Too stressed to sleep? Fed up with staring at the ceiling? Waking up in a panic? Stress is our response to the daily challenges that life can throw at us. It can manifest as a state of worry, anxiety, or mental tension and it can affect us emotionally, physically, and behaviourally. Some people thrive off stress, others find it overwhelming.
How can stress affect your sleep?
Stress is a general term to describe feeling under pressure, facing big changes in life, worries over something that we don’t have much control over, responsibilities that we find overwhelming, or dealing with a period of uncertainty. We can all stress over an individual situation like a deadline or exam, or an ongoing personal or professional situation.
When it comes to stress and sleep, being in a state of worry can interfere with our sleep cycle by triggering our threat response and raising our cortisol levels, which means we spend less time in the REM sleep phase. This leaves us feeling too wired or finding it harder to switch off at the end of the day, or able to sleep as soundly throughout the night.
If we are disturbed in the night, we can find that intrusive thoughts pop into our heads straightaway, making it harder to get back to sleep. The lack of REM sleep can leave us feeling fatigued and less able to cope with the day’s demands.
Stress and insomnia
Lack of sleep and stress are common bedfellows and can create a negative feedback loop whereby we can’t sleep because we’re stressed, and then more stressed because we are unable to sleep.
Tips to manage stress to improve sleep
Look at improving your self-care routine and incorporate mindfulness wherever possible to reduce stress levels.
- Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine as much as possible - both can have a negative impact on sleep
- Meditate or try deep breathing techniques to slow the breathing and heart rate
- Practice yoga or do some gentle stretching before bed
- Seek support - share your problems with those who may be able to help
- Take regular exercise - just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day will benefit both your physical and mental health
- Eat a healthy diet - we are what we eat, so try to avoid refined and processed foods that will spike the blood sugar or encourage low mood
- Delegate responsibility - friends, family members or co-workers should help share the load, even just temporarily
How to sleep with stress and anxiety
At times of peak stress, the following tips can bring better rest and relaxation
- Establish proper sleep hygiene - fix your sleep schedule by creating a solid wind down and bedtime routine with the help of the Simba Sleep Coach app
- Ban screens and phones from the bedroom - resist the urge to answer calls, late requests, or work emails
- Snuggle under a weighted blanket - which can reduce restlessness
- Make your bed in the morning so that it’s a nice sanctuary to return to
- Clear the immediate bedroom zone of clutter
- Listen to white noise, music, or podcasts to help switch off your mind
- Write it down - try keeping a journal, or simply make a to-do list that you can tick off
- Take a warm bath or shower - the body temperature drop afterwards can encourage sleepiness
Lifestyle changes to improve stress
More permanent stress is often a result of work-life imbalance, so longer term solutions can come from;
- Counselling - seeing a therapist can help you navigate and understand your emotions and change your mindset
- Schedule quality time - take a break, see friends, or do something you enjoy
- A change in jobs or careers
- Create boundaries - learn to say no
- A full diet overhaul in favour of healthy eating