These last several months have wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule. Between the pandemic and the heightened political conflict and other societal issues, I find it so hard to fall asleep at night. Or I wake up at 3 a.m., staring and the ceiling and obsessing about things I can’t control. Is the same true for you? If so, let me share a few strategies that I’ve adopted during the last few weeks that have really helped de-stress for better sleep.
Herbal Tea for Relaxation
An hour or so before I go to bed, I enjoy a cup of herbal tea. Lemon ginger or chamomile are my favorites; a 2016 study found that chamomile tea significantly reduced insomnia and even depression in postnatal women. But nearly any caffeine-free variety can be soothing. I boil water and let the teabag steep for several minutes, then curl up in a comfy chair and let this warm elixir do its magic. It can be tempting to have a glass of wine instead—a way that many of us use to wind down—but studies show that wine too close to bedtime can actually disrupt your sleep, rather than encourage it. Take it from me—it’s true.
Yoga to De-stress
After I’ve finished my tea and let it settle, I find a nice, open space for a few gentle yoga moves. This routine helps me de-stress for better sleep. Usually, I start on my back, arms stretched out to the side, and bring my knees to my chest. I let my knees fall to one side, then back to center, then to the other side. A few rounds of his spinal twist can get the kinks out.
Then I raise my legs overhead for a shoulder stand, which stretches out my upper back. Then I bring my legs over my head, touching the floor in plow position. When I hold for a minute or so, it releases all the stress in my lower back.
Next, I slowly lower my legs, allowing one vertebra at a time to make contact with the floor, and I fully relax for a breath or two. Next, I get on my hands and knees and slowly arch my back up and down, alternating between cat and cow. Finally, with knees bent, I ease back to child’s pose, chest to my thighs, forehead and arms to the floor. Then I just breathe for a bit.
A Belly Rub for the Dog
By this time, my dog, Phoebe, has usually sought me out and joined me on the floor. She is a beautiful black-and-white mix, a sweetheart we found at the local shelter more than four years ago. She is around five years old, but she is pure puppy when she wants attention. Her favorite thing is a belly rub, so I indulge her for a few minutes, moving my hands up and down her abdomen, as she welcomes the pure bliss. I remind her what a good dog she is, and I tell her how lucky we are to have her. This experience relaxes her and no doubt improves my blood pressure too.
Science confirms that my experience isn’t just limited to me. A 2019 study compared physical activity, perceived degree of health, and sleep between dog owners and non-dog owners. Dog owners reported higher scores in each category, and also had significantly lower BMIs, than non-dog owners. [Editor’s note: what about cats tho??]
De-stress with Lavender
When Phoebe is content, I treat my feet to Organica Dream Lotion. This lavender cream smells wonderful. Not only does it help me de-stress for better sleep, but it makes my toes and heals feel super-soft. Research shows that lavender helps with sexual function, sleep quality, depression, and anxiety in older women—and interestingly, the benefits can be reaped by either aromatherapy (like the cream or essential oils) or capsules. Of course, I personally enjoy the self-care aspect of engaging my senses, but you do you!
Notes of Gratitude
I climb into bed and, before turning on the ceiling fan and turning off the light, I do one more important thing: write in my gratitude journal. Some entries are more elaborate than others, but what matters is that I find just a few minutes each night to record some things I’m grateful for. It helps me to focus on what is good instead of being anxious about all that is challenging. Sometimes, I write about my family or just the privilege of having a roof over my head. Other times, I think about friends or colleagues who have had a big influence on me. Last night, instead of worrying about sending my son to school during a pandemic or not, I focused on be thankful for having the choice between in-person and virtual options, trusting that all would be okay.
After completing these five steps in recent weeks, I find that I’m falling asleep easier and usually sleeping through the night. The Greek philosopher Epictetus once advised that “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” This “de-stress for better sleep” ritual is a great reminder of that outlook. I can’t control what is going on in the world, but I can find ways to manage my reaction. And after a good night’s sleep, I’m much more equipped to handle anything that comes my way.
Related: Why You Are So Tired (And How to Reduce It)
*This* Surprising Lifestyle Habit Makes You Feel Lonelier, Says Science
Quarantine Fatigue Is Real. 10 Morning Habits to Get You Going
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Photo: We Vibe via Unsplash (cover); Katee Lue on Unsplash (yoga); Lucia Raatma (the rest)