18 Stress Fixes for Better Sleep

Reducing stress can impact your sleep significantly. Here are 20 smart ways to calm down and rest up.

By Ellen Michaud with Julie Bain from Sleep to Be Sexy Smart and Slim


  • 6

    Recognize yourself.

    How do you deal with stress? Pig out on chocolate mousse? Skip meals? Refill your wineglass a couple of times after dinner? All of these classic stress responses actually make falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult. But if you realize that you’re one of those who responds to stress in a way that will sabotage your sleep, plan ahead of time how you’re going to handle something you just know is going to raise your stress level.   If you know the big year-end sales conference is coming up next week and you’ve got some pretty lofty goals to achieve, for example, get into bed an hour early every night this week, which will give your body a biochemical boost of stress-proofing growth hormone to ride into the week.   If you know you’re going to see your ex when he drops off your daughter Saturday evening, take time out and meditate for 20 minutes before he’s supposed to arrive.   Or if you’re planning to attend a huge wedding and you know that hanging out with a few hundred people raises your stress level, find a nice quiet spot at the gathering — outdoors under a tree, indoors in an upstairs bathroom, out in your car — where you can take a deep breath, close your eyes for 10 minutes, and enjoy the peace of being alone.

  • 7.

    Check out comedy central.

    If you like to unwind in front of the television each evening, tune in to one of the channels that offers a few laughs. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine asked 16 people to watch a funny videotape while the researchers measured various biochemicals related to stress. The result? When study participants watched the tape, their levels of stress hormones dropped significantly and levels of the antistress growth hormone rose 87 percent.

  • 8.

    Cut yourself some slack.

    If you know a situation will add to your stress level, avoiding it when you’re not sleeping may well be the healthiest thing you can do. One woman who worked the counter in a bakery found herself tossing and turning every night as she thought about all her stressors — her kid, the mortgage, her husband’s health, the whole nine yards.   But one morning the lack of sleep, her stressors, and the fact that she had to deal with customers niggling back and forth between caraway or sesame seeds put her right on the edge. So she swapped places with a baker in the back of the store. The baker — not unhappy with the change at all — waited on customers while the stressed-out counterwoman peacefully kneaded dough.   That night, the counterwoman slept well.

  • 9.

    Plant an herb garden.

    Line your bedroom windowsill with lavender plants, pinch off some leaves before bed, and slip them into your pillowcase. Studies show that the effects of herbal fragrances such as lavender reduce stress levels. In one study people exposed to lavender showed an increase in the type of brain waves that suggest increased relaxation.

  • 10.

    Take fido to bed.

    In one analysis researchers evaluated the heart health of 240 couples, half of whom owned a pet. Those couples with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels when exposed to stressors than the couples who did not have pets — a sign that stress is less likely to be affecting their sleep!

  • 11.


    Studies at UCLA reveal that women’s friendships and relationships with their children can block stress hormones. Conducted by researcher Shelly Taylor, Ph.D., the “tend and befriend” studies, as they are called, indicate that when women are stressed, they tend to their children and seek out other women. Possibly an ancient survival mechanism that allowed women to band together to protect their children, the studies show that when women tend to their children and hang out with friends, they increase levels of a biochemical called oxytocin, which blocks cortisol, the body’s chief stress chemical. The result? Low-stressed women are more likely to sleep at night than their wired male counterparts.

  • 12.

    Forgive the past.

    Anger toward someone who has wronged you can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that can haunt you through the night. To prevent that effect, think about how you were hurt, your response, and how you feel right now. Then think about whether or not there’s anything in the background of the person who hurt you that explains what he or she did. If there is, put yourself in their shoes — and see if you can’t forgive them. If you can, you’ll sleep like a baby.

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