10 Tips To Get Great Sleep, No Matter How Stressed You Are

Written by Lauren Noreen
Medical review by Ellen Vora, M.D.
Holistic Psychiatrist
Ellen Vora is a holistic psychiatrist practicing in NYC. She graduated from Columbia University Medical School, is boarded in psychiatry and integrative and holistic medicine, and she's also a licensed medical acupuncturist and certified yoga teacher.

Image by Clique Images / Stocksy

If you're a highly sensitive person like me (or you just have a lot going on in your life), you know the frustration of lying awake in bed with a busy mind or achy body. A twinge of worry or an unrelenting thought can keep us awake for hours. We're familiar with the nagging noise in the other room or the footsteps on the floor above that keep us from drifting off no matter how tired we feel. We know the draw of caffeine and sugary foods when we finally pull ourselves out of bed. And there's often the "don't cross me" feeling that might emanate from us as we walk into the world after a crappy night of sleep.

Undoubtedly, all of us will experience bouts of sleeplessness at some point in our lives. The stresses of life and work deadlines will leave anyone tossing and turning. However, for the highly sensitive person (HSP), which is approximately 20% of the population, a good night of sleep can be more of an enigma than a simple part of everyday life. Sleep requires us to be in a deep state of relaxation, which is not easily attainable or familiar to an HSP. Having a more sensitive nervous system lends itself to a predisposition toward insomnia, because while experts say that HSPs usually require more sleep than others, they can be prone to anxiety and therefore have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. 

While us sensitive folks may not have the ability to doze off at the drop of a hat, we can certainly get the shut-eye we need by creating an environment that's conducive to deep relaxation.

Try one of these tips tonight for sweet dreams and a peaceful slumber:

1. Emphasize relaxation one to two hours before bedtime.

In the evening hours, decrease stimulation as much as possible. Dim the lights and slow things down. Do something you find relaxing, such as reading while wearing blue light blocking glasses, practicing gentle yoga without doing any inversions, or taking a warm bath. As much as possible, make relaxation the theme of the evening. If certain tasks are unavoidable, then practice doing them in a relaxed manner.

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2. Quit caffeine by noon.

Caffeine's effects vary from person to person, but in general, if you are having trouble sleeping, caffeine could be the culprit. If you’re caffeine-sensitive, try completely eliminating it for a month and see if that improves your sleep. Also consider sneaky sources of caffeine such as chocolate, tea, and soda, and instead opt for water, herbal tea, and herbal coffee substitutes.

3. Have a sleepy meal at dinnertime.

Eating foods containing nutrients that promote sleep, including natural sources of tryptophan, melatonin, and magnesium can also help you get some shut-eye. At dinner, eat a combination of high-quality proteins and complex carbohydrates, like quinoa mixed with sautéed greens or baked chicken breast sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seeds. For dessert, try a bowl of fresh tart cherries or a frozen yogurt made with frozen tart cherries and coconut milk.

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4. Turn your lights off at the same time every night.

Aim to go to bed around the same time every night, whatever that is. Some studies have found that the actual time you sleep doesn’t matter—it’s more about regularly going to sleep at the same time every night. This is, of course, a controversial idea, but it stands to reason that consistency is key when developing a healthy sleep routine, so figure out what works best for your schedule and stick to it!

5. Focus on your breathing.

If you’re stressed out, it’s imperative that you do what you can to calm yourself down before bed. One way to do that is to regulate your breathing—it triggers our relaxation response and helps declutter our minds. There are plenty of resources online where you can learn how to practice different types of deep breathing, like left-nostril breathing which is said to have a soothing and relaxing effect on the body-mind.

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6. Let go of any fearful thoughts.

Have you ever been so worried about going to sleep that you end up sleepless? Yeah, it’s the worst. Fearful thoughts like this create tension in the body, and a body that is tense will not be able to fall into a deep sleep. The fear of not being able to fall asleep can easily keep one from falling asleep night after night. When those thoughts creep in, I often use the affirmation, "I choose to relax and let go now."

7. Play with light and sound.

Light and sound can play a large role in whether or not you sleep well. In the evening, a few hours before bed, try dimming the lights. Sleep in a pitch-black room or wear an eye mask. If you find that you’re more relaxed with some background noise (or need to drown out noise from outside), try switching on a fan or noise machine while you sleep. Earplugs are also a great option if you’re sensitive to noise.

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8. Take a soothing bath.

Is there anything better than a warm, calming bath when you’re worked up? Probably not. Some studies found that bathing on a regular basis helped lower stress and improve sleep in participants. Here’s my go-to Epsom salt bath recipe:

  • Combine 2 cups of Epsom salts with a few drops of an essential oil* (like lavender) in hot water. 
  • *Make sure you choose an essential oil that won’t cause irritation. 
  • *The water should be warmer than your body temperature.
  • Soak for 30 minutes.

9. Try acupressure or another relaxation technique.

There’s no denying that sometimes breathing or telling ourselves to sleep just doesn’t work. Insomnia can be brutal. Acupressure has been shown to have pain relieving and relaxing effects, so if restless muscles seems to be your issue, you could try lying on an accupressure mat before dozing off. That said, these mats can be pretty intense, so you’ll want to do some thorough research before you purchase one, and consider consulting with a physical therapist first. Alternatively, you could try a guided progressive muscle relaxation meditation or yoga nidra video, in which you relax each part of your body using your mind.

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10. Take relaxation breaks during the day.

This one is simple: Try taking at least one 15-minute relaxation break during the day. Going for a short walk or even taking time away from staring at a screen can help keep your body in balance (and help you avoid that dreaded state of overwhelm at the end of the day). Try to remember that life is short and balance is the goal. Do your best to leave your stresses behind, and you'll be sleeping like a rock in no time.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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