The Relationship between Sleep and Stress
If you find that you are stressed and not getting enough sleep, you’re not alone. In a national sleep survey, 40 percent of respondents said they aren’t getting the recommended amount of rest. Many of the stressors we face in modern life, such as traffic jams, hard co-workers, or relationship conflicts, can trigger a fight-or-flight response, and prolonged exposure to this stress without relaxation can result in shorter sleep duration and poorer quality sleep. To improve sleep quality and cope with chronic stress, some strategies are more effective than others.
How Chronic Stress Affects Sleep
When you experience a perceived threat (physical or psychological, real or imagined), your body’s hormonal stress response gets triggered, creating a cascade of physical changes that lead to the release of glucocorticoids like cortisol by the endocrine system. The release of cortisol and other stress hormones creates a burst of energy that permits you to fight or run from real and present danger.
What’s essential to know in this context is that the HPA access also plays an essential role in modulating the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Prolonged stress levels have been correlated with HPA access hyperactivity, decreased sleep duration, as well as reduced REM sleep and delta power, leading to poorer quality sleep, impaired memory, poorer mood regulation, which can, in turn, lead to more stress.
Stress Management Sleep Strategies
If your sleep problems are being compounded by the effects of stress, sleep may come easier with the implementation of healthy stress management techniques before bed. Coping with stress takes many forms, and can involve emotional engagement or emotional disengagement.
Healthy coping strategies that decrease emotional avoidance contain meditation and simple breathing exercises, which can decrease stress and tension in the body, lower stress hormone levels, and help sleep come more simply.
Problem-solving can also be a way to decrease stress, but it can be stimulating and should be done earlier in the day rather than before bed.
It is essential to leave enough time for stress management and also enough time to sleep itself. Educate yourself about additional stress management sleep strategies and read more about the benefits of a good night’s sleep to inspire you to figure out a plan to create space in your busy life to decrease your stress before bed.