Reducing stress before bed

Imagine this. It is your third night in a row where you have not been able to sleep for more than 5 hours. Even though you’ve given yourself that all important 7-9 hours in bed, your body refuses to work with you.

You are tired, stressed and fed up and you just want a good night’s sleep. You search for answers on Google, and you find the amount of tips and strategies to improve your sleep overwhelming, and it’s almost impossible to know where to start.

Much of the advice online only focuses on a small aspect of sleeping, making the advice hit and miss as to whether it will actually be useful in your individual context. But there are some principles that when applied properly, can benefit nearly every sleeper in their bid to achieve a good night’s rest.

One of the key principles that we shall be talking about today, is the ability to relax your mind before bed.

Ask yourself this question. What is the number one thing that stops you from falling asleep quickly at night? I bet for a large majority of you, the answer to this question will be a racing mind.

As soon as our heads hit the pillow, our mind floods with thoughts and worries about the past and future. We engage with these thoughts and they in turn ramp up our emotions, which eventually leads to the activation of our sympathetic nervous system – the part of our nervous system that stimulates our fight or flight response and makes us more alert.

The racing mind leads us into a state where our body and mind are no longer relaxed, we are tense and the relaxed state that is required for the onset of sleep remains elusive.

So how can we get into a more relaxed state before bed, in order to reduce the influence of a racing mind on our quality of sleep?

I am going to leave you with three simple and easy strategies that you can start implementing tonight, to get you on the right course!

  1. At any point during the evening before bed, spend 10 to 15 minutes reflecting/journaling on how your day went. This can be done however you like, think of it as a conversation with yourself where you are completely open and honest about how you feel.

Reflection time gives our minds the much needed space to process things that have happened throughout the day & means that by the time that we go to bed, we have dampened down the worries and anxieties that may stop us from being relaxed enough to fall asleep. Reflection time is also an amazing way to stimulate improvements in the various aspects of your life that are important to you.

Here are some examples of questions you may ask yourself:

  • What went well and what did I enjoy about today?
  • Did I face any problems or adversity throughout the day & how well did I deal with it? 
  • What steps can I take towards resolving these problems? 
  • How did I feel today and are there any actions I should consider taking in response to these feelings?
  • Finally, right down any tasks that need to be completed tomorrow to help take this mental burden of your mind.

  1. Put your phone on don’t disturb and stop reading/replying to text messages at least 30 minutes before your bedtime.

Having conversations on our phone just before bed time can stimulate emotions such as excitement & stress that take us out of our relaxed state and make us more alert. Put yourself first and use the pre-sleep period to do something relaxing and enjoyable.

  1. Experiment with falling asleep to relaxing/ambient sounds on in the background 

Relaxing sounds such as the sound of rain, waves, or a fan, can act to calm our mind as we try to fall asleep, alleviating the effect of a racing mind. The sound of the tide on a beach is one of my favourites! As a bonus, background noise can also drown out any environmental noise that may be keeping you awake or waking you up at night. There are plenty of free apps offering a variety of wonderful sounds that make falling asleep just that little bit more blissful. 

A bonus of learning how to do this well is that it improves our ability to reduce overthinking during the day as we are training the mental muscles that counteract this!

Have an amazing day sleepers!

Dr Rich