sleep
If you find yourself in bed, struggling to fall asleep, the last thing you want to do is stress about it. When you can’t fall asleep, one helpful strategy is to read something boring on paper. Reading something boring keeps you just engaged enough to stop thinking about a million other things, but not engaged enough to stay awake. Reading on paper gives your eyes and mind a break from the blue-light of devices, which have been shown to keep you awake. Research has found that people who read on paper fall asleep about 10 minutes faster than those who read on a device.
You can also harness the power of paradoxical intention: setting an intention to do something opposite of what you really want. In research, people who try not to close their eyes fall asleep faster. Physical relaxation strategies, like progressive muscle relaxation, can also help your body and mind to quiet down and settle into sleep.
It can also be helpful to keep a pad and pen on your nightstand. If worries or to-do lists run through your mind, keeping you awake, write them down and commit to revisit them tomorrow. By writing them down, you’ll give yourself permission to stop worrying and relax.
Your task: Just for tonight, shut down your technology, turn off your phone, and get to bed on time. See how the world feels after a good night’s sleep. Then, consider making sufficient sleep a daily priority!
One worry you can cross off your list: how you’ll manage the stress in your life.
Thanks for taking this course!
Affective Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Choosing the Best Temperature for Sleep
Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day: A Doctor’s Guide to Solving Your Sleep Problems by Robert Rosenberg
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