With the uncertainties of late and growing anxiety due to current circumstances, it can be a struggle to fall asleep when your mind is racing. Here are practical tips to help you get into a relaxed body and mind so you can sleep easy.
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I'm sure you've watched the news, looked through social media and heard from loved ones about this news and that. None of which are usually positive.
Depending on what line of work you're in (eg. news anchor versus a social media content creator versus a hospitalist), you may be bombarded with different types of news to different extents.
If you're lucky enough, you may work a full day without even hearing anything negative outside of your cubicle all day. But for some of us, our job requires us to keep updated with the newest information out.
In those cases, you can find it difficult to not become emotionally and mentally invested in all these stories. This makes it easy for us to replay it over and over in our mind while lying in bed tossing and turning. And I'm sure you are aware, this can't be healthy in any respect.
I found myself in this situation recently, and what was worse, I felt this anxiety and fear snowball and just grow with each passing minute of losing sleep.
It was a sick negative feedback loop of "negative information" which created anxiety which then created negative thoughts of "what ifs" which created more anxiety and fear and so forth until you realise the sun is now rising and you haven't slept a wink.
To break the cycle, I needed to figure out what works to help me ease my mind and quiet my thoughts so that I can physically rest easy and drift off to sleep in no time. Here's what I figured out.
1. Regimented Time
Humans are creatures of habit especially when it comes to sleep. The body’s automatic clock (circadian rhythm) usually knows when it should be awake (when there's daylight) and when it should get ready to sleep (when it's dark).
That’s why people in countries where daylight is very short each day, such as Iceland during the winter months, find themselves having a difficult time adjusting with sleep. With the longer periods without sunlight, the body is signaled to go to sleep before it should, Some will go as far as using aids such as UV lights at home to compensate for the lack of daylight.
Whether you live in extreme cases as this or in a more manageable timezone, your body is still requiring a regimen when it comes to bedtime. This means, take away anything that gets you in the habit of thinking "10 more minutes of this" before bedtime, only to realise that 60 minutes have actually passed and you've just lost an hour of sleep.
That’s why it’s important to get ready for bed at a similar time every night. That will signal your body that it’s soon time to close your eyes and drift off. But before you do that, there are some things to do to help make falling asleep easier.
2. Last Meal of the Day
Have you ever experienced that burning sensation or heaviness in your chest and throat that makes you uncomfortable after you eat a big meal?
That’s probably acid reflux. It’s a very unpleasant situation, and can be a cause for some people to have difficulty sleeping or falling asleep. I didn't realise what it was until I went to go see a physician. One you recognise what this is that's keeping you up at night, there are easy lifestyle adjustments that can make this problem avoidable.
The last meal or snack of your day should be at least 3-4 hours prior to bedtime. Why is this timeline important?
It takes about six to eight hour for food to completely empty out of your stomach and into your small intestines. But what’s going on during that time that doesn’t allow you to sleep?
Your stomach is releasing acid to break down the food. If you lay down during the time your stomach is full of food and acid, gravity will take over, causing the contents of your stomach to come back into your oesophagus. That's what leads to that uncomfortable burning feeling.
It’s safe to say that you’ll have trouble falling asleep with this discomfort. Doing this repeatedly can also have long-term effects, resulting in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Instead, if you wait 3-4 hours after your last meal or snack to go to bed, you’re stomach will be close to empty by then allowing you to avoid painful nights of propping your pillow up behind your head to ease the pain..
3. Blue Light
The infamous blue light that is found in any technology with a screen - from your iPad to laptop to mobile phones - is a big contributor for keeping people up at night. But how can a little light cause trouble sleeping?
As I mentioned in my first tip about regimented bedtime, daylight tells our bodies that it’s time to wake up and stay awake. Why is this important to your circadian rhythm?
Your body’s circadian rhythm requires signals (ie. light wavelengths) from the environment to signal your body when it’s time to be awake versus sleep. That signal comes from the sunlight which emits colours of all wavelengths including blue light. Get where I’m going with this?
Since electronic screens also emit that blue wavelength light, it’s sending the wrong signal to your circadian rhythm, telling your mind and body to stay awake irregardless of what time of day it is outside.
Some studies even say that blue light inhibits the release of melatonin, the natural hormone released from your brain that signals you to fall asleep.
Healthline's article describes this more in detail: Block Blue Light to Sleep Better.
If we can turn off those blue light electronics at least one to two hours before bedtime, it can give your body time to produce melatonin and help you fall asleep.
If you're in the habit of having to an iPad incorporated in your bedtime routine, try substituting it with reading material such as a book or magazine, or maybe a boring history book. That always helps me.
4. Tidy Up
Do you consider yourself to be tidy? Or if you look around your room right now, is it a complete disaster?
After seeing a room like this (above) or an even messier one, how do you feel? What emotions are you feeling right now about clutter?
In an article from psychology, Dr. Carter on Psychology Today talks about Why Mess Causes Stress. Carter speaks about how the mess around us can induce anxiety. And we know anxious people have difficulty falling asleep easily. Anxiety is a big culprit for insomnia.
The reason why untidy areas can cause us undue stress is because clutter continually stimulates our minds and make it more difficult to relax.
I mentioned this is my previous post of How to Stay Sane and Positive. Whether you realise it or not, having a messy or disorganised bedroom can be an underlying reason for your anxiety or stress, keeping you from restful sleep.
How do you fix this problem? Simple. Once a day, clean and tidy your bedroom to create a sanctuary for your to rest. Sounds like a lot of work, but it's worth it for your peace of mind.
You may find the best time to tidy up your bedroom is right before bedtime to give you that feeling of purging before nesting in your bed. I find the best time to tidy is first thing in the morning.
I make the bed every morning anyways, so I tidy my bed then I move on to vacuuming or mopping the floors and dusting the window sills right before I hop in the shower to get ready for the day. That way, I can come home to a clean bedroom and don't have to worry about tidying it during the time of day that I'm the most tired.
As the weather gets warmer or becomes cooler (depending on which season you’re currently in and where you live), those extreme temperatures can spill into your home, causing you to have difficulty falling asleep.
For myself, I thought I was comfortable when I crawled into bed, but oddly found myself tossing and turning for what I thought was for unknown reasons. When I finally fell asleep, I would wake up 3 hours later covered in sweat wondering, “Did a heatwave strike in the middle of the night?”
After about two consecutive nights of this recently, I realised that I thought the temperature was comfortable in the bedroom because I had taken a cool shower. right before bedtime But as my body heat increased the room temperature along with the surprisingly warm spring nights outside, my body couldn’t adjust to the warmth.
This left me with very broken sleep. Resulting in days I felt like a zombie at work. What was I going to do to end this torture?
To get that restful sleep I desperately needed, I finally decided to purchase a fan and keep it on at a low speed throughout the night and see how I adjusted that night. It's safe to say that I never experienced this uncomfortable situation again. Why am I emphasising this point that seems like common sense?
When you're experiencing a night of tossing and turning and you're going through all of the possible factors of why, sometimes it's not a mental issue that requires meditation or self-reflection. Sometimes, it's just that you're physical uncomfortable and you don't realise this.
Figure out if your bedroom is at the temperature that's optimal for sleep. For me, that's lightly below the average room temperature at around 73-75°F. If it’s not at your ideal temperature, turn on the heat or fan or open a window to make it a consistent temperature where you know you'll have no problem falling asleep.
6. Bedtime Stretches
After working at a desk all day or having completed a strenuous workout earlier in the day, you may find that some parts of your body are very tight.
It seems like a minute issue because we’ve learned to just “deal with some minor pain” even if it's constant. But those minor things added up from your lower back, hips, shoulders, wrists, and so forth can make it feel as though every sleeping position is uncomfortable.
That’s when the toss and turning starts to happen.
As I’ve learned from a yoga instructor, we tend to hold a lot of emotional stress in our hips, especially if you're a desk jockey.
By performing easy stretches and massages during my bedtime routine, I can release some of that tension and it even relaxes me on an emotional level.
One way to do this is by using some easier yoga poses.
Have you heard of Yin Yoga?
It’s a form of yoga that focuses on the easy asanas (poses) that you hold for a longer period of time (about 2 minutes or so). This allows you to stretch deeper muscles and connective tissue beyond your simple runner’s stretches, while focusing on your breath. Here are 9 Reasons to Practice Yin Yoga.
I find it extremely meditative since it requires you to focus on your breath. The result is feeling looser, more flexible, and releasing that tension you’ve been holding deep in your muscles and joints all day. I find myself practicing yin yoga on rest days from intense workouts.
Here are 3 Yoga Poses for Tight Hips and Hip Pain from Healthline.
Another way of releasing the tension in your joints and muscles is through using a foam roller.
I focus on my shoulders, back and hips mainly since those are the areas we tend to hold most of our stress. But feel free to focus on your whole body with the foam roller if you so wish.
Here are some great hip stretches that I do regularly from Healthline's 7 Stretches to Relieve Hip Tightness.
Here are some great foam roller moves that'll remove every bit of stress from your body on Healthline's site.
I dedicate about 5-10 minutes to each for a total of 20 minutes of these exercises before bed everyday. These stretches may feel difficult at first if you've never done them before. Initially, I found myself having a difficult time positioning myself deeply in these positions. But as you keep practicing them, you'll find them less and less painful and more relaxing.
7. Write Your Thoughts
For many, anxiety is what keeps them up at night. It can be anxiety about job stability, work stress, health issues, uncertainty of the near future, and so forth. Some can handle anxiety and compartmentalise it. For others, it’s not that easy.
Anxiety can start off as small snowflakes of ideas in your mind, and when it can’t be shut off but is rather entertained, it can snowball into something massive and detrimental. Those are the times that we need the most help from an external source.
Have you heard of an anxiety journal?
An anxiety journal helps you to put into perspective the reality of the situations around you that may trigger anxiety. This is helpful because those with anxiety may be perceiving the situation in a exponentially negative way than your average person.
For example, a blank look from a stranger to someone with a lot of anxiety may misinterpret that look as a judgemental one, creating even more anxiety. It turns into a snowball effect.
In order to overcome that, the anxiety journal will help you to walk through the anxious situation, your feelings and logic, ultimately to help you perceive the situation as it is or in a positive light.
You can actively write down how to better respond to specific anxiety-inducing situations.
Leaving your emotions and thoughts in your journal allows you to be free of the constant thoughts in your mind so you can finally relax and sleep. So, leave it all on paper.
What is meditation?
Meditation is about mindfulness - a way of focusing on being present by paying attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale.
Many people consider this a religious practice, which is how it started. That may make you want to avoid it. But it doesn’t have to be a spiritual experience if you don't want it to be. It can just be a way to mentally quiet all of the stressful thoughts in your mind and just be present.
How is it helpful for sleep?
Often times what keeps us awake at night are the constant thoughts that bombard us. It may not necessarily be negative thoughts. I could be positive thoughts, such as a funny conversation you had earlier or an exciting movie you just watched. But as your mind wanders through a pool of constant thoughts, you’re not relaxing to sleep.
When you meditate, push away wandering thoughts. Don’t allow them to enter. One of my yoga instructors says to "imagine placing each thought on a cloud as it enters your mind and watch it gently float away."
By focusing on being present in the moment. you can relax your body from stress and empty your mind of all unnecessary thoughts that may keep you from your slumber.
How can you incorporate meditation into your bedtime routine?
It only takes 5-20 minutes of your time. It all depends on long you are comfortable meditating and how much time you need to empty your thoughts and relax. For some it'll be quick and for others it may take a while.
If you need some added guidance, use a video, podcast, or streaming meditation guide to help you walk through this journey.
In my own experience, I use Spotify to find similar music that would be played during my yoga classes. I play one of those playlists, close my eyes, and let the music drown out the noise around me while my focus on my breath drowns out the noise in my thoughts.
There are many aids out there to help you if you’re new to meditating including this video:
Some of the upgraded Fitbit watch versions such as the Fitbit Blaze and Charge 2/3/4 have Fitbit's Relax app. The Relax app guides you through deep breathing exercises that are either 2 minutes or 5 minutes in length. It's a form of meditation to hel p you to relax in the middle of the day when tensions may be high.
With all of the tension released in your body and the thoughts in your mind quiet, you can drift into peaceful sleep faster.
9. Face Massage / Facial
We hold a great amount of stress in our face throughout the day and even throughout the night. Do you ever clench your jaw?
I find myself clenching my teeth during the day if I’m stressed and what’s worse is I do it while I’m sleeping as well, requiring a night guard. But that doesn’t change the fact that my jaw muscles constantly remain tight due to this terrible habit.
This discomfort that leads to poor sleep has led me to research ways to loosen up this tension in my jaw. That's when I figured out pressure points.
Massaging or pressing on these pressure points on your face for about two minutes at a time helps to release some of that tension in your face. Relaxing your face gets you one step closer to falling asleep.
There are six pressure points on the face according to Healthline's articles:
Personally, I tend to massage the last three pressure points which are on the sides of the face: the temples, the depression by your supratragic notch by the ear, and behind the earlobe. This is where I carry the most tension since they're directly connected to the jaw muscles.
Having a quick facial before bed is also a great option to help you fall asleep. The best one I’ve found for bedtime is whatever requires minimal effort but allows for maximum relaxation.
With that being said, the moisturising sheet masks are the way to go.
Choose a sheet mask that has added essential oils with a calming scent such as lavender or eucalyptus. Sheet masks are quick and easy to apply, only requiring 15-20 minutes to do their job. You have no other choice but to relax your face as you lie with the mask applied to your face, allowing a meditative few minutes.
Put some calming music on and close your eyes during this time or just focus on your breath and being present in the moment.
After the 15-20 minutes, you can take the mask off and gently pat-pat-pat the remaining fluid into your skin and then drift into sleep, holding onto that beautiful, relaxed state of mind and body. What better way to care for your skin and your mind.
There has been a recent rise in the use of aromatherapy due to the claims of its benefits. Some of those benefits have been weakening certain viruses, strengthening the body’s immune system, and even relaxation allowing for deeper sleep.
In a controlled study of 31 healthy-sleeping subjects, it was found that the scent of lavender directly correlated with increases in the percentage of deep sleep (slow wave sleep) in both men and women. The subjects also stated having high vigor the morning after exposure to the scent of lavender.
The study went on to conclude that lavender can be used as a mild sedative, promoting deep sleep in young men and women.
You can find more information about this study called An Olfactory Stimulus Modifies Nighttime Sleep in Young Men and Women.
How to Apply Essential Oils for Sleep. There are two ways to use essential oils to benefit your sleep.
One way is by adding a couple of drops (2-3 drops) to an essential oil diffuser. I used a diffuser recently and I found myself replenishing it often throughout the day, so I didn’t find it to be that helpful for a long period of time, such as for the duration of sleep (assuming you sleep more than 4 hours a night). But you may have better luck with that.
The other way to apply essential oils is directly to your skin. But before you do that, you want to dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, or even extra virgin olive oils which are also great for your skin.
Add about one drop of essential oil to one teaspoon of carrier oil and apply that mixture to the soles of your feet, palms, or wrists.
Be aware that some people may find sensitivity to essential oils, so make sure you test a small patch of your skin such as on your forearm to see if there is any irritation before applying to a larger portion of your body.
If you don’t want to use only lavendar oil, there are other essential oils that may promote better sleep. Here are 7 essential oils to help you sleep better.