How to Sleep Well When You’re Stressed Out

October 18, 2016

When you’re stressed out, sleep can suffer – which further destroys mood, motivation and willpower.

Here are some tips to get a good night’s rest to prevent sabotaging your health during times of stress.


Sleep and Body Love go hand in hand!

I was reminded recently just how important sleep is to my healthy eating and lifestyle efforts, when, in the days leading up to my marathon, my nervousness and anticipation for the event affected my sleep for several nights in a row.

Simply put, when I’m short on sleep, it affects my mood, my energy level, and my food and drink choices. I drink more coffee (which dehydrates), eat more dark chocolate (which is delicious, and should be a food group…but unfortunately it’s not), and I tend to want to eat only high density foods for energy, and pass on the less satisfying (yet definitely more nourishing) fruits and veggies.

Not very Body Love-ing behaviours!

I’m sharing these thoughts with you today because I think some of you may relate. And thankfully, I’ve learned some great tricks to minimize the damage and get myself quickly back on track, which I thought I’d share with you just as I’m in the process of using them myself.

Why is sleep so important for Body Love?

With millions of North Americans walking around sleep deprived every day, it’s important to address the impact of this on our health. Mood swings and energy crashes aside, when we’re sleep deprived, we all know what happens to our food choices: we have more, and give in more easily to, cravings for energy-dense, high-sugar, and highly-caffeinated foods and drinks.

And there’s a biochemical reason for this. Sleep deprivation actually inhibits the body’s productions of the hormone Leptin, which signals the brain when we’re full. When Leptin production is decreased, we tend to be hungry more often and eat a whole lot more than our bodies actually need.

This can take a toll on our self-esteem and even our best efforts for self-care!

As a society, we’ve been taught that all we need to do is maintain the discipline and willpower to keep up with healthy food choices, and eat moderate portions. But when we’re sleep deprived, this can be very difficult to do.

We need to look at more than just one aspect of our lifestyle – our food (i.e. diet) – we also need to look at factors that can affect our self-discipline and motivation. And sleep is a huge factor.

So what does it mean to make sleep a priority?

Basically, it’s making sure you’re doing what you need to do to get enough, and feel consistently (physically and mentally) rested so you can do what you really want to do, even when – well, especially when – you’re stressed.

I happen to have a very active mind, that likes to think at every opportunity – even in the middle of the night – particularly when I have lots on the go. I can easily wake up at 3am and start making plans that seem SO important in the moment – only to wake the next day, exhausted, and realize that those plans would’ve been much better crafted during the day when I felt rested.

When we’re stressed, these also happens to be the times when sleep is most important – so we have the energy levels to deal with whatever is going on in life. And unless you’re living in a safe little bubble, there will always be stress to deal with. What will make a difference is how you’re able to address it and support yourself through it.

The more I take on in my life, the more I realize I need to apply strategies to lessen the impact of stress on my sleep – and hence my lifestyle (let’s face it, there’s always going to be stress – so rather than fight it, let’s just find ways to deal with it in a healthy way!). Over the years, I’ve collected some great go-to strategies that have proven extremely helpful for me.

Here are my top 4 tricks to getting a good night’s sleep when stressed:

1. Get some cardio! (but not too late)

Getting a cardiovascular workout helps to increase blood flow to the brain – which improves mental alertness, and also our production of serotonin, a natural chemical that enhances mood and naturally helps to reduce cravings and appetite.

Not only that, but exercise also helps to promote deep sleep (also known as “slow-wave” or “delta” sleep), which is the most restorative sleep stage, and also the most critical for enhancing energy, and willpower! (p.s. alcohol interferes with this sleep stage). So even if your sleep is shorter in duration, at least you’ll still benefit from the quality of sleep that you do get!

Just be sure to get your exercise in at least 3 hours before bed (the earlier in the day, the better, I find), otherwise the energy-boost it gives you may keep you up longer.

2. Write before bed

Journaling, even for a few mins can be a very helpful way to “vomit out” any thoughts that you may be preoccupied with, before you go to sleep. By writing out all your thoughts, ideas, fears, etc. out on paper, your mind will be able to relax knowing you’ve already addressed them. For me, it allows me to fall asleep easier and reduces the chances of me waking up in the night thinking about these same things. I’m also sometimes pleasantly surprised to wake up the next morning with a fresh new perspective, idea or solution to a problem that was weighing me down. This happens because when we write things out, we are actually downloading them to our subconscious – which keeps working on solutions while we’re sleeping!

3. Commit to 30 mins of calm

After journaling, I always find it helpful to do something calming for about 30 mins before I sleep, and that takes my mind completely away from what I’ve just written about. Reading a few pages of a good book, or listening to guided meditations are a couple of my favourite ways to do this.

It’s generally a good idea to stay away from electronics for this – no TV, social media, or YouTube – as screen time can be too stimulating. It’s good to plan for an hour of electronic-free time before bed, which is plenty of time for journaling and the calming down time.

4. If you wake in the night, don’t panic!

If you DO happen to wake in the middle of the night, despite the above, it’s important to just go with it – don’t resist it. The more you focus on how many fewer hours you’ll have to sleep, the less likely you’ll be able to fall back asleep (this has been an important strategy for me and my active mind!).

Here’s what I’ve found helpful: if you find yourself wide awake in the night, and your mind starts working, sit up or get out of bed and write out the things that you’re thinking about – sometimes new ideas or concerns come up that you hadn’t thought of before bed. And if you’re not thinking at all, but just laying awake, go back and do some more of the calming activity you did before bed, until you feel sleepy again. If nothing else, at least it’ll take the stressful feelings away from the night waking, and you’ll still be getting rest.

Here’s another cool add-on to this tip: A mid-night waking can also be seen as a great opportunity to record any dreams you were having before you woke up. Why is this important? Often times, our subconscious mind communicates ideas and true feelings to us through our dreams – so if you can capture them as you remember them, you can examine their meaning to get more insight into what messages they’re sending (usually best to do the next day when you’re more mentally alert).

It’s not very often that we get the opportunity to remember and analyze our dreams – so if you can re-frame your mid-night wakings into opportunities to receive guidance from your dream interpretations, then you’ll be much more relaxed about the lost sleep and be able to fall back into your dreams much faster.

Now this is by no means a complete list of sleep tips – but they’re my top 4 faves!  Give them a try for a few days and notice the difference they make with your mood, energy and ability to cope with stress.

Do you have some of your own tried-and-true sleep tricks?

Please share them with us in the comments below!

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Remember: When you shine your gifts, you define your beauty.