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Managing Stress to Improve Sleep

April is stress awareness month, and I think most people will agree with me that life can be stressful. There are seasons where stress levels are low and seasons where they are through the roof. From daily stressors like kids, chores, or work, to the bigger ones like dealing with an illness, losing a job, or moving houses can take a toll on our bodies.

There are many habits and rituals that can help people cope with stress, but one area that seems to bring stress levels way down is good sleep. Stress can often interrupt people from getting sufficient quality sleep, which as we all know has a direct impact on our overall mood, how we live our lives, and how we interact with those around us. I want to take a moment to focus on how lowering our stress levels can increase the quality of our sleep and in return, how improving the quality of our sleep can help to continue lowering those stress levels.

We have little bit of a chicken or the egg dilemma here…which one came first? Is it stress that leads to bad sleep, or bad sleep that leads to stress? Unfortunately the answer is both. Sometimes it is hard to tell where this vicious cycle begins, but let’s start with how stress can lead to bad sleep.

How Can Stress Impact Our Sleep?

  • Stress can make it difficult to fall asleep: When our bodies are stressed, it sends a signal to our brains that we need help. So, our minds try to help us out by sending an extra jolt of adrenaline or cortisol to our bodies to help fight off whatever it is we are stressed about. These hormones do a great job of keeping us awake and alert, but make it really difficult to relax and fall into a state of sleep.
  • Stress can create night awakenings: feeling stressed can cause people to wake up more frequently at night and make it more difficult to fall back asleep.
  • Stress can cause stress dreams: stressful events can affect our dreams, and increase the frequency and severity of nightmares.
  • Stress can reduce deep sleep: Deep sleep, also known as slow wave sleep, is when the body rests, grows, develops, and reenergizes. It’s during slow wave sleep that the body recovers from the day and energizes for the next day. Without sufficient deep sleep our bodies tend to lack energy and are more susceptible to illness.

Below are a few tips on how we can try to decrease our stress levels in the evenings so that our bodies have a better chance of getting to sleep.

Mindfulness/Meditation: Mindfulness or meditation is a relaxation technique that focuses on being present moment. The purpose of it is to bring to light all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations happening within and outside the body without reacting to them. Practicing mindfulness for 10–30 minutes before going to bed can be an effective method for reducing stress and improving sleep.

Daily Routines: What we do with our bodies during the day can directly impact how our bodies feel at night. Make sure to eat a healthy diet, exercise at least 30 minutes a day and stop caffeine intake at least 6 hours before bedtime.

Create a Consistent Nightly Routine: Schedule time each night to destress before bedtime. Turn off the TV, dim the lights, silence your cell phone, and find a relaxing activity to calm your mind and body before bed. Our bodies use these steps in our bedtime routine to prepare us for sleep. Make sure to have a consistent bedtime routine every night before crawling into bed.

Create a Relaxing Bedroom Environment: The frustration of not being able to sleep can cause you to develop stressful associations with your bed. Certain sleep habits can help reinforce the idea that bed is for sleeping:

  • Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only, and try to keep work separate from the bedroom.
  • No TV in the bedroom. The blue light from the TV can lower melatonin levels, making it harder to get to sleep.
  • Keep the bedroom cold, keeping the temperate between 68-72 degrees.
  • Start winding down an hour before bedtime by dimming lights and switching to quiet activities.
  • Set your alarm for the same time every morning, even on weekends.
  • Get out of bed if you can't sleep after half an hour and do a calming activity for 20 mins in another room and then go back to your bed. This acts as a reset button for your body and tends to work better than trying to stay in your bed for long periods of time while trying to fall back asleep.

Media Curfew: News and social media can be stressful so do yourself a favor and set a curfew in the evenings to cut off any media coverage.

Once you can get your sleep under control, you should start to see decreased stress levels, improved concentration, better mood regulation, and sharper judgement and decision making.

I think we all know how important sleep is and that is it necessary in order for our brains to recharge and our bodies to rest. When we do not sleep long or well enough, our bodies do not get the full benefits of sleep, and can cause long term physical and mental health problems. Make sure to take care of your family’s health by keeping sleep a priority! If you need any help with any sleep needs, please reach out to us!

 

About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

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Working with Shannon, I went from 2-3 wake ups every night to 1 or 0. She aligned the plan with my preferred sleep cycle. She was always coaching, never judging. Shannon was great, I have referred MANY people to her! That's the best testament to her work that I can give.

Laura
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