Most people identify stress as being more of a mental health problem than a physical one. However, stress goes far beyond the mental, often resulting in uncomfortable physical symptoms that take a severe toll on a person’s body. Chronic stress can even affect your sleep quality. To reduce stress, 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 create a ruthless cycle. It seems like when you are overly stressed, you cannot sleep, and not being able to sleep stresses you out even more. This is often 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 with heightened stress levels. To protect you against any “threat,” your body triggers a fight-or-flight response that arouses your nervous system, releases 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 on edge all the time, sore, tired, and uncomfortable. Even worse, it makes it difficult to get any real rest.
Stress and Sleep Quality
So, how does this physical response affect your sleep patterns? Here are some common ways stress makes it difficult for you to get good sleep.
1. Makes it difficult to fall asleep
Stress causes your cortisol levels to elevate, causing your blood pressure to surge and your muscles to clench. The worrying thoughts in your head often cause more than mental anguish but also lead to physical discomfort. This makes it seem impossible to relax enough to fall asleep.
2. 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.
3. Decreases Sleep Quality
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, preventing you from getting quality sleep. Sleep deprivation just aggravates your stress response, causing you to experience a vicious cycle.
4. 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. This continues the cycle of sleep problems.
Ways to Reduce Stress Before Sleep
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 managing stress with peace and relaxation, as indicated in the following methods. Remember, there is nothing wrong with seeking the help of a healthcare professional if your sleep continues to be affected by stress.
1. Implement a “no electronic device” wind-down an hour before bed.
An often ignored stress reducer is leaving your electronic devices outside your bedroom. Detaching yourself from a screen helps your eyes and mind relax before sleeping. Try not to watch the news, scroll on social media, or play video games for an hour before bed. This helps you wind down naturally and quiet 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 relaxation techniques helps reduce blood pressure and relax muscle tension. Try utilizing some relaxing activities to help improve your sleep.
3. Use massage therapy to relax your muscles.
You can also invest in products 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.
Another important factor for good sleep hygiene is avoiding caffeine close to bedtime. Caffeine only heightens symptoms of stress. For the sake of your blood pressure (and better sleep quality), 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 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 or high-quality sheets to help you weightlessly disconnect from your stress.
Reduce Stress with Sleep!
The best thing about a good night’s rest is that it helps you fight stress. If you can reduce your stress, you can improve sleep quality, 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.