5 Tips To Help You Sleep When You’re Stressed

SBM: 5-tips-to-help-you-sleep-when-youre-stressed

Jocelyn E. Remmert, PhD; VA Center for Integrated Healthcare


“Make sure to get some rest!”

“You better get a good night’s sleep before your first day.”

“I really want to be at my best tomorrow, I hope I sleep well tonight.”


We all hope for good sleep every night, but we especially wish for it during transitions - like when we’re headed back to school, moving, or starting a new role. But that’s also when we’re usually experiencing a lot of anxiety or stress.


I’ve been there, too. It’s the night before a new job, you’re a mix of excited and nervous, so you go to bed early - only to end up awake between two and five a.m. worrying about how your first day will go. And, sometimes we get stuck in a cycle. During the day we’re tired and worried about sleeping, so we don’t do our best. At night, we’re anxious about our day. Hopefully this article lends a hand when you’re having difficulty with your sleep and anxiety:


  • One bad night of sleep (or even one week of bad sleep) does not mean you are doomed or will perform badly.
    • Everyone has occasionally had a bad night of sleep, especially during stressful times. On the night I referenced above, I was able to zombie walk my way through my first day somehow and not get fired. Ask people in your life how they cope when they have a bad night of sleep.
    • In the past, how have you coped with one bad night before? Remind yourself - while it’s difficult, you’ve done this before.  


  • Most important is how you respond to a bad night or a few bad nights of sleep.
    • Try to resist the urge to do things that may help you through the day, but will make your sleep worse in the long term. For example, try not to pick up a new afternoon coffee or nap habit.
    • Stick to a regular wake-up time as much as you can! This is one of the best ways to get your body on a good rhythm. And yes, this means waking up at the same time even on the weekend - because your body doesn’t know what day it is. Try to stick to the same time through a stressful period, then you can relax this once your sleep has improved.


  • No matter how hard you try - sleep cannot be forced! It will only unfold as a natural process. Try not to lie in bed for more than 15-20 minutes, forcing yourself to sleep and becoming frustrated. If you’re not sleepy, get out of bed and try a relaxing activity. Only get back in bed when you are sleepy. This may be difficult, especially when our beds are very cozy, so set up a comfortable spot outside of bed beforehand and plan some calming activities to help your mind prepare for sleep.


  • Often, our first quiet time of the day is when we lay down in bed. This means our brain hasn’t had a chance to process the day and go through worries. Think of it like a hamster on the wheel - the hamster needs to run on the wheel at some point, and if we don’t let our worries and thoughts run on the wheel before we get in bed, they are going to run on the wheel while we’re trying to fall asleep. So, getting good sleep when you’re feeling anxious starts before you go to bed. This means giving the hamster a chance to run on the wheel and get tired earlier in the day or evening.
    • Try sitting down for 10 minutes when it’s quiet and let your mind run. Maybe that means you journal, or record yourself, just something to let the worries out. You can also make this time productive and plan for tomorrow or address worries that can be addressed. The important part is to do this outside of the bedroom and earlier in the evening.
    • Develop a calming bedtime routine. This will help your body and brain know sleep is coming. Try out incorporating different senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing). My routine is taking a shower, drinking tea, using lavender lotion, and doing sudoku. Everyone is different, so try a couple different calming and relaxing activities before settling on a routine.


  • Don’t be afraid to get professional help:


  • You may also want to consider mental health treatment if your anxiety is impacting you every day for more than several weeks. You can check with your insurance or places like psychologytoday.com for providers.


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