Stress and Sleep: How the two interact
Stress can put strain on many aspects of your life and sleep is no exception. At the end of the day, a stressful lifestyle can mean that when you’re trying to relax and fall asleep, stress can keep you up instead.
Continuous stress can also lead to adjustment insomnia. A common feature of this type of insomnia is “ruminative thoughts” – thoughts that stay on your mind that you think about over and over.
Work-related stress can particularly affect your sleep negatively. Having conflicts at your work is linked to non-restorative sleep and trouble falling asleep. If your job requires repetitive tasks, this could also cause trouble falling and staying asleep.
Lack of sleep can, in turn, increase your stress level. In this way, high stress and poor sleep can create a vicious circle. Here we provide some general guidelines on how to reduce stress and sleep better.
Symptoms of stress
Sleep disturbances are only one sign of stress. Other symptoms can include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Short temper
- Upset stomach
- Dissatisfaction – at work, in your personal life
- Low morale
How to reduce stress and sleep better
You may not be able to control or change all your stressors. However, in terms of stress relief, there are some things you can do to lessen their toll on your sleep.
- Exercise. Even a short amount of daily exercise can help both your mind and body feel more relaxed at bedtime and help you avoid chronic stress.
- Make time during the day to write down your thoughts and feelings. Put that aside until the next day.
- Establish a relaxing routine before bed. Turn off electronics (to avoid blue light) and relax for 30 minutes – enjoy a warm bath, a light snack or listen to calming music.
- Reserve your bed for two things only – sleep and sex. Avoid doing other activities in bed such as reading, watching TV or talking on the phone. Never bring any work to bed with you!
- If you have trouble falling asleep, after twenty minutes get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. You will only feel more frustrated by tossing and turning in bed.
- There are doctors who specialize in behavioral sleep medicine. If you’ve tried the above suggestions and find no relief, a specialized sleep doctor can help with additional strategies to help you fall asleep more easily.
- There are different types of sleeping pills on the market. Use these with caution and only when supervised by a doctor.
Stress and insomnia
Stress can be a cause of insomnia, usually affecting your sleep for a night or two and once the stress level comes down, sleep returns to normal. It is important to consider when the insomnia started and whether certain situations or behaviors make it worse or better.
If you find that your insomnia persists for extended periods of time, this may be a sign of chronic stress or another condition that requires medical attention.
When should I see a doctor?
It’s not uncommon to occasionally experience a night or two of insomnia and this does not typically produce any long-term issues. However, if the insomnia lasts for a longer stretch and it affects your daily activities, contact your healthcare provider for professional advice on how to relieve stress. Under doctor supervision, sleep aids can be an effective tool for short-term insomnia in addition to some of the behavior modifications mentioned above. Alternatively, you can also try one of the many natural remedies for sleep available.
If stress causes you to have feelings of panic, uncontrollable fears, memories of past trauma or if you are unable to work or function at home or at your job, contact your healthcare provider.
If you have thoughts of suicide, call a suicide hotline right away. There is help available for you.