Busy at work, dealing with financial stress, thinking about an upcoming move, or a birthday party that needs some serious organising? It can be a challenge to tell the mind it’s nearly bedtime, and that it’s time to switch off. Once the mind starts racing it can be hard to reel back in, like a agitated dog pulling at a leash, it seems the more you resist, the more it gets away from you. Phew stressful stuff. But before you get stressed about getting stressed, remember, there is an upside! Just as our bodies can elicit a stress response, we also have a ‘relaxation response’ where breathing slows, blood pressure drops, and your heart stops feeling like it’s thumping out of your chest.
So, if relaxation is the answer, then how to get there becomes the question
First and foremost, set yourself a bedtime and digital curfew before bedtime. Turn off electronics, including the TV, an hour or so before bedtime. If that’s just not possible, and you’re working late on a computer or screen, try dimming the brightness of the screen. There are also apps that can turn the light from blue to reds and yellows (red light should not interfere so dramatically with the release of melatonin).
Now, where were we? That’s right….get yourself comfortable (even a little relaxed), while we present 10 simple, yet effective ways to flick that stress switch to ‘off’.
Breathing slow, long breaths can help dramatically lower tension. When we are relaxed, our natural breath will be slow and gentle and through the nose, as opposed to the short, shallow breaths we take when we’re stressed or anxious. As it turns out, even replicating that relaxed breathing pattern can calm the nervous system, hence ‘tricking’ the body into involuntary physiological changes like lowered blood pressure and heart rate, reduced levels of stress hormones and increased feelings of calm and wellbeing
Cuddling a pet can trigger a release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making you feel warm and fuzzy, and hence more relaxed. Of course, it’s always better if the pet is yours. Particularly at night time. It’s not ideal (in fact it’s kinda weird) to be wandering the streets before bed in search of an animal to pat
Eating when stressed, doesn’t have to be a negative thing. In fact, eating a nourishing snack, mindfully, can fill you up, and help you sleep better. Most effectively it can be a great distraction from those feelings of stress, especially when you focus on taste and texture and how it makes you feel. Bananas are ideal - they are loaded with potassium and magnesium both of which are natural muscle relaxants. A handful of nuts, such as almonds, will fill you up while also containing tryptophan and magnesium (again muscle relaxants). And apparently even chocolate canapparently help calm the nerves,by regulating the stress hormone cortisol! Now that’s the best news you’ve heard all day right?
Could it be that the soothing power of a regular cup of tea is not just anecdotal? Backed by science, we can now say that a nice warm cuppa does actually make you feel more relaxed. And who better to put this to the test than the English? In a British study, it was found that stress hormone levels fell by nearly twice as much in tea drinkers than those who drank a tea substitute. And if the caffeine in black tea is too much for you in the evening, there are plenty of herbal infusions that have been shown to have stress-reducing benefits, including chamomile, passionflower and lemon balm.
Counting numbers gives you something neutral, albeit it a little mundane, to focus on. Maybe counting sheep is more your vibe? Or perhaps challenge yourself a little, and try counting backwards from 300 in 3s. (300, 297, 294 and so on and on). It’s complicated enough for your brain to focus entirely on the task at hand, while also being pretty boring, and therefore makes it likely that your stress will dissipate and you’ll soon fall asleep.
Yoga or stretching is a very zen, and effective way to de-stress before bed. Many yoga poses are known stress relievers due to the fact they may open the shoulders, relieve neck tension and help relieve some of the physical symptoms of stress. Not only should stretching before bed help the mind and body relax, it should help you sleep better too. When you prepare your body for sleep through gentle stretching, you’re helping your body recover and regenerate. Even if it’s just for 5-10 min (who has time for a 90 min yoga session before bed?) remember that 5 min of stretching and focusing on areas of tightness, is better than none at all.
Visualisation is an easy and accessible way to get back to your centre...if you think about it, you require nothing but your imagination, and we all have one of those. No props required, nor a set amount of time. Just make yourself comfortable, (either sitting up or laying down), close your eyes and try to picture a peaceful scene. For some it may be an upcoming or past beach holiday, for others it may standing on top of a mountain watching an eagle soar….for others it may even be an interaction with the person of your dreams (literally). Regardless, it should make you feel serene and may even bring the glimpse of a smile to your face. Another calming visualisation technique is to imagine yourself floating and drifting to the ground like a feather or leaf, in slow motion and with absolutely no pressure on, or around you.
Go for a 10 min walk. So it may not be suitable (or safe) at 10:30pm, but a stroll outside while the sun is going down, or at nightfall, could set you up for a less stressful evening. Combine the benefits of exercise, breathing fresh air and the beauty of being outside for sunset, and you can’t go wrong. If you do need to walk before bed, try a few laps of the house!
Put on some music, or even better sing your favourite song...you don’t even have to sing the right words! Classical music has a particularly soothing effect and has been shown to slow the heart rate and decrease blood pressure and levels of stress hormones. However, any music you love will get those ‘feel good’ neurochemicals flooding the brain. Singing or humming are also associated with feeling pleasure and reducing stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins and oxytocin.
And finally, a no brainer….as if you didn’t know this. Reading before bedtime could help relieve stress symptoms and help you sleep better (and these are just two of a multitude of benefits from reading!) According to the National Sleep Foundation, reading before bed can help you prepare for sleep and help your mind separate your stress time from the stresses of daily life. Reading a good book can also lower levels of cortisol by reducing stress….and a body with lower levels of cortisol is more likely to sleep soundly! It doesn’t get better than losing yourself in a good novel before getting some shut eye.
Now….is it time for bed yet?