Dr. Rebecca Robbins, PhD…Sleep and Election Stress
- Keep alcohol to a minimum (or choose an herbal tea or sparkling water).
Alcohol consumed in moderation may in small measure help you fall asleep, but one glass or more will cause you to wake up repeatedly throughout the night and wake up in a fog tomorrow, underperforming, and more likely to lash out at your friends and loved ones. Although it may be tempting to drown our sorrows, swap out alcohol for an herbal tea or non-alcoholic beverage.
- Eat early and keep dinner light.
Nutritionists recommend a hearty breakfast and lunch and dinner on the lighter side (veggies and protein) for maintaining a healthy weight. This advice is also true for sleep. Too heavy (e.g., thick sauces, lots of spices) a dinner will cause your body to keep you awake digesting what you just ate.
- Turn off tech in the 30 minutes leading up to lights out.
Avoid #DoomScrolling at night, or the tendency to scroll through the depressing and unsettling news of the moment, despite its unsettling effect. Instead, power down your phone. Our smartphones are amazing pieces of technology, but they can be sources of stress as we use them to scroll social media and perform work tasks. They also emit bright blue light, which sends a physiological cue to the brain to become alert while we're trying to power down.
- Take a warm shower.
A warm shower can have an instantly calming effect, and is particularly soothing before bed during stressful times such as those that we find ourselves. A shower can also serve as a mental transition from your day. Use bath products with soothing scents that calm and relax you like lavender and sandalwood.
- Calming a busy mind
With all the craziness of the world outside, it is easy for a busy mind to keep you from falling asleep. Here are two ideas. First, keep a stack of notecards at your bedside. If you have a busy mind leading up to bedtime, write down whatever is on your mind however large or small. Second, meditate. Find a comfortable seated posture, ideally on an armchair or the floor, anywhere other than bed. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Imagine drawing a breath in and finding a soothing image, the waves washing onto a shore, and as you exhale you let the breath release and the waves crash back into the sea.
- Go out with a bang.
Sex reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, suggesting sleep may aid in your sound slumber. Researchers administered surveys and asked respondents to think about the last time they had sex and their sleep. Interestingly, men reported a greater benefit to their sleep after sex than women, they also reported falling asleep faster after sex than women, but the study also found that if sex resulted in an orgasm that there were no gender differences.
Those who report consistent exercise also report falling asleep and getting better overall quality of sleep than those who do not workout. Why is this? Exercise releases endorphins which are mood elevators, and we all could use as many of those as we can get right now. The best time to exercise? For many years in sleep medicine we said not before bed! But now we know without a shadow of a doubt that exercise is overwhelmingly positive, but timing does not matter as much as getting it in. But should you do a HIIT workout right before bed? Maybe yoga or something a bit more calming would be appropriate right before you want to fall asleep.
- Finally and most importantly if you toss and turn, get out of bed!
It is a myth that staying in bed and 'willing yourself' back to bed work. Instead, this will cause you to associate stress and insomnia with your bed, when we are trying to make this your safe space where you recover and rest. If you wake up, get out of bed, use the bathroom or do a few light yoga poses, and come back when you are tired.
Dr. Rebecca Robbins is an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the Resident Sleep Expert at The Benjamin Hotel. She provides solutions and tools to ensure the best possible night’s sleep, making bedtime a “dream come true.”