The Impact of Stress on Sleep: Causes and Solutions

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You can’t beat the feeling of waking up after getting a good, refreshing sleep. Not least because attaining seven to nine hours of quality slumber every night plays a vital role in maintaining our physical and mental well-being. However, it’s hard to sleep if you are feeling stressed. And if this stress starts to affect your ability to do so on a regular basis, then you may have a problem.

For many people, stress is a part of their everyday lives. Often due to pressing concerns about money, their relationships, workload, job or a loved one who is suffering from illness or generally having a hard time. So, how do you sleep when you are feeling stressed?

In this post, we will take a look at the relationship between stress and sleep, evaluating some of the main factors that can cause disrupted sleep patterns. We will also examine practical solutions you can adopt to improve your chances of sleeping if you are currently suffering from stress.

Should you find yourself in this boat, we hope this guide will help you overcome your issues.

Why is Sleep Important?

Sleep is a basic human need that plays a pivotal role in maintaining our overall health and cognitive functions.

When you sleep, your mind and body start to restore itself. In doing so, it enables your tissues to repair and regenerate. It also improves your immune system and cardiovascular health and balances your hormones. At the same time, it also consolidates your memories, enhances your mood and improves your cognitive performance.

Unfortunately, when you don’t get sleep, it can lead to various health problems, such as an increased risk of depression, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 

For this reason, one should always prioritise getting a good sleep every single night.

How Does Stress Affect Sleep?

Stress can have a significant impact on both the quality and amount of sleep a person gets.

If a person is stressed, their body releases hormones like cortisol, which often leads to a heightened sense of arousal and alertness, that can make it more difficult to sleep. Moreover, chronic stress can cause severe disruption to your body clock – the mechanism responsible for regulating your cycle of sleeping and staying awake. If this happens, it could result in anxious thoughts and worries that can lead to insomnia.

The real kicker is that the relationship between stress and sleep is bidirectional. Therefore, poor sleep quality can increase stress levels, which can lead to even worse sleep that further exacerbates stress levels, creating a cycle that can have debilitating effects.

It is important, therefore, to be aware of what is making you stressed and to manage the condition through relaxation techniques, mindfulness and other healthy coping mechanisms.

What makes people stressed?

According to a report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 15% of Aussies between the ages of 16 and 85 endure high to very high levels of psychological distress. 

This distress is more prevalent in young Australians between the ages of 16 and 34 (20%) than in older people between the ages of 65 and 85 years (9%). So it is worth exploring what makes people stressed.

Work-related issues, financial concerns, relationship strain, health challenges and lifestyle factors are the primary sources of stress for many Aussies. Any of which can cause havoc to their sleep patterns.

Here’s how they can trigger stress in people.

Work-Related Issues

Many people are under severe pressure at work. Not only do they have to manage tight deadlines, budgets and demanding workloads, but there is also the constant threat of job insecurity, meeting targets and potentially having to deal with toxic managers or colleagues.

This can create a high-stress environment that extends well beyond your contracted hours and into your evenings, manifesting itself in negative thoughts and anxieties that can impact upon sleep.

Financial Concerns

A recent study by the Australian National University revealed that around 40% of Aussies described themselves as poor or struggling to make ends meet. For these people, concerns about paying the bills, managing their debts or facing financial instability can significantly contribute to stress.

It follows then, that the more anxious you are about your financial health, the less likely you are to be able to relax and sleep well.

Relationship Strain

Another big cause of stress can be your personal relationships. Whether that be with your partner, children, parents, siblings or friends, situations that lead to arguments, feelings of being let down or taken for granted can lead to resentment and feelings of emotional distress.

If you regularly see the individuals concerned, or the matter has simmered for a considerable length of time, it can result in you experiencing heightened stress levels that can impact your ability to sleep.

Health Challenges

Another major cause of stress is chronic health conditions, which could include everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and sleep apnea.

When they interfere with your or your loved one’s ability to perform common everyday functions, it can lead to significant worry that could mentally and physically drain you by day and keep you awake at night.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle can also be a trigger for stress. So, if you have a poor diet, don’t do much in the way of exercise, drink and smoke or use electronic devices too much, it can end up significantly affecting your physical and mental well-being.

At the same time, it can contribute to increased stress and lack of sleep.

Solutions for Better Sleep

So, if you are feeling stressed, how do you go about getting better sleep?

Well, thankfully, there are several strategies you can put in place to help you achieve the consistent seven to nine hours you need on a daily basis to function at optimal levels.

They include the following:

Establish a Regular Bedtime Routine

A good starting point for getting improved sleep is to give yourself every chance to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. This means going to bed at a time that will enable you to do so.

If you go to bed at midnight but need to get up at six in the morning to get ready for work, then you are putting yourself on the back foot from the get-go. Therefore, choose a consistent time to go to bed every night – including weekends. To help you induce sleep, you should also create a calming bedtime routine that can help your body wind down for the night. 

This could include activities like reading a book, practising mindfulness meditation, listening to sleep music or taking a warm bath. In turn, this can help relax your mind and body to promote better sleep.

Limit Screen Time

One thing that is not recommended to do when creating this bedtime routine is to use electronic devices. That is because the blue light emitted by laptops, mobile phones and iPads can limit the production of the sleep hormone melatonin – which, of course, makes it harder to sleep.

As a result, don’t look at your screens for at least an hour before you try and go to sleep. It might take discipline, but doing this can significantly improve the quality of your slumber by allowing the body to naturally fall into a more relaxed state.

Manage and Prioritise Workload

It is amazing how productive and less stressed we can be if we stop worrying about all the things we have to do at work and just get on and do it.

By invoking the two-minute rule – i.e. completing first all tasks that take less than two minutes to perform – and prioritising the remainder by the date when they are due you will go a long way towards managing work-related stresses. If need be, you should also delegate where you can minimise disruptions such as non-work related conversations.

Doing this will help you to create a healthy work-life balance that will reduce the chance of work-related stresses from creeping into your evening hour thoughts.

Financial Planning and Budgeting

If your worries relate to finances it is worth seeking advice from a financial expert who can help you to plan, invest and budget your finances. Doing this can also be an excellent way to cut out any unnecessary costs you incur that will improve your financial position.

Developing a realistic budget and planning your finances will help you alleviate the stress you might feel from concerns you have with money. Just be sure to stick to the budget once you have drawn it up.

Seek Support for Relationship Issues

A problem shared is a problem halved, so you should also seek professional guidance on any relationship challenges you may be experiencing.

Putting yourself in a supportive and understanding environment can help you come to terms with and think through the issue. It can also help you verbalise and rationalise your feelings about it, without feeling like you are being judged.

Talking about your relationship issues through with a professional who has your best interests at heart will go a long way towards alleviating the levels of stress you are experiencing.

Exercise More

Getting regular exercise is very beneficial to your health and well-being in general, but it has been proven to be an excellent way to reduce stress and improve sleep quality.

It doesn’t matter if you go walking, running, cycling or pilates; the more active you are, the more likely you are to enjoy better sleep due to reduced stress.

Treat Underlying Sleep Conditions

If you or your partner is suffering from a sleep condition like sleep apnea, then you might find your sleep patterns are very disrupted, which in turn could lead to high levels of stress.

Often characterised by snoring or a loud rasping sound, sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It can regularly be rectified by using a CPAP machine.

For more information on sleep apnea click here.

Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation

One of the best ways to reduce your stress levels and, therefore, improve your chances of sleep is by engaging in mindfulness and relaxation practices.

Mindfulness encourages individuals to detach themselves from overwhelming thoughts, which can reduce the grip stress has on the mind. Congruently, relaxation techniques – like deep breathing – make your body relax more, therefore lowering cortisol levels and promoting a tranquil state conducive to sleep. 

When combined, these simple practices can be very powerful ways to reduce your levels of stress and feel calmer and more resilient.

The post The Impact of Stress on Sleep: Causes and Solutions appeared first on Wellbeing Magazine.

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