Relax and Rejuvenate

Don’t let worries keep you awake

The bills. The job. The kids. Whether you’re worrying about finances or fretting over your family, it’s easy to let a wandering mind keep you awake. “The mind plays a powerful role in how we sleep,” says Michelle Drerup, PsyD, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic. “The key is taming your thoughts and learning to relax.”

Make Time to Worry

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2009 poll, almost a third of Americans are sleeping poorly because of concerns about their finances and the economy. But devoting a set amount of time for worrying can actually help you sleep. Spend the time doing nothing but fretting, figuring out your finances, laying out what you have to do at your job the next day or pondering problems with your spouse. Write these concerns down on a list, and jot down possible solutions. “The idea is, ‘Okay, now I’ve already done my worrying, and I’ve got my plans ready,’” says Dr. Drerup. “For some people, this is really effective, especially if you’re the planning type of person.”

Say Namaste

Doing yoga does more than make you limber; studies show it may also induce sounder sleep. Using movement, mindfulness, breath and focus, yoga calms the body and the mind, helping you to relax and to prepare for sleep. But for optimal results, practice yoga throughout the day, encourages Judi Bar, lead yoga therapist for Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180, a wellness program designed to help those with chronic illnesses take charge of their health. “Yoga helps us to practice mindfulness,” says Ms. Bar. “When we are mindful throughout the day, we make better choices for our health, cope better with stress and focus more on achieving a work-life balance.”

To help relax before bedtime, Ms. Bar suggests slow, gentle postures and slow, even breaths, with an emphasis on longer exhales. “Forward folds or forward bending postures help to stimulate the relaxation response by triggering those trunks in the nervous system that are activated with the forward bends,” says Ms. Bar. “So gentle stretching postures, breathing with an emphasis on the exhalations, forward bending postures, along with monitoring our daytime stress management, all help the sleep process.”

Set the Stage

For some people, relaxation comes easily — simply plopping down on the couch can start the process. But for others, it actually takes some effort. The hour before bed is an important time to begin relaxing and preparing for sleep. Dr. Drerup recommends doing no work, taking no phone calls and avoiding the computer. “Everything you do in that hour should be relaxing, not stressful or strenuous,” she says. Try taking a soothing bubble bath, listening to calming music or reading a good book – activities that won’t rev you up.

Just Relax

Relaxation exercises can also be beneficial, such as deep breathing, guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Whether you’re taking deep belly breaths, visualizing waves on an ocean or tensing and relaxing your muscles, the goal is the same: to ease you into a more relaxed state. “When we get stressed, the sympathetic nervous system goes into alert,” says Dr. Drerup. “That’s the fight- or-flight response. When we’re relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, slowing the heart rate and respiration, lowering blood pressure and preparing you for a better state of sleep.”

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