How Stress Affects Your Sleep
Do you find yourself struggling to nod off at night, and that stresses you out, then you really struggle to fall asleep, which makes you over-tired and even more stressed? You're not alone. In a recent national sleep survey, 40 percent of respondents said they aren't getting the recommended amount of rest (which, by the way, is 7-9 hours for adults). So many stressors (pun intended) can trigger stress for us nowadays, from traffic jams to running late for work or prepping for an important meeting. Prolonged exposure to this kind of fight or flight stress can result in shorter sleep duration and poorer quality sleep.
How stress affects sleep
Put simply, stress makes it more tricky to fall asleep and stay asleep. It also affects the quality of your sleep. So what can put 'stress' on your body and mind to affect your sleep?
Maybe you're thinking about the anxieties of the day
Naturally, at night, when we have stopped moving around so much, we want to solve unanswered questions and mull over decisions we have made.
There might be excess cortisol in your system
Cortisol is the stress hormone - which gives you the burst of energy you need to respond to a dangerous or stressful situation, and helps with alertness. What it doesn’t help with? Sleep.
You're not giving yourself enough of a sleep window
If you’re not in bed you can’t be asleep. When we’re busy (or just really into a Netflix series) we tend to de-prioritise sleep time and this leads to less time for your body to fall (and stay) asleep, which increases anxiety around bedtime.
You might be binging on caffeine and sugar
Remember that original scenario of first struggling to fall asleep, which then causes anxiety and more sleepless nights? Cue exhaustion. And that overtired feeling might lead to you consuming a few too many cups of caffeine. Not only is this bad for your health, but it can really inhibit sleep too.
How does sleep reduce stress?
The connection between stress and sleep can very quickly 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. And that leads to more bad nights of sleep.
So, how can sleep help to 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 that when we are awake, we feel like we can actually face the day and face stressful situations.
Tricks to get better sleep to reduce stress:
Sniff on lavender.
Studies have shown that the floral scent relaxes the body and mind so sleep is more easily within reach.
Practice relaxation techniques.
Whether it's meditation, bed yoga or deep breathing, any activity that can help quieten your mind so you can drift off to dreamland, will do.
Discard your thoughts.
Grab a pen and paper and write down what you're feeling -- then physically throw them away. Research shows this trick will help clear your mind of negative thoughts that might keep you up at night.
Consider your sleep hygiene.
Everything from what and how much you eat during the day and at night, to your caffeine intake, your bedroom decor and your night-time exposure to screens, can affect your sleep (and stress levels, for that matter). We dive deeper into these topics here.
Written by Nina Clark (founder)