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How To Tame Stress and Get the Sleep You Need

How to Sleep when Stressed

Everyone knows how important a good night’s rest is, and how a poor sleep schedule can impact nearly every other part of your daily life. Dr. Jeffrey Wertheimer, a clinical neuropsychologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, explains that sleep is inextricably intertwined with other aspects of physical and mental health. 

Stress can make it more difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep can lead to higher stress levels  — a classic vicious cycle. Wertheimer notes that improving your sleep does not start when your head hits the pillow. What you do throughout the day contributes to how easy it is to fall asleep at bedtime and how well you sleep during the night. 

So how do you sleep when stress levels are high? These tips are aimed at helping relieve stress and creating the circumstances that will help your body relax and welcome sleep naturally by focusing not just on a bedtime routine, but on your daily lifestyle. 

Go to Bed and Wake Up at the Same Time Each Day

While it’s been generally accepted that establishing a consistent bedtime will help you fall asleep more easily, a recent study noted that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can actually improve your overall health. 

Adopt a Healthier Diet

A balanced diet — one that provides the recommended daily intake of vitamins and nutrients — supports more restful sleep overall. In fact, one study found evidence that the Mediterranean diet promotes healthier sleep. Eating healthier is a win-win, too — a healthy diet can also help reduce stress, which can only be good for your sleep.

Watch What You Eat at Bedtime

It’s not just your overall diet that can affect your sleep patterns, however . What you eat in the couple of hours before bedtime can also make a difference. Most sleep specialists recommend avoiding spicy and fatty foods close to bedtime — after all, it’s hard to sleep through a bout of heartburn. You should also avoid caffeine close to bedtime, and try not to drink too much of any liquid, unless you want to wake up for that midnight bathroom trip. 

More importantly, avoid eating big meals too close to bedtime, and if you must have a bedtime snack, choose a handful of nuts, some kiwi fruit, or a glass of tart cherry juice an hour or so before bedtime.

Get Plenty of Physical Activity — But Not at Bedtime

People who are more physically active during the day tend to sleep better at night. Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, says that exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality. She notes that people who engage in 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at some point during the day often see a difference in their sleep quality the same night. As far as timing, Gamaldi recommends experimenting to see what works best for you, though some studies suggest you should avoid vigorous exercise, such as HIIT workouts, within an hour of bedtime.

Address Sleep Challenges

For some, poor sleep quality is associated with a physical problem, such as sleep apnea or GERD. Sleep disorders are treatable, once you know you have one. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting restful sleep, talk to your medical practitioner about consulting a specialist. Sometimes the treatment is as simple as changing your sleep position.

Use Cannabinoids for Sleep Support

Many people who use cannabis, both medically and recreationally, report using it for sleep purposes. Cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in sleep regulation. Sleep products containing cannabinoids, such as CBD and CBN, provide naturally-derived support for healthy sleep habits.

Get Out Into the Sunlight

Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating sleep. Getting more exposure to sunlight — or full spectrum lights — helps boost levels of vitamin D, which improves sleep quality for many people. 

Dim the Lights

Light has a major effect on our circadian rhythms, which helps regulate sleep and alertness. You can help yourself fall asleep by manipulating the lighting in your living and sleeping space. The Centers for Disease Control suggests keeping the light levels dim for two hours before bedtime to prime your body for better sleep.

Reduce Stimulation Before Bed

Put down the phone and turn off the screens 30 minutes before bedtime to avoid overstimulation. Instead, do something relaxing such as reading or listening to music, or practice a mindfulness routine like mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises to help calm your mind.

Take a Hot Bath or Shower

A hot bath or shower before bed will help prime your body for sleep. Going from the warm bath to a cooler bedroom will drop your body temperature, naturally making you feel sleepier.

Worry Earlier in the Day

If worries and stress keep you awake at night, try scheduling your worries into your daily routine — productively. Plan for 15 minutes to go through your to-do list, mark off tasks and brainstorm solutions to the worries that keep you up at night. It will be easier to dismiss them if you’ve already created a plan to deal with them.

If You Can’t Sleep, Get Out of Bed

It may seem counterintuitive, but experts say that if you can’t fall asleep — or if you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep — get out of bed. Move to a dimly lit area and do something relaxing, like reading or knitting, until you feel sleepy. 

A good night’s sleep is the key to a healthier you. Addressing the stress that keeps you awake at night with all the tools at your disposal will help move you forward on your journey to a fulfilled, well-balanced life.


Cedars Sinai Blog – Good Sleep in Times of Stress
Neurotherapeutics – Effects of Cannabinoids on Sleep and Their Therapeutic Potential for Sleep Disorders
Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism – Sleep Timing, Sleep Consistency, and Health in Adults: A Systematic Review
Sleep Foundation – Nutrition and Sleep
Advances in Nutrition – Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality
Johns Hopkins – Exercising for Better Sleep
Harvard Health – Does Exercising at Night Affect Sleep?

Deb Powers is a freelance writer who has been writing about cannabis and related wellness topics for nearly 20 years. Her work has appeared on Civilized.Life and numerous industry websites and publications.