Stress is a common issue we experience very often in our modern lives. Factors such as work, financial problems, family issues and big life changes can create stressful situations. Too much stress can affect sleep quality and duration. Chronic stress can cause sleep disorders, such as insomnia, leading to sleep deprivation.
How do stress and sleep relate to each other?
Stress and sleep deprivation are closely linked by adversely affecting one another. Both can have many negative impacts on our physical and mental health, as well as on our productivity.
Chronic stress can lead to sleep problems
Stress is the combination of the chemical reactions in your body and the emotional response to these types of situations. When you are stressed, your body produces stress hormones. Cortisol is probably the most commonly known of these hormones. Cortisol has an important role in the fight-or-flight response – a survival mechanism which is activated when we are in trouble. Excess levels of cortisol trigger your nervous system which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. A persistently high level of cortisol at night interferes with the production of melatonin - the essential chemical that regulates our wake-sleep cycle. It makes your body feel restless, making it harder to relax which causes trouble sleeping at night. Stress that lasts for weeks is known as chronic stress, which greatly affects sleep duration and sleep quality.
Sleep deprivation can increase stress levels
Sleep deprivation is commonly referred to as simply not getting enough sleep, this is normally less than 8 hours of sleep per night. A lack of quality sleep can create tension in your mind which can lead to stress, creating a cycle that is hard to break. Getting enough sleep can boost your mood, improve your concentration and help you cope better with stress.
How can the lack of sleep affect your health?
It is fairly widely known that sleep deprivation has several negative impacts on our physical health. Insufficient sleep can weaken the body's immune system, making it harder to fight against viruses and bacteria. When we sleep, the immune system produces substances such as cytokines to help protect the body from infection and illness.
Long term sleep deprivation may also lead to issues with blood sugar and heart health. Sleeping less affects the process of releasing insulin, the hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. People with inadequate sleep often have higher sugar levels in their blood, which can lead to other health issues. Moreover, sleeping less than five hours a night increases the chances of having high blood pressure. Sleeplessness may also increase the levels of the chemicals that are linked to inflammatory responses. These are two of the main factors that can lead to issues with heart health.
How to reduce stress and sleep better?
1. Manage your stress before bed
One of the most important ways you can manage your stress is rooting out the cause of the stress. Figuring out why you are stressed can help to guide you towards a solution for reducing and preventing the factors that produce stress in your life.
2. Relax your mind and body
There are several cognitive and behavioral alternatives available that do not require medication. One of these is called the Relaxation Method, a technique that involves relaxing different muscles. This is done by first tensing the muscles then relaxing them, which helps to calm the body. This method can also be supported by the practices of meditation, mindfulness training, and breathing exercises. Another method involves using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy helps people to become aware of the thought process behind certain behaviors, which may help to change them. Over time, this can help in promoting behaviors and thoughts that have positive impacts. And last but not least, there is a method called the Stimulation Control Technique. This technique suggests arranging pre-bedtime behaviors and adjusting the environment according to certain sleeping patterns. For example, when a person only goes to bed when they feel sleepy to create the association between being in bed and the feeling of sleepiness.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercise can help reduce stress. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a chemical that helps to calm you down. The interaction between the hormones dopamine and endocannabinoids while your exercise plays a key role in reducing stress levels. Exercise is also known for its effects in lowering stress hormones which include adrenaline and cortisol, helping you manage your stress better.
Although any type of workout can help with stress management, aerobic exercise is said to be the most useful. This is because our bodies produce the most of those feel-good hormones when we do any form of aerobic exercise, such as cycling or running. Once you feel less stressed, it can be easier to get a good night's sleep.
4. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Making changes in your lifestyle can also help to reduce stress levels and improve the quality of your sleep. Some ways you could shift towards a healthier routine are by:
- Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening
- Cutting down caffeine intake
- Limiting screen time before sleep
- Seeking out support from your friends and family
- Following a healthy diet, with more fruits and vegetables
- Making time for yourself, doing what you like
- Maintaining a good work-life balance
5. Develop good sleep habits
It is advisable to create a sleeping schedule and stick to it throughout the week, even on weekends. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will regulate a sleep-wake pattern that the body can follow. Our environment can also impact the quality of sleep. A quiet space makes it easier to fall asleep and prevents sleep disruption that may result from noise. For those who find absolute silence uncomfortable, listening to white noise can help them calm down and fall asleep. There are plenty of white noise soundtracks available online or in mobile apps. The temperature of your room can also play a part in how well you sleep. Keeping the room dark and cool, for example, can help you fall asleep. It's been recommended that a room temperature of 60-70 °F is best for falling asleep and for keeping the body thermo-regulated during sleep.
6. CBD may help you get a better night's sleep
Another alternative is trying out CBD products, for example in the form of oils or capsules. CBD (Cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is found in cannabis plants. Some research suggests that CBD may impact your sleep-wake cycle by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain within the endocannabinoid system. Some people take CBD to help them to promote a feeling of calmness and relaxation. Feeling more relaxed before bed may help some people get a better night's rest. Learn more about CBD and its effects here.
All the best,