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Psychologist’s tips for how to sleep better after a stressful day at work

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With hybrid working becoming the norm for most corporate workers, many of us are finding it harder than ever to separate work-related stress from our personal lives – as the home becomes the office and the lines blur between dining table and desk. It’s clear many of us are struggling with stress in the UK, with searches for ‘cortisol’ up 32% in the last month and ‘how to reduce cortisol’ the 4th most searched ‘how to’ term.

The impacts of stress can take a serious toll on our health and ability to rest; with an active mind often causing sleepless nights and frustration.  

In line with Stress Awareness Month, NEXT has teamed up with psychologist Dr Becky Spelman to provide advice on how to separate work from home and suggestions on creating a nighttime routine that will reduce your stress levels.

Dr Becky explains where the best place is to start is to create zones for work and for relaxation: 

“It’s essential to establish boundaries between your work and personal lives, practising mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help with the transition from work to home.

“If working from home you should establish a designated workspace, to allow you to recognise a clear differentiation between work life and personal life, I would recommend avoiding working in your bedroom or an area where you tend to relax if possible

“Also consider taking regular breaks, exercising throughout the week and getting out of the house on a daily basis for a change of scenery.”

How is stress impacting your sleep?

Stress can have both mental and physical effects on our body due to the hormone cortisol that is released when we experience high levels of stress.

Dr Becky explains, “cortisol can disrupt our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. This, in turn, leads to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restful sleep in general. 

“Stress can also contribute to conditions such as insomnia and sleep disorders, further exacerbating the negative effects on our well-being.”

For those able to work flexibly, the recent Chrono-working trend (whereby you work in line with your body’s natural circadian rhythm rather than traditional 9-5 work hours) can be a great way to combat those days where your cortisol levels are high and have impacted your sleep the night before.

Dr Becky says, “Working based on your natural energy levels throughout the day can positively impact your sleep as it allows you to align your times of rest with your optimal productivity levels. If we work in sync with our body’s natural rhythms, we are likely to sleep better and feel happier overall.”

How to reduce stress for a relaxing bedtime routine

“I want to stress the importance of creating an inviting sleeping environment with dim lighting, good ventilation and a comfortable mattress. Blackout blinds are great for creating a dark relaxing environment, especially with the longer days.

Opting for a foam mattress ensures that your body will be well supported throughout the night, enabling your body to release any built-up pressure and tension ensuring you wake up relaxed and refreshed. 

“It’s also essential to establish a calming bedtime routine, as this is what will set you up for a quality night’s sleep. To switch off you should try practising relaxation techniques or gentle stretching whilst avoiding any stimulating activities before bedtime.

“Certain scents, like lavender and chamomile, have been shown to have calming effects on the mind and body, helping us to relax in a soothing environment and improving our quality of sleep.”

Consider using essential oils or a diffuser to bring relaxing scents into your bedroom to help you to associate the space with sleep. 

The importance of self-care

Consistent self-care rituals can help to reduce anxiety, help us to feel relaxed, and create a sense of calm that is beneficial for a restful night’s sleep.

“Indulging in self-care before bed helps us relax by allowing us to unwind and de-stress after a long day. Activities like taking a warm bath, practising mindfulness, or applying a facemask can signal to our bodies that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

According to Dr Becky, “there is scientific evidence supporting the benefits of self-care before bed. Activities like skincare rituals, and aromatherapy can trigger physiological responses in the body that promote relaxation, reduce stress hormones, and improve sleep quality. There are both physical and mental benefits! 

For more tips on how to improve your sleep set-up and self-care routine, visit the NEXT website. 

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