If you have a pulse, chances are that you have stress in your life. While not all stress is bad (yes, some stress actually is good for you!), high levels of unresolved stress can do a fair amount of damage to your body and your health in a hurry. Of course, the higher your stress level, the quicker the damage starts building up in your system. Repairing this damage is a process which kicks into high gear while you are sleeping.
That being said, are you like 3 out of 4 Americans who have trouble getting and staying to sleep at night? Do you feel like you spend more time looking at the clock than you do in dreamland?
If getting and staying to sleep is a challenge for you, these 5 keys to better sleep can help you start to beat the stress in your life and become 1 of 4 Americans who are sleeping like a baby every night (a phrase coined by someone who obviously has never had kids).
Get a Better Bed
Have you been sleeping on the same mattress for as long as you can remember? Chances are, it has reached the end of its useful life. Investing in a quality mattress gives your body the support it needs to be able to truly relax while you sleep. If your muscles and joints are given the chance to relax instead of supporting your frame even while you are trying to sleep, your mind (which is busy controlling those muscles and joints) will be able to dive deeper into sleep more often.
Memory foam and air mattresses tend to provide more individualized support over conventional mattresses, as they conform to your body shape and more effectively relieve muscle tension. As a result you wake up better rested with fewer aches and pains. Even if they cost a bit more, they typically will have longer warranties and the investment you are making into sleeping better will pay great rewards in your productivity at both home and work, which will help reduce your stress level.
Give Your Pillow the Boot
In much the fashion that a quality bed makes a big difference in how well you sleep, so does your pillow. Sleeping is a time for your brain to both relax and dream. It is also a time for your body to repair damage that has occurred throughout the day. If your pillow isn't supporting your head and neck well, you may be causing damage in your neck and spine rather than providing your body the opportunity to repair it.
If you've never experienced anything but a standard fiber filled pillow (that tends to get flat and bunchy over a short period of time) you may be ready for a foam contoured (shaped) pillow which is designed to hold your head in a proper postural position all night long. Water pillows, air pillows, and memory foam pillows are great for first-time cervical neck pillow users, as they actually conform to the shape of your head and neck while giving you far greater support than a standard pillow without forcing your head into a fixed position.
Get Off the Couch
Spending time "resting your eyes" on the couch can greatly disturb that night's sleep. For some, the naps which commonly occur while watching TV or reading in the evening hours are the single greatest cause for not getting to sleep at bedtime or staying asleep throughout the night.
In addition to interfering with the natural sleep cycle, a couch is very poor at supporting your body, especially your spine. Irritations in the neck, upper or low back caused by lying on the couch can produce pain and stiffness which keep you from sleeping well. Staying off the couch does your spine a huge favor (and it also keeps you from nodding off and missing the last 10 minutes of your favorite show).
Get Up and Move
The more active you are, the more your body and your mind will need rest, helping you rest better. Exercising regularly produces a whole host of health benefits, and goes a long way towards giving you a better sleep, especially when you exercise earlier in the day. When you get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes 3-5 days a week, your body's motor will run better and rest better.
Unwind Before Bedtime
Nothing is more frustrating than finding yourself studying the ceiling for the umpteenth night in a row, even though you went to bed an hour or two ago. Instead of going directly from wrestling with the day's stress to crashing into bed, spend some time "unwinding" before bed. Recreational reading, doing a daily devotional, or listening to music for an hour or so before bedtime will allow your system an opportunity to unwind and will give your mind a better opportunity to relax into a sleep state more easily.
The best way to get the most benefit out of these 5 keys to beating your stress through better sleep is to be patient. You don't expect to be "in shape" after only one workout. Don't get frustrated if you make changes in one, two or even all five of these areas and you don't immediately see dramatic results.
The more consistently you follow these tips, the more you will train your body and your mind to get and stay asleep better. The better you sleep, the quicker your system will heal from the effects of stress and the greater your tolerance of additional stress will become.
Developing strong sleep habits is an essential ingredient to great health. Combining these sleeping habits with exercise, nutrition, posture, and a positive attitude will help you enjoy life at a whole new level.
Sleep on it and see for yourself!