“I just can’t turn off.” “My heart rate was through the roof.” 

These are common answers to the question: Why don’t you sleep well?  If answers like these sum up your relationship with sleep, remember, there’s a reason why they’re common: because you’re not alone. 

According to the Global Association for Stress, 80% of people feel work-related stress, and 75% of Americans experienced moderate to high-stress levels in the past month. The next problem is the one thing we want when we’re anxious or stressed is rest. However, that peaceful moment, that silent mediation, that extra hour of shut-eye becomes more difficult to obtain because of the anxiety and stress we long to extinguish.

Okay. How does letting me know that everyone is anxious and stressed help me calm myself? I just want to reset.

Fair question. 

With a population as anxiety-ridden as ours, thousands of remedies have circulated online, in our extended families, or on our new favorite Netflix original series, but, like thousands of anything, it can get overwhelming. Cutting your way through the untamed forest of hacks, wonder cures, and supplements is difficult when your only guides are anxious hands running across your keyboard.

Well, according to Harvard Medical School, focusing on increasing your REM sleep can be a great place to start on your journey to better mental health. 

“REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the period when people dream . . . Studies report that REM sleep enhances learning and memory, and contributes to emotional health — in complex ways.

Although scientists are still trying to tease apart all the mechanisms, they’ve discovered that sleep disruption — which affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation.”  

Optimizing every aspect of every day is as impossible as it sounds, but if you start to focus your attention on routines that increase your REM sleep, you can find what works for you and hit the reset button on your stress and anxiety levels.

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Where Do I Start?

If you know that you want to improve your REM sleep but don’t know where to start, here are a few tips from Oura for inspiration.

1. Those extra ZZZs can do more than you realize.

This one sounds the most obvious, and it may sound like you’ve already tried this, but one way to focus your energy on REM sleep is getting more total sleep. The more time you spend asleep, the more REM sleep phases you experience. Don’t go for a 13-hour sleeping marathon each night, but doesn’t 7 hours of shut-eye sound good?

2. Wine before bed is good for your taste buds, but not your sleep. 

Alcohol before bed not only decreases your total sleep time, it significantly delays your first REM sleep cycle. Because alcohol decreases your total sleep time, and REM is later in your sleep cycles, alcohol leads to fewer total minutes in REM.

3. Put your mind to bed with your body.

It may feel like when your body wants to go to bed your mind is lacing up it’s running shoes and preparing for an unplanned 5k through your thoughts and memories, but what can you do? Like your body, your mind needs some much-needed wind downtime. Try decreasing your pre-bed phone time and increasing the YOU time with mindfulness practices like meditation or deep breathing. 

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Stress Facts.” Global Organization for Stress RSS, www.gostress.com/stress-facts/.

“Sleep and Mental Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health.