Understanding the Relationship Between Stress and Sleep

Many people don’t realize just how important sleep is for the mind and body. After all, sleep deprivation has a huge impact on your everyday life. If you don’t get enough sleep, not only will you feel drowsy throughout the day, but you’ll become irritable, unable to concentrate or think clearly, and even have trouble forming memories. The lack of sleep can lead to anxiety, and stress can lead to a lack of sleep. As you can imagine, this negative cycle can continue to play on if you don’t properly intervene.

How It Works

Now that you know stress correlates with sleep, it’s important to understand how this happens. When a person receives any type of perceived threat—whether physical or mental—it triggers your body’s stress response. That stress response then manifests itself physically in many ways, including shallow breathing and the release of adrenaline.

The chemicals that are released in these types of situations ignite the “fight or flight” response, and can leave an individual on edge, as they aren’t sure how to respond in the best way. Often, your body shows signs of being stressed and you aren’t even aware of it. If you’ve ever found yourself losing sleep because of something stressful that happened, it’s your mind and body’s way of being unsure how to handle a particular situation.

Identifying Your Stress Source

It’s clear that stress can result in sleepless nights. But as previously mentioned, not everyone can pinpoint their source of stress easily. Sometimes, there are multiple causes for stress. If you find that you’re too busy, in work and/or your personal life, it could easily create stress that’s difficult to identify.

Major life changes, unpredictable events, and lack of social life are all major factors that could contribute to your stress and result in lack of sleep. Another way to identify your stress source is to speak to a licensed therapist or take stress management classes. By identifying your source of stress, you’re able to better employ effective tactics aimed at dealing with your specific case.

Ways to Decrease Stress

If you’ve found that stress is prohibiting you from getting a good night’s sleep, there are several methods you can try to help alleviate it.

Practice Your Breathing

According to Sherman Counseling, a therapist in Greenbay WI, practicing breathing exercises is an effective way to prevent an anxiety attack and re-ground yourself. “In addition to grounding methods for anxiety attacks, breathing exercises can reduce feelings of anxiety in the moment,” says Sherman Counseling. “These techniques are simple to perform, and they are highly effective. Whether you experience frequent anxiety attacks or you’ve only gone through a couple of them, you can use these strategies to keep yourself calm in a panic attack.”

Give Yourself a Mental Health Day

A mental health day is a day that’s geared specifically towards managing your stress and preventing burnout. It’s a day where you dedicate your time and resources to becoming more mentally, emotionally, and physically sound. Of course, you may not be able to solve all your issues in one day, but that’s perfectly normal. The goal isn’t to fix everything in 24 hours, but to give yourself a moment to pause, reflect, and regroup. Come up with a plan for managing your stress, and start practicing.

Get Involved in Meditation

Meditation is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress and get on a straight path with better sleep (check out this helpful meditation guide to help you get started). By practicing meditation for as little as ten minutes per day, you can improve your cardiovascular health. You will better control your stress and anxiety, And you will learn how to properly relax the mind and body for better sleep.

There are several types of meditation, but mindfulness meditation has proven particularly when it comes to fighting insomnia and improving sleep. A study conducted by Internal Medicine analyzed sleep patterns of older adults who had difficulty sleeping and found that those who practiced mindful meditation had “less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions.”

Keep a Journal

Believe it or not, there is a connection between writing, stress, and sleep. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that writing for just five minutes before going to sleep helped transition the mind into a peaceful slumber. Writing before you fall asleep helps to release some of the thoughts that cycle through your mind throughout the day, and by putting your thoughts physically on paper, you’re able to offload much of your stressors. This can decrease your cognitive arousal, which in turn makes it easier to get into the rhythm of bedtime.


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