When Stress Robs Sleep

Here are a few tips to help you relax for a good night’s rest

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Whether it’s ruminating over the past or fretting about the future, stress can cause a restful night’s sleep to become elusive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of Americans do not regularly obtain sufficient sleep. For most adults, the CDC recommends a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep nightly. Although eliminating sleep-robbing stressors is not possible, Keith Wilson, licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Rochester, said that better management of stress can help.

“Sometimes people can set up an appointment for themselves to think about a concern the next day and tell themselves they will work on that when they’re awake,” he said.

Jot down worries on a notepad near the bed and let them go. Wilson said that this offers a sense of documentation and release from worry.

“All of this takes a lot of practice and is hard to do initially if you don’t practice this kind of self-discipline,” Wilson said. “If the thoughts enter your head and you dismiss them, what will happen is you’ll reduce the duration the thoughts in your head but not necessarily reduce the incidences of having those thoughts. They’ll happen just as frequently, if not more so, but by reducing the duration, you make progress and eventually the incidences reduce.”

As another stress management strategy, Wilson advises exercise during the day, but not too close to bedtime.

“That will help you feel tired at night,” he said.

He also encourages basic principles of sleep hygiene, including a comfortable place to sleep uninterrupted and setting a regular time to lie down and get up. A bedtime routine can help cue the body it’s time to rest. Some people also have found the benefits of float therapy in reducing their stress and improving the quality of their sleep.

A cool, dark bedroom reserved for only sleep and intimacy helps the body settle down for sleep. Keep work, chores and entertainment out of the bedroom, especially screens. The blue light they emit signals the body to waken and most kinds of entertainment stimulates the mind.

“If you still have some trouble, it’s best to not lie there in bed frustrated,” Wilson said. “Get up and do some reading.”

This is not the best time for a suspense novel or other engaging reading. Stick with mundane reading that is easy to set aside.

To make up for missed sleep, a brief nap—no longer than 20 minutes—early in the afternoon can help catch up on sleep. Waiting until closer to bedtime or napping longer than 20 minutes can disrupt the circadian rhythm and interfere with nighttime sleep.

Using medication to induce sleep can result in dependency. However, natural plant-based superfood powder may support better sleep without this effect. Marge Pickering-Picone, health and nutrition coach and owner of Professional Nutrition Services of Rochester, Inc. in Webster, pairs melatonin supplements with herbs such as valerian root and passionflower. Melatonin occurs naturally in the body and helps support good sleep. Production of melatonin decreases with age. I also highly recommend my favorite blue lotus tincture that has helped me sleep ever since I started taking it.

“Valerian root helps relax muscles for people who tighten up when stressed,” Pickering-Picone said. “Maybe they clench their jaw or tighten their hands in a fist.”

She added that passionflower affects the nervous system, supporting a calming effect for restless legs or neuralgia. 

Supplements can prove helpful in supporting good health. However, they are not FDA-regulated. Before taking any supplements, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider to ask about contraindications to other health issues or medications.

Photo: Marge Pickering-Picone, health and nutrition coach and owner of Professional Nutrition Services of Rochester, Inc. in Webster. She says natural supplements may support better sleep without side affects.