Get Control of Your Stress with Yoga and Better Sleep

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If you’ve ever felt too stressed to sleep, you’re not alone. Every month, stress causes sleep problems for nearly 43 percent of adults. Stress can have an impact on your overall health and ability to get good sleep. Unfortunately, it’s when you’re stressed that you need sleep the most.

The Continuing Cycle of Sleep Deprivation and Stress

For many people, the cycle starts with stress. Worrying about a past or future event leaves many people tossing and turning late into the night. Unfortunately, once your sleep quantity and quality starts to suffer, stress builds and becomes worse. It’s harder to get a full seven to eight hours of sleep when you can’t relax and get your mind to shut down for the night. Any time you’re getting less than seven hours, you’re in some state of sleep deprivation.

A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that sleep deprivation leads to:

  • Feeling irritable or angry

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Lacking interest, motivation, or energy

  • Losing patience or yelling at children and spouse

  • Skipping exercise

Ultimately, people who don’t get enough sleep report an increase in their stress levels over the past year. Without the ability to rest well, emotional control becomes more difficult because the part of the brain that applies logic to emotions, called the prefrontal area, “disconnects” from the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. At the same time, the amygdala becomes more responsive to negative thoughts and emotions. When you’re tired, it’s hard to manage emotions, which only adds to stress.

Added stress cuts into the quantity and quality of your sleep. It triggers hormones like cortisol that leave the body in a state of hyperarousal, even when it’s time to rest. That’s why you may feel like you can’t calm down and relax even when you’re fatigued and know you need to go to sleep. With those stress hormones hard at work, it’s no wonder the body can’t fall asleep.

Chronic stress can lead to more serious problems like anxiety and depression. Anxiety often comes when someone feels like they’ve lost control. If you can put stress management methods into place, you can manage emotions the way you need to stay mentally healthy.

How to Melt Away Stress and Sleep Well

Breaking the stress-sleep deprivation cycle starts with gaining control over the stress in your life so you can get the rest you need. Better sleep lets the prefrontal brain go back to work regulating emotional responses.

If your ready to get control over your stress, try these tips for reducing stress before bed to get a better night’s rest.

  • Do an evening yoga routine. Yoga can improve the quality of your sleep by helping you increase circulation, stretch your muscles, and clear your mind. It’s also been shown to improve moods and reduce inflammation, which helps both mind and body come to a peaceful, relaxed state. Gentle yoga poses can be performed either next to or in your bed so that as your body relaxes and tension leaves, the mind and body can fall asleep.

  • Practice deep breathing. Deep breathing functions as a relaxation exercise. While it may sound overly simple, it works. Start by taking a few minutes to focus on the sound of your breath moving in and out of your body while letting all other thoughts float away. If you find your mind wandering, bring your mind back to the sound of your breath.

  • Use aromatherapy. Aromatherapy can help calm your mind and put you in a more restful mood. In a small study, lavender was shown to help participants fall and stay asleep when used with sleep hygiene (habits that promote good sleep). Spray your bedroom with lavender, or use an essential oil diffuser to spread the scent throughout your sleep environment.

  • Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation can help center your thoughts on relaxation much like deep breathing but with more focus. Some methods use progressive muscle relaxation while others use visualized counting or guided meditation, which shifts the mind to a calm, visualized location. Like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation can be done from the comfort of your own bed, where you can drift off to sleep when ready.

  • Take up journaling. If persistent negative or stressful thoughts plague your sleep, you can put them to rest in a journal. Taking the time to write about your worries gives you a chance to examine your thoughts and feelings. You may find that they trouble you less or that you can leave them in the journal until morning when your mind will be fresh again. Many people also use a journal to record thoughts or dreams that come to them during the night. Recording these thoughts provides a glimpse into your unconscious mind.

  • Practice healthy sleep habits. Support healthy sleep by maintaining a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. Avoid things that can interfere with healthy sleep, such as caffeine, alcohol, or screen time late at night.

  • Maintain a healthy sleep environment. Your bedroom should be supportive of healthy sleep. Keep it as dark as possible by using blackout curtains or heavy drapes. Motion sensor nightlights placed low to the ground can provide enough light for nighttime bathroom trips. Block out noise as much as possible or use a fan to muffle the noise from the street. Turn your thermostat down to 60 to 68 degrees to support the lower body temperature you need for the onset of sleep.

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Samantha (Sam) Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.

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