Who hasn’t had the experience of lying awake while an endless series of thoughts — regrets, unfinished tasks, goals — churn in your brain? It’s the worst feeling because sleep isn’t something we can actively do; it’s something we must surrender to and that requires calm.
But most of us persist in thinking getting quality sleep starts right before going to bed, and while pre-bedtime routines are key, it actually starts much sooner than that — the moment you wake up.
“Over the course of the day, little stressors cumulatively have a pretty big impact on our resting physiological tension,” Simon Rego, Psy.D., Chief Psychologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, tells Thrive. He likens our daily doses of stress — getting the kids ready for school, rush hour traffic, work pressures, smartphone notifications — to a pot of water on the stove that reaches a boiling point by the end of the day.
To help you simmer down throughout the day so you’ll be ready to yield to sleep when night falls, work these four tips into your daily routine.
When you wake up, don’t start your day by looking at your phone
Get an old-fashioned alarm clock to skip the necessity of reaching for your phone the moment you wake. Nothing ramps up stress-hormone cortisol like a barrage of emails, alerts, and text messages — or scrolling through other people’s social media “highlight reels” first thing in the a.m. Instead of focusing on what others want from you, use those first few minutes as sacred time to focus on yourself and what you want from life. That might include lying in silence and taking a few deep breaths, repeating a positive mantra, or setting an intention for your day.
Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large and the CEO of Sleep Number, Shelly Ibach suggests ritualizing your practice. Treat your bedtime and wake-up routines with equal consistency and importance. “I start every morning in the same chair, reflecting on what I’m grateful for. Coming from a place of gratitude, helps me step back, put things in perspective and get grounded for the day ahead,” she says. Studies show that gratitude improves subjective sleep quality and duration and reduces stress.
Take a daily “tech time out” to improve your focus and reduce stress
Moderate screen time throughout your day by turning off unnecessary notifications on your phone and carving out space to totally disconnect from your device. Studies demonstrate that smartphones decrease productivity, which ultimately amplifies stress because the work we’re not getting done piles up — alongside cortisol.
Schedule strategic worry time
Clock a time out (20 to 30 minutes) during the day to jot down what’s causing you anxiety, sleep specialist Noah B. Clyman, L.C.S.W., the clinical director of N.Y.C. Cognitive Therapy tells Thrive. “Divide a sheet of paper in half with concerns on one side and next steps or solutions on the other,” he suggests. He also recommends freeform journaling without trying to resolve issues. “Allow yourself to feel your emotions without trying to change them in any way,” he says. Then toss the document into the dustbin — that’ll reinforce the feeling that you’ve flushed those thoughts out of your system for the day and can settle into a more soothing state.
Build recovery time into your day
When tensions start mounting as they always do, Montefiore Medical Center’s Simon Rego suggests practicing a form of muscular relaxation called the Robot Ragdoll technique. “Tense all your major muscles at once and hold it for 10 to 15 seconds,” he explains. Then, do the exact opposite: Let all your muscles go doughy. “It will help you notice the difference between when you’re tense versus relaxed,” he says, and help you sustain a relaxed physiologically state throughout the day. He advises setting alarms on your phone to schedule short breaks throughout the day to incorporate the type of chill time you enjoy, whether it’s meditation or a quick walk outside.
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