How Stress Affects Sleep

It’s no secret that getting a good night’s sleep is vital for our health. Sleep is a key factor in maintaining energy levels, balancing moods, mental acuity and keeping us psychologically and physically healthy.

Unfortunately, demanding schedules and busy lifestyle factors can cause our stress levels to rise and prevent us from catching those valuable zzz’s.

So, how do high levels of stress impact our sleep and what can we do to get better quality rest? Read on to discover the best ways to achieve a rejuvenating night’s sleep.

The link between stress and sleep

How does stress affect sleep? While a moderate amount of short-term stress can be beneficial to your body and motivate you to accomplish your daily goals, excess worry can disrupt your sleep cycle.

When you find yourself suffering from long-term stress, you may experience health problems, often accompanied by unsatisfactory slumber. This is because stress triggers a psychological response where our nervous system releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Basically, our body is sent into a ‘fight or flight’ mode which makes winding down near impossible. When you are facing this bodily response continuously, it can have an effect on your well-being and sleep cycle.

The first step to improving your overall health and quality of rest is understanding the connection between stress and sleep. Once you’ve identified the source of stress, it’s important to develop management techniques during the day to assist relaxation at bed-time.

How does cortisol affect sleep?

Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are one of the key triggers for our ‘fight or flight’ response when under pressure. So, how does cortisol affect sleep when released in high-stress situations?

It’s important to note that the body naturally releases cortisol throughout the day to keep us alert and awake. Cortisol levels typically surge right after waking and gradually decline throughout the rest of the day. However, when faced with a high-stress situation, we can produce excess cortisol. You may notice a rush of energy when your cortisol spikes, followed by a crash later. Experiencing consistent spikes in cortisol can lead to sleep disruption.

How anxiety affects sleep

Similar to the link between stress and sleep, anxiety can impact your quality of sleep.

Anxiety can manifest as overthinking, excessive worry and constant mental preoccupation. This mental state can induce high cortisol levels, preventing you from falling asleep and achieving deep rest. High levels of anxiety may also elicit vivid, unpleasant dreams which result in disrupted rest and fears of falling asleep.

Unfortunately, a lack of sleep affects your ability to handle stress, leading to a cycle of sleep deprivation.

How does sleep affect your ability to handle stress?

Sleep is a vital function that allows our bodies to heal overnight and perform the following day. Without sufficient rest, we are limiting our ability to repair muscles and consolidate memories. That’s why experiencing too little sleep will impact on our moods, energy and productivity. This can lead to mental and physical health issues, such as depression, anxiety, obesity and high blood pressure.

In order to cope with everyday stresses and challenges, we need the healing powers that come from experiencing deep and restful sleep.

How to sleep under stress

Incorporating measures to improve your sleep routine can work wonders. A regular night-time routine will help you wind-down and prepare for restful sleep.

Here are our top ways to enhance your sleep routine for an optimal night’s rest.

Try to receive adequate daylight

While this tip may be difficult for those who work indoors, getting enough exposure to natural daylight has many benefits. Exposure to daylight, especially in the morning, aligns with our circadian rhythm (our natural sleep pattern). This helps us to wind down after dark and enjoy a better night’s rest.

Exercise regularly

Moving your body during the day is one of the best ways to reduce stress and improve sleep. Exercise releases endorphins, a ‘feel good’ hormone that works to dissolve stress and relax the body. However, try to fit in your workout at least three hours before bed to allow your body to unwind after working up a sweat.

Practice relaxation techniques

Natural wellness and relaxation exercises such as meditation and yoga offset the link between stress and sleep. Before bed, try guided meditations specifically designed to help you relax and fall into a deep slumber.

Limit caffeine and alcohol

While it may be tempting to combat sleep deprivation with high volumes of caffeine, it will only make matters worse. Caffeine and alcohol exacerbate stress levels and disturb your sleep. Where possible, reduce your consumption of both substances.

Reduce blue light exposure

Limiting your exposure to blue light emitted by electronics is a key factor in improving your sleep. Blue light throws our circadian rhythm out of balance, sending signals that it’s time to be awake and alert. Try to stay away from your iPhone, laptop, TV and tablet at least two to three hours before bed.

Create an optimal sleep environment

Try to design your bedroom as a haven for relaxation and sleep. You can do this by ensuring there is dim lighting, a comfortable room temperature, limited noise, and a supportive and comfortable bed.

Enjoy a stress-free night’s sleep

Now that you know how stress affects sleep, you can create healthier habits and experience the quality rest you deserve.

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