Stress-Relief Activities for Better Sleep: Incorporating Relaxation into Your Routine

Get better sleep. The best activities to relieve stress before bed: soothing sounds, warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, bedtime tea, yoga, and journaling.


Is stress keeping you awake at night? Worry over an argument with a family member, a difficult talk with your boss, or financial problems can leave you tossing and turning at night. It’s not uncommon for stress to interfere with sleep. In one study, conducted by the American Psychological Association, 33 percent of adults reported having difficulty sleeping due to life stress.

When you are under stress, it causes anxiety. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to a potential threat. When you are anxious, it triggers your body’s “fight or flight” response. This response prepares your body to either fight or flee. Your breathing quickens, heart rate increases, and stress hormones are released. When this happens at bedtime, it can make for a sleepless night. This response is the opposite of what your body needs to relax and wind down for bed.

If you are experiencing a lot of stress that is making falling asleep a challenge, incorporating stress-relieving activities into your bedtime routine can help you get some rest.

Stress-Relief Activities For Better Sleep Your Bedtime Routine

Here are some relaxing activities that have been proven by science to help improve sleep. These are things that can help your mind and body calm down. About one to two hours before bed, begin to wind down, and do whichever activities you find most relaxing.

Listen to Soothing Sounds

Relaxing sounds can help you fall asleep more easily. Studies have found that listening to soothing sounds or music before bed may help improve sleep quality. Listening to relaxing nature sounds has been found to reduce the body’s fight or flight response and lower the stress hormone cortisol. This reduces stress and helps you relax in preparation for sleep.

Take a Warm Bath

Research suggests that warm baths can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better. That is because they have a soothing effect on the body. Baths help you relax and reduce muscle tension. Warm baths may be especially beneficial after a long stressful day. Studies have shown that they help relieve stress. For the ultimate relaxation, try this:

  • Dim the lights
  • Add a drop of lavender oil to your bath
  • Add 2 cups of Epsom salts
  • Soak for 30 minutes

Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress and improve insomnia. With this technique, you simply tighten one group of muscles at a time and then relax them. With time, you will learn to identify signs of stress in your body (muscle tension) and reduce it. Here’s how you do it:

  • Sit or lie down on your bed.
  • Take a few deep breaths in and out.
  • Start with the muscles in your head, neck, and face. Tighten each muscle as you breathe. Hold the tension for a few seconds and then release it, exhaling as you release.
  • Move slowly down your arms, shoulders, back, stomach, thighs, buttocks, calves, and feet.

Have an Herbal Bedtime Tea

Skip the brandy or bourbon nightcap, as this can interfere with sleep. Instead, wind down before bed with a non-caffeinated herbal tea. Few things are as soothing as a warm cup of tea. Look for one that has lavender or chamomile. You could try a tea specifically formulated for stress and sleep. Look for one that contains ashwagandha, which is a plant that has been shown to improve sleep and reduce stress.

Create Your To-Do List

If your mind is racing with all of the things that you have to do tomorrow, it can be helpful to sit down and write them all out. Creating a to-do list of what you want to get done will help you let go of the worry that you have about getting the task done until tomorrow. This can help you fall asleep faster. In one study, people who spent just five minutes writing out their to-do list before bed fell asleep significantly faster than those who wrote about tasks that they had already finished.

Try Bedtime Yoga

Bedtime yoga can help you unwind before bed and let go of stress. Bedtime yoga consists of specific stretches and breathing exercises that help prepare your mind and body for sleep. Studies have shown that practicing yoga before bed can reduce nighttime awakening, improve sleep quality, and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. By doing yoga before bed, you are helping your body transition from a stressful state to a relaxed one.

Listen to a Sleep Story

Bedtime stories are not just for kids. They can also help adults get a good night’s rest. Listening to a sleep story before bed can put you to sleep quicker. When many people fall asleep, they tend to ruminate about the stress of the day. This can make it hard to fall asleep. A soothing bedtime story can help refocus your mind so you are not focusing on the day’s worries. As you relax and listen to the story, your mind calms and you naturally fall asleep. You can listen to sleep stories right on the Pillow app.

Write in Your Journal

Journaling before bed will help you to let go of strong emotions so that you can rest. Studies have shown that journaling can help reduce stress and improve wellbeing. Take a few minutes before you go to bed to process what is going on in your life at the moment. You can write about the day you had or about future worries. You can also use your journal to write about things that you are grateful for. If you reflect on the things that you are grateful for, it will help you wake up in a more positive mood in the morning.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have tried the above stress-reducing activities and are still having difficulty falling or staying asleep, then you might want to check with your doctor. Your physician may refer you to a mental health therapist for help with managing stress or a sleep specialist to further assess your sleep.


Written by

Emily Mendez

Emily Mendez is a former therapist and mental health author. She is one of the leading voices in mental health. Emily's writing has appeared in eCounseling, SonderMind, and more. Emily is frequently interviewed by Healthline, Fatherly, INSIDER, Family Circle, and other national media for her advice and expert opinion on the latest mental health topics.

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