The Link Between Stress and Sleep
Sleep is as important for your health as nutrition, but many adults simply don’t get enough. Stress can be just one reason for this. But, there are ways to rest easier at night. Let’s explore the link between stress and sleep in more depth.
Stress and sleep explained
Despite this, there are benefits to this reciprocal relationship, as when you improve one – you can often improve the other.
Why does stress impact sleep?
Stress and sleep have an unhealthy relationship because stress can cause the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to release hormones2. This includes adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. This can have a number of impacts on the body that make it difficult to drift off, including:
- Raised heart rate
- More blood circulated to vital organs and muscles
- The ‘fight or flight’ response, which prepares the body to take immediate action if necessary
- Heightened state of arousal
- Continued alertness
- Rapid, anxious thoughts
Feeling stressed every now and again is perfectly normal. However, chronic feelings of stress will lead to sleep deprivation, which can have many negative consequences on both physical and mental health.
Why is sleep good for stress?
So, does sleep help stress? Truthfully, yes, it does – though it can be easier said than done to get the necessary amount on a regular basis.
Most adults need between 6 to 9 hours a night3, every night. Reminder: this should be quality sleep. This is where (ideally) you wake up no more than once in the night and fall asleep within 30 minutes4.
Sleep is a powerful stress diffuser for a number of reasons:
- A regular routine calms the body
- Strengthens immune system
- Improves concentration
- Sharpens judgement
- Regulates mood
- Makes you a better problem solver
- Improves decision making5
When we don’t get enough sleep, we impair a necessary human function that allows us to recharge and our bodies to rest. Sleep is also vital for things like memory consolidation and muscle repair6.
How to sleep when stressed and anxious
While more of us need to make sleep a priority, for some, drifting off at night simply isn’t that easy. So, how can you lower stress levels before bed, to improve both the quality and duration of sleep?
Regular exercise is a powerful tool when it comes to improving both physical and mental health, as well as general wellbeing. Those who exercise, on average, tend to sleep for longer.
However, it’s important you don’t carry out any high-intensity exercise just before bed, as you’ll stimulate your nervous system and heart rate too much7. Give your body at least an hour to wind down.
Stick to a schedule
Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends)8. Set an alarm to regulate your sleep schedule and circadian rhythm, helping to form healthy patterns.
A routine, or ‘bedtime’ isn’t just for children, but can be beneficial for adults who aren’t getting enough sleep at night.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation before bed can be a stress reliever and will help to relax your body. In fact, meditation has a number of health benefits, not just for mental wellbeing. However, studies show it can improve stress-related outcomes in diverse adults, including depression and anxiety9.
Try meditating 10-30 minutes before bed, rather than looking at a screen.
It can be hard to deal with the problem if you don’t know what you’re up against. Try and pinpoint the source of stress so you can manage it accordingly. You can then seek the necessary support from friends and family (or professionals) if needed.
Even if the source of stress isn’t obvious, such as bereavement, it may well be there, and impacting your sleep. Try and locate the source, looking at all aspects of your life.
Make necessary lifestyle changes
If you can’t identify the source of stress, maybe zoom out and look at the bigger picture. There are many different elements that could be causing a lack of sleep and therefore contributing to (or causing) stress.
Making changes to your habits and lifestyle can make a huge difference. This includes:
Know when to get up
Lying there trying to force your body to fall asleep, while a number of anxious thoughts go around your head, will not solve the problem. Reading a book, meditating, or listening to some calming music can be a better option when it comes to drifting off. Give one of those a try if you can’t fall asleep after 30 minutes.
It’s easier said than done, but try not to over-focus on going to sleep. You may only make yourself even more stressed, making the situation worse.
Improve your sleep environment
Where you sleep plays an important role too, so it might be time to make some improvements:
- Declutter and tidy your room
- Block out all light
- Block out as much noise as possible
- Ensure the temperature is right (18.3 degrees Celsius is optimal!10)
- Make sure your bed is comfortable
- Wash all bedding regularly
- Replace old, worn out bedding or a lumpy mattress
Tired of being tired?
Stress and sleep are closely intertwined, as a lack of sleep can increase stress levels, while stress can have a negative impact on sleep. But, you can break the cycle.
It’s time to start making a good night’s sleep, and indeed your overall well being, a priority. Remember – you’re not alone, reach out to those close to you if needed.
- Stress and Insomnia – Sleep Foundation
- How to tell if stress is affecting your sleep – Medical News Today
- How to get to sleep – NHS
- How to Determine Poor Sleep Quality – Sleep Foundation
- How Does Sleep Reduce Stress – Sleepscore Labs
- Stress and Sleep – APA
- Can Exercising Before Bed Affect Your Sleep? – Healthline
- Tips for beating anxiety to get a better night’s sleep – Harvard Health
- Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis – JAMA Network