You may be aware that stress adversely affects one’s sleep. But what you might not be aware of is that even under the most stressful of times, there are effective ways to reduce the stress in your life and help you get a better night’s sleep. Considering this your 101 on stress and sleep.
The Link Between Stress and Sleep
The first thing you need to know in order to understand the link between stress and sleep is exactly what stress is. Think of your body as a well-regulated machine. This machine has all sorts of systems that work in an orderly manner: your heart beats at a regular pace; you digest food at a regular pace; you wake and sleep at a regular pace. Stress is anything that causes a disruption to this rhythm. Stress can be physical, psychological, or emotional.
When stress affects your sleep, however, it becomes a vicious cycle. Lacking the sleep required to re-energize after a day’s work, causes your body to go into high alert mode releasing cortisol, a hormone that cause an even higher level of stress. This not only makes it more difficult to sleep, but also affects memory, the immune system, and other important bodily functions.
Signs You’re Overly Stressed
One of the more obvious ways to recognize if you’re overstressed is when you don’t seem able to turn off your mind. You keep going over your problems again and again, trying over and over to find some solution. You worry. You obsess. You are frustrated. You look at problems from all different angles, but it still doesn’t change your stress level.
Another symptom of overt stress is more physical, a tightness in the muscles. You may feel aches and pains in your upper or lower back, your neck, your shoulders. You can get tension headaches. This muscle tightness can continue as you lay down to try and sleep. Not only does this hinder your attempt at sleeping, but also worsens your pain the next morning.
Excessive sweating, known as hyperhidrosis is another physical sign of stress. It’s hard enough to go through the day always being sweatier than everyone around you, let alone when you’re trying to unwind and sleep. This relentless nocturnal perspiration affects your quality of sleep, further exacerbating your troubles and leading to more stress. It’s important to note however, that excessive sweating has a variety of causes. If this is the primary symptom you are experiencing, it may be wise to consult a doctor to see if stress is the root cause for you.
A racing mind can also lead to a racing heart. It’s perfectly normal for one’s heart to race when confronted with a stressful situation but if your heart keeps racing after the stressful event has passed, it’s likely a sign of severe stress. A racing heart is associated with elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, greater physical tension, and increased autonomic arousal. None of these are conducive to a good night’s sleep.
How To Unwind and Get a Better Night’s Sleep
On a more positive note, there are several practices and habits you can adopt to help you relax and maximize your hours of sleep.
- The first thing you need to do is learn how to properly prepare for sleep. For starters, refrain from caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep for six hours prior to going to bed. Also, avoid eating too close to bedtime or taking naps. Establish a routine just before going to bed at night that will help you to relax: a warm bath, reading, and relaxation exercises. Avoid work or heavy exercise.
- Make your bedroom more conducive to sleeping. Keep your bedroom as quiet and dark as possible. This may require white noise devices for the sound, or heavy curtains to block out the light. Also, keep the room cool (60-75 degrees) and well ventilated. Sleep on a comfortable mattress with comfortable pillows. Turn your clocks so that they face away from you, in order to avoid staring at them all night. Try to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and intimacy only.
- Help set your internal clock by keeping a fixed sleep schedule. Let light into your room when you wake up in the morning, and exposure yourself to natural light during the day. This light will also help to set your internal clock. Finally, sleep only when tired.
If you can’t fall asleep, don’t lay there and get frustrated. Get up and return when you are ready to fall asleep.
While these steps may not rid you entirely of your stress, they will certainly be a positive first step to establish a healthy routine. If you find that your sleep doesn’t improve after a few weeks, it may be time to consult your family doctor to learn about other naturally helpful tools to help reduce your stress and increase your nightly sleep.