How To Manage Stress for a Better Sleep

Everybody feels stressed at one point or another. 

You might have noticed that you sleep poorly whenever you go through a stressful situation. That is because stress is a great enemy of sleep. 

Read ahead to learn how stress affects your sleep and how to reduce it to a minimum to get the rest you need. 

Your Body and How It Responds to Stress 

Your body's stress response is regulated by what we call the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. When you face a stressful situation, the hypothalamus in your brain sends a message to the pituitary gland to stimulate the production of a hormone which will then activate the adrenal glands. The adrenals produce stress hormones, namely cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are meant to keep you up and alert to make sure you have the capacities to deal with whichever stressful situation you are facing. 

You can endure three different types of stress: acute, episodic, and chronic. Acute stress is short-term and usually causes a sense of panic. Examples of situations causing acute stress include running late for a job interview or writing an important exam. Episodic stress is due to an accumulation of small moments of acute stress. Finally, chronic stress is long-term, with constant feelings of being overwhelmed and under pressure. You can be under chronic stress for various reasons, but some common ones include challenging relationships, financial struggles, and demanding jobs. 

Chronic stress causes constantly elevated cortisol levels, which are hard on the body. Over time, chronic stress can contribute to heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, and insomnia.

Relationship between Sleep and Stress

How Stress Can Affect Sleep

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) survey, 43% of adults stay up at night due to stress. It creates a vicious cycle as 21% of the survey participants say that less sleep causes them to be more stressed in return. The APA also found that adults who reported fewer than eight hours of sleep every night were more likely to report symptoms of stress, like anger, irritability, loss of interest, low energy, and lack of patience. 

All forms of stress can cause difficulty sleeping, but acute stress generally does not last long, and sleep is restored when the stressor disappears. 

Insomnia is defined as persistent difficulty with sleep. More specifically, chronic insomnia is diagnosed when someone struggles with sleep at least three times per week for at least three months. A common cause of chronic insomnia is chronic stress. 

If you struggle to sleep because of stress, you should address the situation as soon as possible. Not only is it bad for your health, as mentioned previously, but lack of sleep can cause consequences like: 

  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Impaired performance at work or school 
  • Irritability 
  • Aggression 
  • Impulsivity 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Low motivation 
  • Increased risks of accidents

How Body Responds to Stress - The body's stress response is regulated by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Tips To Reduce Stress for Better Sleep 

If stress is one of the reasons why you struggle to fall asleep, the solution is, well, to reduce stress. Here are a few tips to help you: 

Find Your Stressors 

This might sound like a silly tip, but it is easy to get caught up in your daily routine without thinking about which parts are causing you the most stress. And you cannot fix something if you do not know what is broken. 

Take the time to sit down and analyze the various aspects of your life to find out which are responsible for your stress. Is it your job? Your relationship with friends? Your family life? Your finances? Once you know the problem, it is easier to take the following steps to fix the situation. 

Pro tip: we live in a very stressful world at the moment. Although keeping up with current events is a good thing, it might be best to avoid constantly watching the news if it gives you constant anxiety. 

Exercise Regularly 

Physical activity is one of the best things to reduce your stress. Any exercise works like playing basketball, attending a yoga class, or lifting weights in the gym. 

Moving your body causes a release of endorphins, which are the "happy" hormones. They will help counteract the effect of high cortisol and high stress. Physical activity is also great for reducing tensions in the body and improving your overall mood. Finally, it boosts energy, which is often needed if you are not sleeping very well. However, avoid exercising within two hours of your bedtime because you do not want an increase in energy right before trying to fall asleep! 

Eat a Balanced Diet 

Eating well-balanced meals is important for overall health, but it also provides you with the necessary energy to deal with stressful situations. Studies also show that diets high in omega-3 and vegetables help regulate cortisol levels, the stress hormone.

What you eat makes a difference, but the way you eat also does. Avoid stress eating and practice mindfulness when consuming food. Take deep breaths in between bites, avoid distractions at mealtimes and try to enjoy your food as much as possible. Mindful eating will help you focus on the now and prevent you from stressing about the future. 

Practice Self-Care 

You cannot pour from an empty cup, so you need to take some time to rest and recharge. Regardless of how busy life gets, make sure to take a little bit of time every day to do something you enjoy. 

Take regular breaks at work or school. Go for walks during your downtime to get a little bit of vitamin D. Have a pampering session at home or cozy up in bed with your favorite book. Find what works for you and keep doing it. 

Effect of Stress in Sleep - All forms of stress can cause difficulty sleeping.

How to Decrease Stress at Bedtime 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just cannot seem to wind down before bed. You did everything you could during the day, but you are still stressed out when bedtime comes? Here are a few tips to relax at night: 

Mindfulness Meditation 

Sit down, close your eyes and let your thoughts and feelings come to you without any judgment. Mindfulness is a technique that helps you focus on the now and prevents you from having a wandering mind right before bed. 

Mindfulness takes time and practice, so do not be discouraged if you struggle with it the first few times. Consider downloading a smartphone application to help you, as many offer guided meditation sessions that focus on mindfulness.

How Body Responds to Stress 

Body Scan Meditation 

This technique consists in scanning your body with your mind. Start at the toes and slowly move up to your head. Focus on every body part to fully experience any sensations. This technique also helps you focus on the now by shifting all your attention to your body. Many also find this type of meditation to be particularly relaxing and the perfect routine before bed. 

Guided Meditation 

Just like mindfulness, many smartphone applications offer guided meditation sessions. These consist in focusing on your happy place. It often uses music or sounds to make the session even more relaxing. 

Deep Breathing 

When practicing deep breathing, you want to take slow and deep breaths. This allows you to breathe in more air, calming down your nerves and reducing stress. One way to do this is to put a hand on your stomach to feel it rise as you inhale slowly. Hold the breath for a few seconds, and then let go. Many like to count their breaths, but it is not necessary, do what works best for you. 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

This technique is similar to the body scan because it requires you to pay attention to specific parts of your body. However, instead of simply focusing your attention on each body part, you contract and then release the muscles. Start with the muscles in your feet, then your calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach, back, arms, hands, shoulders, and, finally, your face. 

Tips to Reduce Stress for Better Sleep - If stress is one of the reasons why you struggle to fall asleep, the solution is to reduce stress by following some tips.

Optimize Your Bedtime Routine 

To put all the chances on your side, you should also optimize your bedtime routine to reduce stress as much as possible. 

Start by setting up a good sleep environment with a pitch-dark room. Check out our Kyle and Bryce Blackout Roller Shade as they will make your room as dark as possible. Right before bed, you can also take a warm bath to help relax your muscles and lower your body temperature. If you want to learn more about the effects of body temperature on sleep, check out our other article here.

You should also avoid any caffeine or alcohol as they can disrupt the quality of your sleep. Alcohol can also decrease your ability to handle stress

Finally, limit blue light exposure from your phone, iPad, laptop, or any other type of screen. If you like to wind down with a movie, consider purchasing blue light glasses to make sure it does not disrupt your sleep. 

A Final Word...

Stress can seriously hinder your ability to sleep, which can have detrimental effects like depressive symptoms, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and lack of interest. Make sure to live a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet to keep your daily stress to a minimum. You can also practice meditation, deep breathing, or muscle relaxation to help calm down before bedtime. Finally, make sure your bedtime routine is conducive to sleep to get the rest you need.