On particularly tough days, you may have a difficult time falling asleep. You’re stuck tossing and turning for hours, and a good night’s sleep seems impossible. The more you can’t sleep, your mental health also appears to worsen. It’s a cycle where lack of sleep causes stress levels to rise, and chronic stress leads to more sleep problems. So how can you break this cycle, find some peace, and finally go to sleep?
What stress does to the body
Several biological processes occur inside your body when you encounter stressful situations. In particular, your brain signals your pituitary gland as part of the autonomic nervous system to release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones help your body manage stress.
Your body produces cortisol at different levels during the day. When evening comes, you will notice a dip in your alertness since the night alerts your body to stop producing cortisol. The body also produces cortisol during stressful situations as a stress response.
On the other hand, adrenaline release only occurs during stressful, exciting, or dangerous circumstances. Adrenaline causes your body to enter into fight-or-flight mode, raising your heart rate to bring more oxygen to your body. You will also have more energy and strength during an adrenaline rush, while pain reception decreases.
When stress becomes too much
Now, not all stress is bad. You feel acute stress from short-term instances of panic or fear. Your blood pressure and heart rate rise, and you may be sad, irritable, or anxious. You may also get a headache or feel back pain. These experiences typically disappear in time, especially when you finally handle the stressful situation.
However, episodic acute stress may be something to worry about. Episodic acute stress happens when minor daily life stressors cause acute stress several times daily, accumulating by the end of the week. Your productivity and relationships may take a hit from this type of stress. You may also be at risk for clinical depression and heart disease.
Finally, chronic stress is the worst of all. Trauma, abuse, poverty, and other major life factors cause this type of stress. You may feel hopeless under the same circumstances, and mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder can develop from chronic stress.
How stress affects sleep
Episodic acute stress and chronic stress also affect the way we sleep. Because of the heightened awareness and energy from cortisol and adrenaline, most people struggling with these conditions will have trouble sleeping. Experience this often enough at night, despite a perfectly comfortable place to sleep, and you may develop a chronic disorder such as insomnia. Anxiety disorder also raises the risk for chronic insomnia.
When you do manage to doze off, you may also experience poor sleep quality. Slow-wave sleep, the stage of sleep where your physical and mental aspects recover the most, may decrease because of stress. As a result, you may only remain at shallow levels of sleep, waking up suddenly at night. You might also experience more severe nightmares, which also cause sleep disruption.
Affected sleep leads to more stress
In turn, sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can lead to more stress in your life. Not getting enough sleep may cause you to wake up late or lead to sleepiness during work. Sleep loss may also exacerbate existing medical conditions and mental health problems. Thus, stress and sleep contribute to the improvement or detriment of each other. It is a cycle that goes on and on.
Address both stress-related and sleep-related problems
To break the destructive cycle between stress and sleep, you can target improving both your lifestyle and your sleep. When you address both stress and sleep-related problems, you can improve your physical wellness and mental wellbeing. Try to implement a new cycle: less stress means better sleep, and improved sleep leads to less stress.
Manage the stressors in your life
Stress can come from work, medical conditions or your physical health. You can begin stress management by consulting with physicians and being treated by healthcare professionals. For mental health problems causing stress, you may also ask help from a mental health professional.
Of course, other stressors may come from work, relationships, and personal struggles. For these stressors, stress management continues to be a key. Ask for help or advice from friends or family, or you may come up with solutions that will lead to less stress in the long run.
Induce healthy sleep
While you go about practising stress management, you can also take care of your sleep problems at night. Whether you already suffer from sleep disorders or not, following relaxation techniques can ease your body and mind, decrease stress, and prepare you for sleep. Mindfulness meditation is one example of a relaxation technique that you may explore or practise deep breathing techniques to bring a sense of calm for rest.
Good sleep hygiene and sleep habits can also help with the quality of sleep. In the meantime, a clear and solid sleep schedule may help you maintain healthy sleep patterns throughout a week or a month. Start going to bed and waking up at the same time every morning and night for a set routine.
Break the stress-sleep cycle
Stress and sleep may only cause each other to worsen over time unless you do something about them both. Once you have addressed both, you will have a better quality of life while getting the required hours of sleep your body needs. In the end, you can work towards less stress and more sleep in your day-to-day life.