• How Sleep Can Help You Manage Your Stress

    Sleep Well

    Stress vs Sleep

    There are a lot of articles out there on how stress can keep you from sleeping well, and almost everyone has experienced this at one time or another. After a stressful day you lay in bed with your mind racing, waiting for sleep that doesn’t come soon enough. When it does come, your stress might invade your dreams or wake you repeatedly during the night. The result is that you wake up feeling like a zombie until you’ve had a couple cups of your favorite caffeinated beverage.

    In this scenario, in order to get better sleep you need to get a handle on your stress. That can be easier said than done when many of your stressors may be out of your control. Don’t get me wrong, though, it CAN be done. In most cases you have to change your response to the stressors, which is also easier said than done; but it can be done if you’re really motivated.

    Sleep vs Stress

    But did you know that lack of good quality sleep will increase your stress the next day; not just before your morning coffee but all. day. long. If you don’t believe me, just scroll through your Facebook feed on any given morning to see how a lack of sleep stresses your friends out. Don’t forget to read your own posts… maybe you’re one of the crabby morning posters.

    Remember, lack of sleep doesn’t only affect your ability to wake up rested and cheerful: it actually impacts your whole day. Yes. The whole day. Here’s how:

    When you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to over-react to the stressors you encounter throughout the day. Whether it’s the person who cut you off in traffic, a busybody coworker, or a micromanaging boss, a lack of sleep robs you of the mental and emotional ability to respond with grace and tact and in a way that won’t stress you out further.

    Put another way, when you get enough sleep you are better able to deal with, and therefore not over-react to, your everyday stressors.

    Why Sleep Is So Important

    Stress creates a cascade of physical reactions in the body: release of stress hormones, muscle tightening, and changes in circulation away from those areas not needed to either fight or flee, like digestion and the areas of the brain associated with rational thought and communication. The body is only meant to be in the the throes of the stress response for 15-20 minutes at a time; long enough to either fight or run away. Today, it’s not uncommon for people to be stressed for the majority of their waking hours. You can see where this can cause more than a few problems

    Sleep is the time when the body repairs itself. Throughout the sleep cycle your:

    • breathing and heart rate become regular
    • brain waves slow
    • blood pressure drops
    • muscles relax
    • tissue grows and repairs
    • energy is restored
    • restorative and balancing hormones are released

    During a good night’s sleep you should go through 4-5 sleep cycles. That’s a lot of repair and restoration! 

    When you get a good night’s sleep, you have less pain and dysfunction and are better able to cope with the stressors you encounter.

    So how do you get a good night’s sleep when you’ve been stressed all day? The answer is going to be different for everyone but a good place to start is by decreasing the stressors you can and increasing your stress management skills to deal with those you don’t have control over. 

    While you’re working on your stress management skills, you should also work on developing good sleep habits. 

    A Few Pre-Sleep Habits to Develop:

    1. Lower the lighting an hour before bedtime. – The body has a natural way of telling when it’s time for bed… it starts to get dark. Back in the days before electricity people had oil lamps, candles, and hearth fires to light their homes in the evening. Today we light our homes until it’s as bright as daylight inside. This is not conducive to good sleep. If your lights are on a dimmer, dim them. If not, try turning on a single table lamp instead of the overhead fixture with 3-5 bulbs, or maybe 2 single bulb lamps in different areas of the room. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you lower the light level. Bonus: You’ll save on your electric bill, too.
    2. Lay off the technology (including TV) an hour before bedtime. – All of your electronic devices, including the TV, are lit with LED light which is in the blue spectrum. Blue light is stimulating and therefore interferes with sleep. You may have fallen asleep while texting or playing games on your phone in bed and think that it doesn’t affect you. Wrong. You may fall asleep, but you probably won’t stay asleep. If you do stay asleep, the sleep you do get won’t be as deep and therefore not as restorative as it needs to be. (Please believe this recovering mahjong addict, I know what I’m talking about here.) If you have anxiety at the thought of not checking email, texts, or playing one more game of whatever at bedtime, start slow. Try turning off the tech 5 minutes early, and when the world doesn’t end and 5 minutes no longer causes you anxiety or cold sweats try 10 minutes, then 20, then… you get the picture. 
    3. Read something uplifting. – Give your brain something wonderful to mull over as you go to sleep. You’d be surprised at how well this works. Don’t get too hung up on what *I* mean by uplifting. That’s one of those subjective terms that you have to define for yourself. It might be something spiritual, a memoir of a person who did great deeds, a novel that is upbeat and has a feel good ending, or a comedic read. Whatever. As long as it lifts your spirit and makes you feel good, that’s all that matters. Confession: I was dubious of this when I first heard it. Once I found the right type of uplifting for me, however, it’s amazing how much better I sleep after reading just one chapter.
    4. Rest and Relax – Your body and mind have 3 modes: Work, rest, and sleep, and they’re meant to be a continuum. You work –> you rest/relax –> you sleep. Both quality and quantity of sleep suffer when you try to go from work (step 1) directly to sleep (step 3) without passing through rest/relaxation (step 2). That’s like trying to go from 60mph to zero in your car without stepping on the brake. It doesn’t work very well.

    So now you have my recipe for better sleep and less stress. If you found it useful, please remember to share. There are handy buttons just below the post to make it easy.

2 Responses so far.

  1. I treat a lot of people in my wellness clinic for stress related problems and one of the biggest improvements i find, is if my clients get enough sleep, this not long changes their moods, but helps with mental clarity on a daily basis.

    I love your ‘Pre-sleep Habit’, especially number 3, – Read something uplifting. This is a great tip and something i will now share and introduce to my clients.

    Cheers,
    James

    • Michelle Doetsch says:

      I’m so glad you found the information useful. #3 is my personal favorite too, because I can practice the other 3 habits while I read.