Stress impacts the body in a number of ways. You may notice that you feel less energetic when stress levels are high. Your appetite may increase or decrease. Your focus might be off.
In cases of chronic stress, your immunity can be lowered. You may experience chest pains or reoccurring headaches. It can even kill you, with the American Institute of Stress citing unmanaged stress as one of the top causes of premature death. It only makes sense, then, that stress can also impact your sleep.
How Can Stress Affect Your Sleeping Habits?
Stress can lead to poor sleep quality. One reason is because stress and anxiety often go hand in hand. When your anxiety is high, it’s hard to “turn your brain off” at the end of the day. You continue to play situations over and over in your mind. This makes it harder to fall asleep.
When you’re stressed, you may also notice that it’s more difficult to stay asleep. Your sleep becomes more restless, and you wake up more frequently during the night. Some people notice heightened anxiety during these episodes.
If the stress is short-term—often referred to as acute stress—your sleep habits may improve on their own. Examples of acute stress include having a bad day at work or having an argument with your spouse.
The problem is when the stress is chronic. Chronic stress can disrupt your sleep pattern over time. Chronic stress can also lead to the development of a sleep disorder such as insomnia, with some research even connecting it to sleep apnea.
It should be noted that the stressor doesn’t have to be a person or situation to negatively impact your sleep. Even perceived stress can lead to insomnia or another sleep problem. Perceived stress refers to your thoughts about how much stress exists in your life. If your level of perceived stress is high, it can result in poor sleep.
Importance of Good Sleep
The body needs sleep for total health and wellness. Sleep is when injuries heal, and the brain is allowed to relax. When you are lost in REM sleep—which stands for rapid eye movement and is the deepest sleep stage, where you dream—it gives all of your systems the opportunity to reboot and recharge.
Studies also show that sleep deprivation can increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is commonly referred to as the stress hormone and is connected to increased belly fat. When your cortisol is high, it becomes harder to lose weight. Your body holds onto fat for storage. This makes it more difficult to reach your weight loss goals.
If clients want bigger muscles, sleep helps with that, too. Not only does sleep affect muscle growth, but it can also impact performance. The body’s muscle glycogen stores aren’t able to fully replenish. Energy levels dip, reducing your ability to perform your best.
6 Signs Stress May Be Reducing Your Sleep Quality
How do you know if stress may be to blame for your sleep disturbance? Doing a quick symptom check can help. These are all signs to watch for:
- You go to bed on time, yet you often lie there awake, as your brain replays the stress in your life and the possible outcomes.
- You wake up several times during the night and the first thing on your mind is the situation or person causing the stress.
- You wake up in the night with a heightened level of anxiety and you’re unable to relieve that anxiety, to the point where you can drift off to sleep again.
- You typically wake up long before your alarm goes off, many times deciding to just get out of bed because you can’t turn your brain off enough to get back to sleep.
- You rely on sleep aids to help you get more rest during times of chronic stress.
- Your natural sleep wake cycle is off. Sometimes you have chronic insomnia; other times you can’t sleep enough. Your circadian rhythm is disrupted, leading to sleep problems.
Ways to Lower Your Stress Level & Get Better Sleep
Managing stress is critical to good rest. It reduces your stress hormones, which, in turn, reduces your stress response. It also gives you more energy so you’re not too tired to work out.
One of the best ways to alleviate stress in your life is with physical activity. Make regular exercise a priority. If you can’t fit in a full workout, at least do something. Go for a walk on lunch breaks or take a stroll after dinner. This can help relieve some of your anxiety, while also helping you clear your head.
It can also help to call and talk to a friend. Sometimes you just need to vent to feel better. Release your stress into the world. This keeps it from getting all bottled up, reducing your ability to get good sleep.
Chronic stress may require seeing a counselor or therapist. This professional can help you find ways to cope with whatever is going on in your world. They can also address any other mental health issues, such as an anxiety disorder, that may be impacting your sleep.
If your sleep is being affected long-term, it may also be helpful to speak to your doctor. A medical issue may be to blame for your inability to get and stay asleep. Your doctor can help explore this issue and either provide treatment or rule this concern out.
Additional Strategies for a Good Night’s Sleep
In addition to lowering your stress and anxiety, it is also beneficial to create a more sleep-friendly bedtime habit. This helps tell your body and mind that it’s time to relax. What does this type of bedtime routine look like?
A few hours before you plan to go to sleep, turn off the television and electronic devices. Instead, listen to soothing music, read a good book, or meditate. Some people find that it helps to take a warm bath before bedtime.
When it’s time to go to bed, lie down and go through a few relaxation techniques. Close your eyes and relax the muscles in your neck. Next, move down to your shoulder muscles and then to your arms. Work your way down your body, relaxing the muscles as you go.
If your blood pressure feels elevated and your anxiety high, try meditation or do some breathing exercises. Breathe in to a count of four, hold for four, then exhale to a count of four again. Do this five to 10 times. Pay attention to the air as it enters and exits your body and let all of your thoughts go.
A person’s genetics can also impact their sleep duration. Some people are naturally wired for shorter or longer bouts of sleep, both during times of stress and otherwise. Knowing this helps create a sleep habit that works with their natural tendencies.
Sleep is an important factor in all of your health realities. For more information, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be glad to help.