Sleep and stress have a complicated relationship. This is because sleep and stress can both have a profound effect on each other. A lack of restful sleep can cause you to be stressed, while stress itself has been linked with various physical and mental health problems, including poor sleep.
The relationship between stress and sleep is important to understand if you want to get enough good quality sleep because stress can negatively affect your body's ability to fall asleep. Although it is normal for people to experience stress, especially when they live through traumatic events or have difficult situations in their lives, too much stress can lead to sleep problems.
In this article, we shall look at the relationship between stress and sleep, including how stress can affect your sleep and what you can do to reduce stress and get better quality sleep.
What is Stress?
Stress has been described as an imbalance between the demands made on us by life and our ability to deal with those demands. It is important to understand what stress really is to appreciate the effects it can have on sleep, so we shall look at some of the most common causes of stress.
There are many different sources of stress in our modern world, including school or work pressures, arguments with family and friends, financial difficulties and health problems. All these factors have the potential to cause you stress.
However, a particularly common source of stress for many people is the work-home balance, which can often lead to difficult choices about spending time with family or catching up on household chores.
It is important to be aware that it's normal and healthy to experience some degree of stress as part of everyday life. For example, you will experience a degree of stress when going for a job interview.
The problem arises when stress becomes overwhelming and interferes with your ability to live a normal life, as it can affect your physical and mental health.
Common Symptoms of Stress
Although stress can often build up gradually over time, it is also possible for the symptoms to appear suddenly. If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, then you could be suffering from stress:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue Feelings of hopelessness
- Increased heart rate
- Nervous habits
- Physical aches and pains such as headaches, backaches and stomach aches
- Changes in sleeping habits
People often experience some or many of these symptoms when they are suffering from stress. These changes in mood and behaviour can be caused by the secretion of certain chemicals produced by our body during times of stress.
These chemicals, known as cortisol and adrenaline, are the "stress hormones" that influence your body in a number of ways.
Arguably one of the most important effects these stress hormones have is their effect on sleep. Both cortisol and adrenaline suppress activity in the central nervous system, making it much more difficult for you to fall asleep.
When you don't get enough sleep, this can lead to increased irritability and anxiety and further problems with falling asleep.
What is Sleep?
Sleep is a natural state in which your mind and body relaxes. During sleep, your body works incredibly hard to keep you healthy by producing hormones that make it easier for you to lose weight, build muscle, reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease and keep your skin glowing.
During sleep, the body must be given time to rest and recuperate. During sleep, your body carries out essential maintenance on muscles, tissues, and organs to ensure they are working correctly.
When you don't get enough sleep, the body becomes overwhelmed and will make up for lost time at the first opportunity, so sleep deprivation often results in people sleeping long hours.
The amount of sleep required by an individual varies between individuals; however, most people need somewhere between seven and eight hours of sleep a night to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The importance of sleep
Lack of sleep affects just about every system in your body - from your immune system, which helps you fight illnesses such as colds and flu, to your digestive system, which means that you're more likely than usual to suffer from stomach aches or constipation.
Sleep is just as crucial for the brain, though - not only does it affect memory and mental agility, but lack of sleep can lead to depression.
Sleep deprivation has been linked with a decline in cognitive abilities such as decision making, problem-solving and attention span.
Not only that but having a good night's sleep is vital for your physical health as well - regular sleeplessness has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney damage and diabetes.
But how can you achieve your best night's sleep with all the distractions of modern living?
How stress can have negative effects on your body's ability to fall asleep
Stress can have negative effects on your body's ability to fall asleep. This is because cortisol, the hormone known as the "stress hormone," has an inhibiting effect on melatonin production.
Melatonin is the sleep-inducing chemical in our brains that prepares us for bedtime - without it, you won't feel tired.
If you are stressed, then you are more likely to be awake for long periods at night or have trouble falling asleep in the first place.
Even worse, if your stress levels continue throughout the night because you can't fall asleep or stay asleep, it will interfere with your ability to feel rested and refreshed in the morning.
So how can we manage our stress levels to let the body get on with repairing itself?
Tips for managing stress
Exercise is one of the best ways to release tension and reduce cortisol - it will help you feel more relaxed, stronger, fitter and calmer. It's also beneficial to do some deep breathing exercises before bedtime.
As you lie in bed, focus on breathing deeply from your diaphragm - as you breathe in, see if you can expand your stomach rather than just your chest. This helps the body to release tension and cortisol more effectively.
2. A restful bedtime routine
It's best not to watch TV or read before bed. Instead, go for a walk after dinner, bathing the mind in natural light for an hour beforehand, which helps reset your body clock - otherwise known as your circadian rhythm.
Try to avoid caffeine in the evening, too - it can stop you from feeling tired and lead to trouble sleeping.
3. Getting outside in daylight
If you don't get enough natural light during the day, it can increase your stress levels and make it harder to sleep at night.
Try going outside when possible - even if just for a 5-minute walk around the block with your dog or to pick up the post.
10 ways to get a good night's rest
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated: lack of sleep affects just about every system in your body, from your immune system to your brain and heart. If you're tired, it's hard for your body to repair itself and maintain health.
So how can you achieve your best night's sleep with all the distractions of modern living?
1. It starts with being aware of your sleep needs.
Everyone has sleep needs that are unique to them; this means that getting enough sleep requires different amounts of time for different people.
It is important to find out what amount of sleep suits you best, which may mean experimenting with different sleeping habits.
2. Create a soothing pre-sleep routine.
A warm bath, light reading, meditation, or other relaxing activity can help your body prepare for restful slumber. It's best to go to bed when you are feeling sleepy rather than forcing yourself to go to sleep.
3. Be aware of your sleep environment
Your bedroom can affect your sleep, so you must have a room conducive to sleep in. Ideal bedroom conditions include:
- Cool (60 degrees or less)
- Dark (especially if you need absolute darkness to sleep)
- Quiet (since noises can wake you up during the night, especially if they are strange or sudden; try using earplugs if you live near noisy neighbours or if traffic noise keeps you up)
"Your brain is very smart, and it's going to respond to the cues that are given to it," Sack says. "So if you go into a room that's dark… you know it's time for sleep, or your body knows at least."
4. Sleep at the same time every night
Sleeping and waking up at regular times lets your body's internal clock know what to expect, which can help your sleep cycle stay consistent. Going to bed early on weekends may affect this schedule, so it's best to keep it consistent on the weekends as well.
5. Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime
Exercising is good for your health, but exercising less than three hours before you go to bed can leave you feeling energized and thus cause difficulty sleeping. If possible, exercise in the morning or afternoon to not affect your night's rest.
6. Reduce caffeinated drinks 6 to 8 hours before bedtime
Coffee, tea, cola, and other caffeine-containing beverages can make it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. If possible, stop all caffeine consumption at least 6 hours before bedtime.
7. Avoid alcohol before bed
Drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly, but it can disrupt your sleep later on in the night and make it less restful overall. It is best to avoid drinking close to bedtime.
8. Give yourself at least 30 minutes of "winding down" time before going to bed
This can be time to take a bath or read and is designed to reduce your body's stress hormones. It can help you clear your mind and make it easier to fall asleep when you get into bed.
9. Make a list of things that are worrying you before going to sleep
Writing down your problems can help you clear your mind so that instead of thinking about all the things you have to do or what might go wrong tomorrow, you focus on being relaxed.
10. Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime
Eating a big meal can cause indigestion, which might wake you up in the night. Save your large meal for earlier in the evening if possible, or have a smaller meal before going to sleep.
Final Thought on Stress and Sleep
In conclusion, getting enough sleep is vitally important for your health, yet it's hard for many people to get enough of it.
This is because stress can negatively affect your body's ability to fall asleep, so it's important to know how best to manage stress to reap the benefits of a good night's sleep.
If you spend some time and effort creating a pre-sleep routine and finding an environment conducive to sleep, you can get the restful slumber you need.
Hope you found this article helpful. Feel free to leave comments below. Thanks for reading! 🙂