If you’ve ever tossed and turned after a rough day at work, you know that stress can make it hard to turn off the mind and get a good night’s sleep. As we’ve already seen, the connection between sleep and stress is a two-way street. Lack of sleep can be a big source of stress the same as stress can lead to lack of sleep.
No matter what your age is or your occupation, a lack of sleep can throw your system off balance. Stress impacts your sleep in many ways.
Not enough sleep creates a vicious sleep-stress cycle. When you are stressed, your mind is racing with worry. It’s hard to turn it off. Your body is tired but your mind isn’t, so you lie there staring at the ceiling or tossing and turning, lucky to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep.
- Quality of sleep. Even if you do get to sleep when you are stressed, your sleep may be interrupted. In fact, approximately 42 percent of adults get poor quality sleep when stressed according to the Stress in America survey done by the American Psychological Association.
- Increases risk of insomnia. If you are chronically stressed, it may be robbing you of sleep entirely.
- Overactive brain. Stress keeps your brain hyperactive. Normally when you fall asleep, your body shifts from the active sympathetic nervous system to a calmer system. Stress keeps your body from making this shift.
- Creates a vicious continuous loop. As we’ve already discovered, stress and sleep are related. When you’re stressed you can’t sleep and then your lack of sleep contributes to more stress, and so on.
As you can see, stress has a major effect on the quality and amount of sleep you get. But don’t despair. There are things you can do to keep stress from wrecking your sleep.
10 Ways to Destress and Get Better Sleep
Everyone has some form of stress. It’s how we respond to daily life. Too much of it can cause us to have sleep problems. The trick is to learn how to destress before seeking your bed to get better sleep.
Here are ten ways to destress:
- Determine what is stressful. To get a handle on stress you have to figure out what is causing it. Take a look at your daily activities to determine what is causing you stress. Then take steps to reduce those stressors.
- Get social support. Make it a point to spend time with family and friends as often as you can. It can be helpful to share your problems with these people who care about you.
- Practice thought management. Learn to change the thought patterns that produce stress. What you think, what you expect, how you think, and what you tell yourself can help you manage stress. Use commercial audiotapes or books to help you learn to control your thoughts.
- Exercise. Without a doubt, exercise is a great stress reliever. It can help you blow off steam. Flexible, loose muscles are less likely to become tight in response to stress. Make sure you exercise at least three hours before you plan to sleep. The type of exercise you do doesn’t really matter as long as it gets you moving and focusing on something other than your worries.
- Eat a healthy diet. Filling your body with comforting junk food and refined sugars in response to stress can leave you feeling sluggish and with low energy. A healthy diet, one that is low in sugar, caffeine and alcohol can reduce your stress. A healthy diet includes:
- Lean proteins
- No processed foods
- Cutting back on caffeine and sugar
- A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Healthy portions
- Relax with essential oils and aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is effective for people having trouble sleeping. Use a diffuser with natural oils such as lavender, chamomile, sandalwood or rose. There are several studies that show inhaling the scents of plants or essential oils helps reduce anxiety. Drinking tea made from lavender, vanilla chamomile or lemon balm produces similar results.
- Use relaxation techniques. There are different types of relaxation techniques you can use to calm your mind before you drift off to sleep. They include:
- Yoga poses lower stress levels, calms your mind and relieves tension in your body, making it a natural sleep remedy. There are certain poses that can be particularly beneficial to fighting restlessness, including the easy forward bend or the child’s pose.
- Meditation or Mindfulness allows you to clear your mind and relax your body by listening to your breathing.
- Tap into a higher power. Spiritual or religious individuals can try prayer, spiritual reflection or meditation to help rest their mind and body.
- Muscle relaxation is the act of tensing and relaxing every muscle in your body by focusing on each one.
- Breathing techniques. If you aren’t into prayer or formal meditation, do some deep breathing instead. Sit still and breathe for 10 minutes. Notice your breath and when your mind begins to wander bring it back to your breath.
- Get Intimate. If you’re in a committed relationship, engage in intimate conversation or sexual activity. This can lead to stress relief.
- See a Sleep Specialist if nothing else seems to be working. A professional therapist can help you sort through what is causing your stress and lack of sleep and give you techniques to address the insomnia.
There you have it. Ten ways to destress so you can get to sleep. Try just one of these for an improvement on your sleep.
Dr. Meaghan Clemens