December 14, 2016
AS THE HOLIDAYS keep getting closer, you may find your stress levels increasing. When that happens, stress and sleep can feel like arch enemies – with the battle between the two affecting both your emotional health and your overall wellness.
Suddenly, a problem that you’ve been having trouble solving overtakes your brain after dark. You run through potential solutions and watch the worst-case scenarios vividly play out in your mind. Before you know it, the sun is coming up on the horizon and your alarm clock is beeping. If you didn’t endure complete insomnia, you had so many mid-night wake ups that you feel the full effects of stress-induced insomnia regardless of the hours spent with your eyes shut.
This also works in reverse. The lack of sleep can increase your stress level over time. The more tired you are during the day, the more stress you may feel when even small problems arise. The more your quality of sleep declines due to racing thoughts and muscular tension, the more exhausted you are during the day. Eventually, your mood is impacted and you may have trouble dealing with issues that would otherwise seem minor at best.
First, you need to understand that sleep deprivation is just one of the effects of stress that impact your health and lower your quality of life. You may also experience headaches, muscle tension, digestive discomfort, and irritability. All of these symptoms of stress can interfere with your sleep, contributing to that exhausting cycle.
It’s common for insomnia and consistent night waking to lead to anxiety over sleep problems to come. This happens a lot for people with known anxiety conditions, but it can happen to anyone. After you spend a few nights staring at the ceiling, you start to tense up when bedtime rolls around. While you want nothing more than a solid night of sleep, you’re expecting another stressful night of insomnia. As you drift off to sleep, you’re wondering how long it’s going to last this time.
This anxiety intensifies your stress level and can prolong your sleep problems. The more you worry about getting sleep, the harder it may seem to actually sleep. When you spend most of your day wishing that you could go to sleep – and half the night dreading another day of exhaustion – the cycle may seem inescapable.
Rather than feeding the frustration, it’s time to break out of the stressful pattern. Eliminating the source of stress is typically all that is needed to relieve stress-induced sleep disturbances, but that’s not always easy to achieve.
Try to eliminate as much stress as possible while making a change to your sleep pattern to encourage more restorative sleep. For instance, if you normally watch television in bed, trade the TV for a book. Give yourself permission to close the book and drift off the moment you start to feel tired.
Scientific studies have made a clear connection between stress and sleep, and there are many long-term consequences to come if the occasional restless night turns into extreme fatigue due to nonstop stress.
For instance, chronic insomnia enhances your risk of slipping into a deep depression or developing an anxiety disorder. It can also lead to a higher risk of accidents in daily life, and it’s more difficult to recover from an injury when your muscles are constantly clenched due to stress.
The only way to alleviate the negative impact of stress on your body and mind is to control your stress level as much as possible. Here are some suggestions to help you:
And take heart that some of the things that cause you to feel stress – like the holidays – will eventually come to an end, and you’ll be able to return to healthier sleeping cycles.