How To Relax After Work So You Can Go To Sleep Stress Free, According To Science

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When you come home at the end of the day, I'm willing to bet one of the only things you really want to do is just go to sleep. But even if you've had an exceptionally taxing or stressful day, it can be surprisingly hard to actually wind down and doze off. Of course, this only makes your exhaustion all the more frustrating: The more tired you are, the more difficult it can be to go to sleep. For your own sanity, not to mention your sleep cycle (and, let's be real, those two are definitely intertwined), figuring out how to relax after work is essential, so that you can fall asleep faster and be ready to tackle the day all over again when you wake up the next morning.

Now, as much as you may want to just plop right down on your bed as soon as you get home from work, new research says that might not be an ideal way to catch some quality Zs later on that night. According to a new study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, the best thing you can do before going to bed is wipe the slate clean between work and rest. Taking a "mental break," the research explains — whether it's in the form of a fun, post-work exercise class, or a 20-minute meditation in your living room — can help you drop all of the stress and negativity of the day, and as a result, help you feel more mentally relaxed so you can go to sleep more easily.

The study, which was run by lead author Caitlin Demsky, Ph.D., of Oakland University, surveyed nearly 700 participants who work for the U.S. Forest Service, and asked them to rate a series of factors in their work day, including any rude behavior they experience from co-workers, the frequency of any negative thoughts they have about work, and their overall ability to detach from work and mentally relax.

So yeah, according to this research, that annoying co-worker you can't stand is literally keeping you up at night.

The results of the study were startling, but when you think about it, the findings also make complete and total sense: When participants in the study reported having a lot of negative feelings about work, researchers found this was usually linked to higher levels of insomnia. But for people who were able to take a "mental break" after clocking out for the day, by leaving the negativity behind for something like yoga, instead, they were able to sleep much more easily and enjoy better rest overall.

According to the research, dealing with repeated "incivility" in the workplace led to a whole host of health issues, including higher blood pressure, increased fatigue, and even a higher likelihood of heart disease. In other words, dealing with mean, unfriendly, or otherwise unkind co-workers is seriously bad for you — and taking that toxicity home with you is even worse.

Although this study specifically mentioned activities like going for a walk and doing yoga as strategies that the participants used to shake off their bad work vibes, the emphasis was really just on the general idea of taking a mental break after you leave work for the day — meaning yoga and walking are definitely not your only options, here. Plenty of other activities could serve as mental breaks, as well, as long as they get your mind off of your brutal day at the office.

Giving your mind a mental break after work is basically like hitting the "reset" button on your day.

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Meditating, reading a book, or even watching your favorite Netflix series could all do the trick to change up your mindset, as long as these activities are effective in soothing you, rather than riling you up. So yeah, that happy hour you set up with your best friend to rant at her about your annoying boss might not exactly make you feel better — or, at the very least, it likely won't help you sleep better.

Of course, the potentially bigger issue here — i.e. working in a toxic office — is something you might want to take into consideration, too. If you're working with people who are so negative and unfriendly that it's starting to affect your health, it might be time to speak up, or it may even be a sign that you should find a new job altogether.

Either way, these everyday microaggressions are, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of life, and often an inevitable part of a work environment, too. But even though these things are usually part of the package deal that is adulting, let this research be a wakeup call for you to prioritize finding those little ways to center yourself when you get home — not just for better sleep, but for a better quality of life, too.