Stress and Sleep Problems: How To Break The Cycle
From worrying about the little things in life (like your ever-growing to-do list) to feeling anxious about the big stuff (like moving house), we’ve all had those nights when we just can’t sleep.
It’s no surprise that stress affects sleep quality and can seriously hinder our ability to switch off. But did you know that a lack of sleep itself can cause night stress, creating a vicious circle of anxiety and sleepless nights?
Sleep helps the brain process negative feelings like anxiety or worry. Without it, stress levels can increase by a whopping 70%.
The good news? While you might not be able to remove the stress from your life completely, there are ways you can change how it affects your life your sleep. So beat the stress/sleep cycle with a bit of help from sleep expert Dr Guy Meadows…
1. Let go of what you can’t control
Stress often creeps in because we’re trying to control something we can’t. This can cause anxiety induced insomnia, which makes you feel even worse. The solution? Try to let go of issues or concerns that you can’t change. Write them down at the end of each day if it helps, before you throw the list away and ‘rid’ yourself of the worries. This can lower your stress levels and help you get the sleep you need.
2. Look after yourself
It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but getting outdoors and doing something active a few times a week will reduce the sleep problems associated with stress. Not only will the exercise distract you from worrying, it’ll tire you out, making it easier to sleep in the evenings.
Being regularly stressed puts us in a state of ‘fight or flight’ which leaves us craving sugar. Avoid temptation (and an energy crash) and choose low GI food options, like natural yogurt, nuts or a carrot instead of sweets or pastries. They’ll stabilise your blood sugar and your mood.
3. Share your problems
Insomnia caused by stress can be solved by talking through your worries. Whether it’s speaking to someone who can offer advice, or just sharing your concerns with a friend, getting your problems off your chest can make you feel much better. This is because the act of telling someone what’s making you anxious moves your focus away from the primitive, stress part of the brain, towards the more rational part. Once this happens, you’ll find it easier to relax and your sleep quality should improve.
4. Practise mindfulness
When stress strikes, our minds can become overwhelmed, leaving us unable to think about anything else. The practice of mindfulness teaches you to notice and acknowledge thoughts and feelings, without getting trapped by them.
Find a quiet place to sit or lie down and focus on your senses and surroundings. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to what you were doing. Strengthening your mind’s ability to let go of stressful thoughts is a great way of dealing with anxiety and coping with a lack of sleep, helping you to break the sleep and stress cycle.
5. Take a break
It can sometimes feel like stress takes up all your mental and physical energy. While staying in the situation and ‘battling through’ can seem like a good idea, it often has the opposite effect and makes you more anxious.
The answer? Take a break. Whether it’s a couple of hours or a weekend away with loved ones, physically getting away from the cause of your stress, even temporarily, can give you the space to calm down. Plus, having something to look forward to can lessen negative thoughts, relieve symptoms of insomnia, due to anxiety, and get your sleep back on track.
Is a lack of sleep affecting your performance? Find out how to get more energy at work.