The nervous system has two primary operating modes: the stress response and the relaxation response. While the stress response is essential for adapting to demanding physical and psychological events, we want to elicit the relaxation response when it comes time to sleep. Simple practices can be followed to both reduce the stress response and promote the relaxation response, leading to better sleep quality.
To reduce the stress response before bed, it's essential to set a cut-off time for engaging in work, study, or cognitively engaging tasks. Additionally, keeping a journal or writing to-do lists can help clear your mind of stressors before going to bed. It's also crucial to minimize your exposure to news and social media, particularly negative and stressful content. Strenuous exercises or activities should be avoided for two to three hours before bed, as should loud music, televisions, or appliances that may overstimulate the nervous system. Finally, employing stress management techniques can help manage day-to-day stress.
To encourage the relaxation response and prepare your body and mind for sleep, consider the following strategies:
Engage in slow, deep breaths, focusing on expanding your diaphragm as you inhale and gently contracting it as you exhale.
Practice gentle yoga styles, such as yin or restorative yoga, or Tai Chi to encourage relaxation and mindfulness.
Incorporate cold showers or maintain a cool bedroom environment to promote relaxation and stimulate the body's natural sleep response.
Spend quiet time with friends, family, or a significant other to foster a sense of connection and support.
Utilize professional massage services or practice self-massage techniques to release tension and promote relaxation.
Engage in guided body scan meditation, focusing on each part of your body and releasing tension as you move through the scan.
Practice meditation techniques that emphasize focused attention on a single object or open-awareness of your surrounding environment to cultivate relaxation and mindfulness.
Listen to calming music genres, such as classical, ambient, or nature sounds, at a low volume to create a soothing atmosphere for relaxation and sleep.