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How to Keep Election Stress from Ruining Your Sleep

With the election just a few weeks away, politics is taking over more than just our conversations, news feeds, and social media posts—it’s taking over our sleep too.

According to a recent “Stress In America” report by the American Psychological Association, 62% of adults reported that the current political climate is causing them stress. And all that stress can lead to a pretty difficult time getting a good night’s sleep.

Back in 2016, therapist Steven Stosny even coined a term—election stress disorder—to describe the specific effects election-related stress has on people. He told CBS News, “You know you have election stress disorder if you feel your body tense before you turn on the news. That’s your body preparing you for a sabertooth tiger with lots of cortisol.”

62% of adults report that the current political climate is causing them stress.

It’s no surprise that being stressed—especially right before bed—can hurt your chances of getting the shuteye you need. The journal Experimental Neurobiology published a 2012 study that found that stress turns on the body’s defense systems, activating the cardiovascular and nervous systems, disrupting the gastrointestinal and immune systems, and increasing cortisol production, which works together to make us toss and turn when we try to turn in for the night.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to ease the impact election stress has on your sleep. We may not know what bombshell the next news cycle will bring, but with these tips and tricks, at least you’ll be better rested to handle it.

image of stressed person looking at election results on phone in bed

Ease election-related stress by turning off your phone an hour before bed.

How to keep election stress under control

Between a worldwide pandemic, economic strife, and natural disasters across the nation, the upcoming 2020 election is just one of many stressors seeking to subvert your sleep. Try out these tips to keep politics from interfering with your pillow time.

Plan political “recovery time”

Any fitness pro will tell you that recovery days are an important part of any workout plan. Jason Piper, certified sleep coach and founder of Build Better Sleep, tells his clients to look at the election the same way.

“The election is going to be in our faces and consuming our lives from now until November,” says Piper. “For every hour (hopefully it’s not much more than an hour!) you spend on social media or reading editorials or campaigning, you should have an hour of recovery time.”

During this political “recovery time,” try avoiding electronics and political talk. Instead, focus your attention on elements that nurture your body and spirit, like nature, art, movement, or relaxation, suggests Piper.

Limit online election coverage before bed

You already know that you shouldn’t scroll through your phone right before bed. Studies like these in Frontiers in Public Health and Physiological Reports have shown that the blue light from smartphones, tablets, and television screens negatively impacts your body’s ability to go to sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin and increasing alertness.

Add to that consuming media posts and news stories that make you angry, irritated, or worried, and you’ve created a recipe for a sleep disaster.

“Although reading through news feeds and social media posts about the election may be informative, too much screen time close to bedtime can be counterproductive for sleep,” says Daniel Rifkin, MD, founder of the Sleep Medicine Centers of Western New York and CEO of Ognomy-The Sleep Apnea App.

Rifkin recommends turning off all screens at least an hour before heading to bed.

Skip political discussions with your bedmate

While connecting with your significant other in bed may be a part of your nightly routine, you may want to skip rehashing the day’s political events once you climb under the covers, suggests Rifkin.

“Although it may be difficult, try not to talk about the election with your bed partner for prolonged periods of time while in bed,” he says. “It’s best to use your bed for sleep and your meals to discuss the election.”

If you enjoy political discourse with your SO, set aside time during dinner or your morning coffee to discuss the latest news.

“Although it may be difficult, try not to talk about the election with your bed partner for prolonged periods of time while in bed. It’s best to use your bed for sleep and your meals to discuss the election.”

Swap weighty thoughts for a weighted blanket

If you find the election weighing heavily on your mind at night, you may want to try a weighted blanket, suggests Rhonda Mattox, MD, integrative behavioral health psychiatrist and mental health consultant to primary care providers.

A study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders reported that weighted blanket users found it easier to settle down and had improved overall sleep.

“While these blankets are helpful to lots of people trying to get a good night’s sleep, they are especially helpful for victims of trauma or people who have anxiety or PTSD,” says Mattox.

Keep in mind what you can control

If you’re familiar with the Serenity Prayer that focuses on what we can control, what we can’t control, and knowing the difference between them, you can apply the same mentality to the election, says Giuseppe Aragona, MD, general practitioner and family doctor at Prescription Doctor.

“Make sure to categorize worries into what you can control and what you cannot,” says Aragona. “You can control whether you vote or not, but ultimately you cannot control who will win the election.” Turn your worry into action where you can and let the rest go.

image of two cocktail glasses on table

Limit alcohol on election night, as too much can exacerbate stress and disturb sleep.

Avoiding election stress on election night

While these election season sleep tips may help you get a bit more shuteye over the coming weeks, November 3 itself is bound to be an event all on its own. Staying up late waiting for election results (which may not even be declared that night) and worrying about who will win almost promises that you won’t sleep well that Tuesday or potentially in the nights beyond.

But there are steps you can take to get a better night’s sleep.

Limit your alcohol intake

Be careful about stress drinking on election night, says Rifkin. “Too much alcohol can be dangerous and can definitely hinder your sleep.” A 2013 review of studies on alcohol and sleep published by the Research Society on Alcoholism found that at all doses, alcohol made it harder to fall asleep and caused disruption for the second half of sleep.

Add in magnesium-rich foods

An important mineral required in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, magnesium has been found to reduce the body’s stress response, improve your sleep quality, and potentially lower blood pressure—all things you may need come the first Tuesday in November. Try adding in magnesium-rich dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, avocados, or dark chocolate to your election night dinner, says Mattox.

Keep perspective

“Take heart: This is an historic election,” reminds Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and both a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “If you’ve been emotionally involved in this election for the past 18 months, then think about all that accumulated stress! You, more than anyone, need a good night’s sleep.”

For additional advice on calming your election stress, we’ve put together a list of stress-relieving techniques to improve your sleep.