How Does Stress Affect Sleep?

How often do you lay in bed tossing and turning, unable to drift off because your brain is in overdrive worrying about the stresses of your day? Not sleeping due to stress is incredibly common. In fact, research on stress and sleep by the American Psychological Association, found that 43% of Americans felt stress had caused them to lay awake at night in the month prior to the study.

Read on to find out why and how stress affects sleep, and some sleep and stress management tips you can try to help you nod off even when your brain is determined to keep you up all night.

How stress affects sleep

Stress makes it more difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep. It also affects the quality of your sleep. But why does this happen? There are several reasons we can find ourselves not sleeping due to stress:

Thinking about the anxieties of the day

It’s not unusual to find your mind wandering towards things that have happened during the day. Naturally we want to solve unanswered questions and mull over decisions we have made. But even the smallest concerns can seem insurmountable in the quiet of the night, leading to disturbed sleep as you wrestle with these inner worries.

Excess Cortisol in your system

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It is what gives you the burst of energy you need to respond to a dangerous or stressful situation. It can make you feel alert and slightly trembly. What it doesn’t help you do is sleep. In fact, quite the opposite. Cortisol can build up over time due to chronic stress and can seriously impact your sleep patterns and even cause stress related sleep disorders.

Not giving yourself time to sleep

If you’re not in bed you can’t be asleep. When we’re busy (and stressed) we tend to deprioritize sleep, assuming we can do without it while we make sure everything gets done. This puts a great deal of stress on our bodies.

Binging on caffeine and sugar

It’s quite common for people who are running on stress and adrenaline to reach for more caffeine and sugary snacks than they would normally. Not only is this bad for health, but it can really inhibit sleep too.

Can stress make you tired? Well, if all the above are true, and you’re not getting the required 7-9 hours of shut eye, then yes, stress can definitely make you tired.

How does sleep reduce stress?

The connection between stress and sleep can swiftly become a vicious cycle. You don’t sleep because you’re stressed, which makes you more tired, which affects your mood making you more stressed by things that occur. And the irony here is that the one thing that would make you feel almost immediately better is getting a good night’s sleep. But you’re not sleeping due to stress!

So, how does sleep help with stress? How can sleep reduce stress?

Sleep supports and repairs almost every function in the body. It improves mood, reduces blood pressure and helps the brain to process memories and experiences from the previous day. It also increases our energy levels so we awake feeling ready to face the new day, and much more able to tackle any stressful situations that may arise. Sleeping well and feeling good have been proven to reduce stress levels.

But when it comes to stress and sleep, it’s not as easy as saying, “just sleep more!”

Sleep & stress management: What can you do?

Here are some of our top tips to try when you find you’re not sleeping due to stress:
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants
  • Give yourself time to wind down before bed, perhaps by reading a book or listening to music
  • Practice meditation and deep breathing exercises to calm your brain and body
  • Choose wool bedding that is proven to increase deep regenerative sleep by 25%
  • Keep a pen and paper beside your bed to write down the worries that are troubling you
  • Consider talking to a therapist if your anxieties become too great
If you’re struggling with sleep and stress management and it is starting to have a real impact on your daily life, see your physician for advice.

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