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Sleep Strategies in Times of Stress

A lot of people have been asking me how to improve sleep in times of stress. Waking up in the middle of the night or having trouble falling asleep are common when we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Below are a list of tips that I put together to help you out.

· Minimize technology before bed. Too much blue light is disruptive for deep sleep.
· Try to establish a bedtime routine – attempt to go to bed at the same time each night and try to wake up at the same time as much as possible.
· Avoid caffeine in the afternoon – ideally avoid all caffeine after 3 PM. Caffeine hides in chocolate and some beverages as well as in the obvious (coffee) so be sure to watch what you’re eating and drinking late in the day.
· Avoid excessive alcohol before bed – drinking disrupts sleep and minimize all fluid intake 1-2 hours before bed to help prevent frequent trips to the bathroom at night.
· Pay attention to hunger cues before bed. Eat a small meal that includes protein if you are feeling hungry before retiring for the night. Keep the meal that you choose to something light to avoid getting an upset stomach. Tryptophan is a natural sleep enhancer found in certain foods such as shrimp, tuna, cod and halibut. Melatonin is often used to encourage sleep but check with your doctor before starting it as it has been known to cause side effects such as headaches and depression in some people. Magnesium is an important mineral that helps the body make serotonin, which in turn produces melatonin, the brain chemical that sets your body clock. Take 200 to 300 mg of magnesium citrate daily with dinner. Have your magnesium levels checked should you feel that you are very low.
· If you do wake up in the middle of the night, try not to fret too much and get overly anxious about it. This will make it harder to go back to sleep. It is best to get out of your bed and do something relaxing such as reading a book or practicing some meditation or doing an activity that does not involves electronics such as knitting or journaling. Spend about 10 minutes on this activity and take a few yawns. Forcing a yawn and telling yourself how tired you are is a trick to do when you wake up in the middle of the night during that short period of trying to return to sleep. Then picture yourself asleep and return to the bed.
· Some exercise during the day will help you sleep and getting outside to get some sunshine is helpful as well. This sunlight resets your circadian rhythm which sometimes can get disrupted.
· If you are feeling tired the next day due to lack of adequate sleep, resist the urge to nap. If they are greater than 30 minutes, naps often disrupt sleep. There are times when a nap is necessary so use your best judgement but try not to make it a habit.
· Your bed should be a place for REST. Try to avoid reading in bed or watching tv in bed. You want to train your mind into thinking that the bed is a place for sleep.
· Make sure your room isn’t too hot or cold – a temperature of about 70 degrees is usually the ideal temperature. Make sure that the room doesn’t have any sources of light that could wake you up – even the light from an alarm clock could disrupt you so think about turning the clock around so the light isn’t facing you or darkening the room in any way that you can (eye mask, room darkening shades, etc.)

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