Pop quiz: What habit can help you maintain weight, manage your mood and foster creative thinking? If you guessed "getting a full night's rest," there’s a gold star coming your way. You may be one of a small group of people who catch 7 to 8 hours of restorative sleep every night. But, more likely, you're among the majority of Americans who lie awake, worrying about finances. A June 2015 CreditCards.com poll found that 62 percent of adults lose sleep over money matters.
"Stress is the number one cause of insomnia, and there's no area more ripe for stress than money," says Rebecca S. Robbins, a sleep researcher and co-author of “Sleep for Success!”
Just how detrimental is a lack of shut-eye? In a word: very. And dark circles or under-eye bags aren’t the only symptoms. From your waistline to your immune system to your peace of mind, nearly every aspect of your well-being can be thrown out of whack without proper rest.
"There's a real, recursive relationship between sleep and stress," Robbins explains. "If you're getting good sleep you're able to put more things in perspective; manage your mood; manage your appetite; feel better physically, personally, interpersonally; and then you sleep better. But if you're stressed out, you're emotionally eating, you're getting in fights with the people around you and you're generally unhappy, and it's going to cause sleep difficulties."
So how do you visit dreamland without an unwanted stopover in “stressville”? Try this two-pronged plan of attack before you hit the hay:
Step 1: Make a plan for your finances—stat
Getting your money management on track is the first step to quieting the stress cycle that’s keeping you awake.
"Everybody hates the word 'budget,'” says Shannah Compton Game, a certified financial planner and millennial money strategist. “But there's a principle in budgeting that's really key for everybody to learn," she says.
Knowing exactly how much money is coming in and going out means you’re less likely to be staring at the bedroom ceiling come bedtime, wondering how you’re going to make rent at the end of the month. Rather than letting stray fears keep you from drifting off—wait, did I pay that car bill?—you can calm your mind by reminding yourself that you have a financial plan and your to-do list is on track.
If looming what-ifs are keeping you awake (what if I lose my job, what if I get sick and can’t pay the hospital bill, what if someone dings my car?), an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses can be a sleep salve.
"People always push back and say, 'Oh my gosh, saving six months of expenses is going to take me so long,' but just start right now—even if you can only put $25 in a savings account," Compton Game says. “Starting to save will take a huge amount of stress off of you." And with less stress, comes more sleep.
Step 2: Start a quiet-your-mind sleep routine
With a financial plan in place, stress is less likely to keep you awake. But you still might need to develop some good sleep habits to have a restful night.
Robbins recommends two activities to de-stress and help prepare yourself for a better night’s rest: "Number one is exercise, which is one of the best cures for stress. Make that a priority. Number two is relaxation strategies.”
There are even relaxation apps you can download from your smartphone, which Robbins says can be great resources. “They give you guided imagery so you can walk through a garden or have the ocean rolling up against the shore.”
She also recommends cultivating a relaxing sleep ritual, whether it be taking a warm shower, brewing a cup of comforting (decaffeinated) tea or journaling about your worries to put them out of your mind before getting under the covers.
"Managing your stress to get good sleep is absolutely critical," Robbins says. "There's a real positive feedback loop there."