Most people identify stress as being more of a mental problem than a physical one. However, stress goes far beyond the mental, often resulting in uncomfortable physical symptoms that can take a severe toll on a person’s body. Chronic stress can even affect your sleeping habits. To maintain a healthy sleep pattern, it is important to understand the relationship between stress and sleep and how you can keep them in harmony with one another.
How Does Stress Affect Your Body?
Stress and sleep often exhibit a strained relationship. It seems like when you are overly stressed, you cannot sleep, and not being able to sleep stresses you out even more. This is an unfortunate cycle caused by your body’s physical response to exterior stress. In a nutshell, here’s what happens when you begin feeling stressed out:
Stress is a natural reaction of the body to perceived “threats” or worries. Examples of stress include a sudden danger to your safety or prolonged worries or fears. Of course, an overdue work deadline is not exactly the same as being attacked by a bear, but your body reacts the same nevertheless. To protect you against any “threat,” your body triggers a fight-or-flight response that arouses your nervous system, releases a series of hormones, increases your blood flow, and prepares you to meet the challenge head-on. Additionally, your muscles tend to retract and tighten in preparation for the battle.
This natural response of your body is great and all, but it can get a little annoying when there is no immediate threat to respond to. Chronic stress or anxiety can make it feel like you’re walking around on edge all the time, sore, tired, and uncomfortable. Even worse, it makes it difficult to get any real rest.
The Relationship Between Stress and Sleep
So, how does this physical response affect your sleep pattern? It actually triggers a number of problems, including the following.
Makes it difficult to fall asleep
Your increased blood pressure and clenched muscles can make it seem impossible to relax enough to go to sleep. Additionally, these symptoms can lead to bad headaches. With so many worried thoughts in your head and so much physical discomfort, falling asleep becomes difficult.
1. Makes it difficult to stay asleep
Additionally, even after you fall asleep, you might find yourself waking up every hour. Your body’s increased alertness makes it wary to let its guard down, so it naturally wakes you up periodically to check for danger.
2. Prevents sleep from being deep and effective, instead of making it fitful and restless
Again, your nervous system’s heightened arousal keeps you floating on the brink of restful sleep. Instead, you will often find that stress keeps you tossing and turning fitfully all night long.
3. Interferes with your dreams
Of course, stress interferes with your mind as well as your body. Your brain, busy with thoughts of anxiety or concern, often funnels its worries through your dreams.
Ways to Reduce Stress Before Bed
Keep in mind that stress is more of a symptom than a problem. You cannot “cure” stress unless you remove the exterior elements causing it. As a result, particularly if you suffer from chronic anxiety, it is important to take special steps to counterbalance the stress in your life. Try fighting stress with peace and relaxation, as indicated in the following methods.
1. Implement a “no electronic device” wind-down an hour before bed.
Detaching yourself from a screen helps your eyes and mind relax before going to sleep. Try not to watch the news, scroll social media, or play video games for an hour before bed. This helps you wind down naturally and quiets your thoughts.
2. Practice a meditative exercise.
To calm both your mind and your body, find a meditative outlet. Perhaps you enjoy reading, praying, or performing light yoga exercises. Intentionally engaging in a relaxing, meditative activity helps reduce blood pressure and relax tension in your muscles.
3. Use massage therapy to relax your muscles.
You can also invest in products that are specifically designed to alleviate muscle tension. Massage mats, massage chairs, and massage guns are all great tools to help your body stay relaxed. Massage guns, in particular, are great for working out hard-to-reach knots and can help target tight clusters of nerves throughout your body. This helps your body relax and release stress hormones which will help provide you with a better night’s sleep
4. Reduce caffeine intake.
Caffeine only heightens symptoms of stress. For the sake of your blood pressure, it’s a good idea to cut down on caffeine and stop drinking it at least 8 hours before you go to bed. In lieu of coffee, try a relaxing cup of caffeine-free tea.
5. Maintain a reasonably clean diet.
Did you know that a poor diet can actually increase symptoms of stress? Encourage a healthy sleep pattern by eating whole, clean foods most of the time.
6. Use a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets have been proven to help ground individuals with anxiety, helping them sleep better, longer, and deeper. You can also use a special anti-gravity chair to help you weightlessly disconnect from your stress.
Fight Stress with Sleep!
The best thing about a good night’s rest is that it actually helps you fight stress. If you can reduce your stress, you can sleep better, and if you can sleep better, you are better equipped to fight stress. With the above tips, hopefully, you can reverse the cycle for your health and happiness. Don’t let stress and anxiety rob your life of peace and relaxation. Your health is the most important thing.