Sleep restores us. When we get the sleep we need, we’re more alive. We feel better, we look better, and we’re more likely to feel upbeat and confident. Proper sleep gives us an edge; we awaken fully equipped to handle almost anything the day might throw at us.
We took that feeling for granted when we were children – when our caregivers made us go to bed (sometimes earlier than we would have liked) – but as adults, we may go days, weeks or even months without ever getting enough sleep to fully recharge. We tell ourselves that tonight’s the night we’ll finally catch up. But… something always seems to happen.
Above all else, stress wreaks havoc on our sleep cycle. Where there are too many demands and distractions, there’s likely too much stress. Even if we manage to get to bed when we plan to, we may toss and turn, thinking about the day that just passed or the day ahead.
We may even become self-defeatingly aware that the minutes and hours are now slipping away and that our dream of getting a refreshing eight hours is gone. In turn, this very process may make us even more anxious, more stressed, and more restless.
When stress and anxiety rob you of the sleep you need, there are ways to take control. Simple mindful meditation can make a difference, say experts. Try concentrating on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Feel the natural flow of breath in and out. If your mind begins to wander, that’s okay. Notice that it’s wandered and gently turn your attention back to your breathing. Notice how your breath feels in your chest, your abdomen, your nostrils, your throat. With practice, you may find yourself beginning to relax as the steady flow of breath calms your mind and your body.
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Are you getting the exercise you need? Experts say that you may be more likely to sleep better if you regularly engage in physical activity. It doesn’t have to be a high-intensity workout- even a brisk walk during the day may help you fall asleep faster at night. A calming, bedtime routine also helps train your body and your mind. As bedtime approaches, avoid technology; instead, spend a half hour or 45 minutes reading a book, browsing through a favorite magazine, or listening to quiet music.
Stay away from stressful activities in the hours leading up to bedtime. If paying bills is stressful, save it for the daytime. If watching or listening to the news is stressful, turn it off. If you tend to lie awake thinking about all the things you need to remember, make a to-do list earlier in the evening. Then free your mind from all those things you had to remember.
Still can’t sleep? This relaxation exercise can help. Try tensing and relaxing all the muscles in your body, starting with your toes, and working your way up to your legs, torso and arms.
Of course, if you suspect your difficulty may be related to a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, you should talk to your doctor.
The stresses and demands of everyday living are taxing, but you deserve the same restful, restorative sleep you got as a child. Prioritize sleep as a way to improve your health, wellness, and balance.