6 expert-approved ways to sleep better when you’re feeling too stressed

We’ve all been there—staring at the clock at 3am while being bone-tired but still unable to actually get any sleep. Whether you’re stressed at work or have too many deadlines to meet, getting to bed when you’re wired can feel like an uphill battle—in fact, the anxiety of not being able to get enough shut-eye only adds to the stress you’re already feeling. We spoke to experts across the board for their top tips on how to improve your sleep hygiene, even if it seems elusive when you’re struggling to quiet your mind.

1) Have a light meal

Doctors advise having an early meal at least three hours before your usual sleep time—preferably a balanced one including carbs, proteins and fats. “Tryptophan is a precursor to the sleep-inducing compounds serotonin and melatonin, which help you feel relaxed. Combining foods that are tryptophan-rich with slow carbohydrates also improves sleep. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain, which is why protein and carbohydrates are the perfect combination to get the brain to unwind,” informs Fatema Valikarimwala, RD. She also suggests adding herbs like sage and basil—they have stress-relieving compounds that can help mellow you out. Experts recommend loading up on sleepy teas or herbal tisanes to soothe and calm the mind too.

2) Avoid caffeine in any form

Dr Rohan Bokadwalla, a Mumbai-based neuropsychiatrist, says that any caffeine before bed is off limits, whether it is in the form of a cola, coffee or tea. Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant that is likely to keep you waking up through the night. It also delays the body clock, so it can keep you lingering when you’re looking to crash.

3) Use the bed only to sleep

“Do not try dosing off by watching TV, scrolling through your phone or reading a book. Do these activities outside the bedroom. Use the bed only to sleep,” suggests Dr Bokadwalla. It’s better to get out of bed and move into a different room for any other activity, and only return when you’re feeling sleepy. “When it doesn’t come naturally, it’s okay to condition the mind to believe that the bedroom is a place to sleep, instead of associating it as a place where you toss and turn and just wait for the shut-eye time,” he says.

4) Rely on your nighttime routine

Taking a bath or shower before bedtime is also a well-known sleep remedy. A warm water bath is relaxing because our body temperature tends to drop after a bath, and that by default helps the body drop its guard and unwind. You might want to take the help of aromatherapy to upgrade your regular bath to a more pampering spa-like ritual. You can add a few drops of essential oils known for their relaxing and uplifting benefits, such as rose and lavender, into a bucket of warm water, or pour them on the floor before your turn on the shower. “You can even rub lavender oil on your belly to maximise the benefits. A lot of people rub lavender oil on their wrists and temples, but rubbing it on the belly has double benefits. Besides soothing the mind, this also aids in digestion,” says aromatherapist Jhelum Biswas Bose.

Experts also advise focusing on a night routine to get the mind ready for sleep. Brushing out your hair, carrying out a skincare routine and setting up your bed for comfortable sleep (fluffing the pillows and turning down the AC temperature) can also help.

5) Take the pressure off

“Don’t compare yourself with your partner and feel miserable at your inability to sleep. Some people are just light sleepers, they need six hours only whereas others need eight to 10,” says Dr Bokadwalla. “Don’t watch the clock either,” he adds. As the clock keeps ticking, the guilt of being sleepless till the wee hours pairs stress with frustration. Dr Bokadwalla’s advice to calm the demons in your head? “Just think, what’s the worst that can happen?”

6) Focus on calming yourself down

Try relaxing with some meditation techniques. Instead of counting sheep, you might reap better results by watching your breath. Yoga expert and author of Beyond Āsanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures, Pragya Bhatt recommends the practice of ‘Anulom-Vilom’ or alternate nostril pranayama to get some restful sleep. “The right side of your body is the ‘heating’ side, and is closely impacted by the sun. The left is the ‘cooling’ side, and is impacted by the moon.  For us to live optimally, both sides have to be balanced in our system. This Pranayama stimulates and relaxes each side, therefore each type of energy alternately ensures that your entire being comes back to a balanced state,” she says.

Bose points out that the thing with sleep is that the harder you try to get it, the more elusive it gets. You have to distract your mind off the ‘why can’t I sleep’ train of thought to something else. “When I say meditate on thoughts, I mean observe. Let the thoughts, no matter what they are, pass through. Don’t try to block out the thoughts or force active visualisation in the middle of the night, when your brain is anyway charged up,” concludes Bose.

This article first appeared in Vogue


  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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