Rest Is Simply My #BestMedicine for Stress

I was utterly exhausted for most of 2013. By October, I hadn’t had more than three hours of sleep in a single night since the previous year. I was moody, I complained all the time, and my work and relationships were suffering. I went to my doctor for a physical and walked out with a prescription for sleep medication and a diagnosis of delayed sleep phase syndrome, which is a fancy way of saying that my body clock was calibrated differently than most people’s.

This year, the National Sleep Foundation is commemorating Sleep Awareness Week from March 6-13, and its goal is to highlight sleep’s importance to health, safety, and productivity. I’ve since learned to manage my sleep without medication, and in honor of sleep awareness, I’d like to share how I began to prioritize sleep.

Why a Good Night’s Sleep Is the #BestMedicine for Stress

According to the National Institutes of Health, your body uses the time you’re asleep to support and maintain your physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation may contribute to struggles with “making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.” It can contribute to health conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke, as well.

How I Fixed It

These weren’t risks I wanted to take on. The medication knocked me out, but I often awoke groggy and not well rested, which only added to my stress levels. I finally decided that I needed to learn how to catch some z’s without it.

Getting better sleep is a lot like exercising, eating better, or accomplishing other personal goals: Once you make it a priority, it becomes easier. I had been falling asleep with the TV on since my teenage years, so my fiance and I started shutting off Netflix before we went to bed (taking this further would mean reading a book or journaling instead of watching TV at night, which I’m working toward next). We also bought a memory-foam mattress to replace the old bed I brought to our shared home.

I revamped my diet, too. My current goal is to quit snacking after dinner, but I’ve been working on others over the past few years: I started by cutting back on added sugar and dairy, and then adopted a primarily plant-based diet. Limiting myself to one cup of coffee or caffeinated tea before noon every day has also made a difference.

Finally, I’ve come to rely on a bedtime routine. After I brush my teeth and get into bed, I spend a few minutes thinking about my day. What did I accomplish? What do I need to do tomorrow? Asking these questions helps me maintain a focus on mindfulness, and a few times a week, I spend 15-20 minutes meditating or doing yoga.

This combination of tactics gives my busy mind and body permission to rest, leading to better, more fulfilling, and stress-reducing sleep.

Do you have any sleeping tips not mentioned here that work for you? Share your #bestmedicine with us on Twitter!

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