What to Do When Nighttime Stress Keeps You Awake

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We all have those nights when stress keeps us up way past our bedtime. The mind races with thoughts, worries, what-ifs, and the more it happens, the more it becomes a habit. Since we don’t want our brains to make nighttime stress a regular occurrence, here are some strategies to help fight it.

Pray

I’m a Christian.

Praying when I’m overwhelmed with worries, fears, and stress while trying to fall asleep often helps me. Putting it all on God is a relief because I know He can handle it, and it gives me peace that helps me fall asleep and wake up rested and refreshed.

Deep, Meditative Breathing

Another method to take your mind off the stress is to do some deep breathing while laying in bed. My favorite breathing practice, 4-7-8 breathing, lowers the heart rate, relaxes the body, and when done in bed, signals to the body that it’s time to go to sleep.

Tell Yourself You Can Worry Later

I learned about this trick from Gretchen Rubin on her Happier podcast. To avoid the stress of worrying about things “before their time” she tells herself that she can worry about it on a particular date. And then, when that date arrives, she’s allowed to worry about it.

It seems counter-intuitive to delay worrying, but when you’re up all night wondering how you’re going to deal with something that’s months away, give it a try.

“Thought Downloads”

Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School uses this phrase to describe her brain-dumping process when she realizes she needs to get all the thoughts out of her head and onto paper. Thought downloads are useful for dealing with stress that keeps you up at night because it’s a way to get all that worry out. When we write down what we’re worried about, sometimes we realize how silly it is.

Writing down “I’m worried about forgetting my work badge in the morning” would prompt me to place my work badge in a place where I won’t forget it.

Regularly performing thought downloads as part of your daily wind-down before bed can ease the stress that usually keeps you up at night.

Build Routines

A big contributor to nighttime stress is a lack of clarity about the next day. When we go to bed without going through a prescribed routine, it triggers worry in the brain about all the things we didn’t do—or the important things we’re forgetting.

What kinds of evening routine things can help with nighttime stress?

  • Preparing your lunch, coffee, and work bag
  • Doing a thought download
  • Writing your to-do list for the next day (both personal and work-related)
  • Praying or meditating
  • Evening bathroom things (washing your face, flossing, brushing your teeth, showering or taking a bath)

The more consistent your routine, the less you’ll worry about things that you would otherwise address during that routine.

It’s important to remember that missing one day of a habit or routine won’t break the pattern. Just don’t miss two days in a row.

Exercise

Everyone’s different, and everyone has an opinion about when you should or shouldn’t exercise. Sleep experts recommend early morning exercise, and no “vigorous” exercise within 5 or 6 hours of going to bed. For most people who work full-time jobs and go to bed at reasonable hours, this advice might not work so well.

I rise pretty early (4 AM) and also go to bed early (before 8 PM). According to sleep hygienists, I should exercise in the morning. My blood sugar doesn’t always agree with that, and my most creative hours are in the morning, so I’ve made it a priority to work on my side projects during the early hours instead.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. People are different, and have different chronotypes (natural sleep cycle).

No matter when you exercise, experts agree that exercise does help with falling asleep and getting better sleep.

As for me, I know I’m more likely to get good sleep and avoid stressing out when I exercise during at some point during the day.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Besides exercise timing, there are other ways to practice good sleep hygiene. I wouldn’t be surprised if most nighttime stress insomnia comes from things other than the things we’re worrying about.

I think most of us “know” we’re not supposed to have screens on within an hour or so of going to bed, but people consistently and frequently ignore that advice. (Myself included).

Here are some sleep hygiene practices:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Get up at the same time every morning, including weekends
  • Keep the bedroom as dark, cool, and quiet as possible (blackout curtains are great!)
  • Don’t watch TV in the bedroom—the bed should just be for sleeping and sex
  • Don’t nap too much, but if you do need to nap, keep it to 20 minutes or less
  • Follow an evening routine
  • Avoid caffeine after 2 PM (or whatever time you know is your cutoff for getting a good night’s sleep)
  • Eat a healthy diet (I recommend low-carb)

Experiment with different practices to see how it affects the stress keeping you up at night. If you’ve tried everything (really tried, not just halfheartedly attempted for a couple days) and nothing is working, please seek help from a therapist or a sleep expert.

When experiencing nighttime stress, we often lose sleep and suffer health consequences. Here are 7 tips to turn down the stress dial at night.

How Do You Deal With Nighttime Stress?

If you’re in this boat, what have you done that helps? Are you still looking for solutions?

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