Stress causes your brain to go into overdrive, overthinking most things and preventing you from being able to drift into a deep sleep. Sleep is vital for keeping your body in good condition and your immune system working properly. What’s more, when you can’t sleep, it can make coping with stress more difficult. We’ve put together this article to help you understand more about coping with stress and sleep.
Common stress and sleep problemsAccording to statistics from The Great British Bedtime Report, “almost half of Britons say that stress or worry keeps them awake at night (47%)”.
There are two main types of sleep problem that are caused by stress:
- Hyperarousal: This is a combination of symptoms that cause hyper anxiety, creating an imbalance between being asleep and being awake.
- Insomnia: Stress and insomnia go hand-in-hand. A cyclical problem, insomnia is caused by difficulty falling asleep and, once asleep, difficulty remaining so. Stress can cause insomnia, and insomnia can worsen stress.
Beyond simply struggling to fall or stay asleep, stress can cause a range of different sleep problems. Some of the most common ones are:
- Nocturnal asthma and breathing difficulty: Like most stress-related sleep problems, nocturnal asthma can be cyclical. The more a sufferer’s asthma prevents them from getting a good night’s sleep, the more stressed out they become due to tiredness and low energy during the day.
- Stress and night sweats: Can stress cause night sweats? When you feel stressed, your body experiences changes that intensify the way you react to threat – hence “fight or flight”. When this change occurs, your perspiration levels can fluctuate causing sweats, which is a result of the active stress response. For this reason, anxiety and night sweats is a common combination. However, if you suddenly begin experiencing night sweats, you should speak with your GP, as they can also be a sign of an underlying physical condition.
- Nocturnal hypoglycaemia: Experienced by some diabetics, nocturnal hypoglycaemia is an episode of low blood sugars during the night. These are not only caused by exercise, insulin use and alcohol consumption during the day, but also sometime by stress. When blood sugar levels decline, the body’s perspiration levels increase, causing night sweats and headaches that can wake the sufferer and make it difficult for them to get back to sleep.
How to cope with stress and sleeplessnessThere are two routes to coping with stress and sleeplessness. The first is dealing with stress itself, such as the triggers and causes.
- Identify the causes or triggers of your stress: Dealing with stress and stress symptoms can vary depending on your situation. The first step is to identify the cause of your stress, as this will help you to make changes to improve your wellbeing. Stress can be caused by anything from work-related pressure, to relationship problems or even illness – understanding your specific trigger is key. You can then speak with your GP, employer or partner to make the changes you need.
- Create a bedtime routine that promotes calm through breathing exercises: Slow inhalation and exhalation can help your body reach a state of calm, even helping to relax your muscles as these can become tight when you’re stressed. Relaxation is particularly important in the hour or two before bed to aid sleep, however, making time for short meditation sessions throughout your day can help you to manage your stress levels. Looking for an easy way to get started? See our guide to bedtime yoga for poses and breathing that you can do before going to sleep.
- Stay fit and healthy: Regular exercise is proven to reduce symptoms of stress with the release of endorphins. What’s more, endorphins can help improve your sleep, which in turn lowers your stress levels. Keeping up with a regular fitness routine is therefore important, even if you don’t feel that you have the time or energy to work out.
- Avoid caffeine: Caffeine stays in your body for up to 15 hours after consumption, so try breaking the habit and swapping your coffees for herbal teas.
- Use calming scents: Introduce a light, pleasant fragrance to your bedroom. All your senses can heighten when you’re stressed, so a calming, relaxing scent will help you unwind. If you associate nice thoughts with a specific scent, introduce this to your bedroom.
- Sound and light: Sometimes, total darkness can trigger stress and anxiety, so plug-in night lights will help to keep you relaxed. If you’d rather not go to sleep in silence, nature audio soundtracks such as rain or woodland life can help take your mind away from the causes of your stress.
- Practise good sleep hygiene: Try to maintain a regular bedtime routine. This can prove to be difficult, but if your body gets used to a routine and starts to sleep better and for longer, your stress symptoms could improve. According to a recent study, 7% of Britons have no regular bed time.
- Choose bedding to aid sleep: If stress is causing you night sweats, or your allergies are preventing you from sleeping and causing you to feel stressed, a change to your bedding could help aid sleep. Wool bedding is temperature regulating, keeping you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold. Wool bedding is also hypoallergenic, creating a sleep environment where allergens struggle to survive, absorbing moisture and regulating your body as you sleep.
If you are looking for more ideas to help improve your sleep, visit our Sleep Health & Advice hub.