How does stress affect sleep?

Last Updated on September 27, 2021

Stress is a physical and emotional reaction to many of life’s challenges. It’s normal to feel stressed from time to time, and it can even be helpful in some situations. For example, if we need an extra push of motivation or we find ourselves in danger, stress can prepare us for action when it is most needed.

Physical and emotional stress can be separated into two big groups: acute or chronic. Acute stress is short-term stress that everyone experiences at one time or another. It’s what helps us respond quickly to dangerous situations. Whereas, chronic stress lasts longer and often becomes harmful when the body acts as if it’s constantly in danger. Chronic stress can cause a lot of health problems unless a person finds a way to manage it.

Stress can cause several health conditions, including headaches, stress-inducing asthma attacks, and mood disorders. Stress can also increase the risk of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation. That’s why in today’s guide, we’ll try to explain how does stress affect sleep and what can you do to reduce it to get a good night’s rest. 

How does stress affect sleep?

How does stress affect sleep?

There is a two-way relationship between sleep and stress. An anxious state can lead to sleep loss, and, conversely, loss of rest can increase the physical or mental pressure you might be experiencing. The link between the two is complex, but research shows that there are several effects of stress on sleep. They are the following:

  • Trouble falling asleep – pressure and worries can often increase how long it takes to fall asleep. People that go through high levels of stress are more likely to experience sleep disorders such as insomnia. Chronic insomnia can develop over time in response to prolonged anxiety.
  • Altered sleep structure – the effects of stress on sleep architecture are still being studied, but it appears that it may reduce a type of rest known as slow-wave sleep, a stage in your sleep cycle that is crucial for maintaining physical and mental health. Pressure and anxiety might also affect rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
  • Multiple nighttime awakenings – Feeling stressed can cause people to wake up more often during the night. Sleep disruptions are usually found in stressed individuals.
  • Stress dreams – Stressful events can affect even our dreams. Some studies suggest that stress can increase the frequency and severity of one’s nightmares.

Keep in mind that insomnia isn’t the only sleep disorder linked to this issue. Stressed people can also have a condition known as sleep bruxism which involves nighttime teeth clenching and grinding. Fortunately, using healthy coping mechanisms and getting enough hours of rest every night can help to deal with it. 

How to reduce stress before bed?

How to reduce stress before bed?

It is inevitable that you will experience stress at night. However, having a plan for coping with it can help you prevent stress from interfering with your rest. Here are some tips and advice that can help you recognize the signs of stress and combating stress at bedtime:

Pay attention to stress

The first step in learning how to sleep when stressed and anxious is recognizing the signs of anxiety. You should try and understand how stress shows up in your life. It doesn’t matter if it’s sleeping issues, changes in relationships, or changes in your thought patterns. Once you can recognize when and how your body is under stress, you can take action and create a plan for how to respond.

Create a nighttime routine & improve sleep hygiene

Having a sleep schedule that you follow every night can be extremely beneficial for your rest. It can help you destress before bedtime because your body knows it’s time for slumber. If you are able to create a healthy nighttime routine and improve your sleep hygiene, your stress levels should go down significantly.

We also recommend you stay clear of electronics before bed (TV, smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.) since they emit blue light, which can disrupt your rest. Electronics aren’t the only cause of sleep disruptions. It would be best to avoid drinking caffeine or consuming alcoholic beverages at night since they are a stimulant that can make it harder for you to fall asleep. 

Mindfulness meditation & relaxation techniques

Certain activities can cause the body to relax. They include lowering heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and relaxing the body. You can learn to relax when you need it with the help of yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

The purpose of meditation is to make people more aware of the present moment. The aim is to acknowledge all thoughts, feelings, and sensations that happen outside of your body. It is possible to reduce stress and improve sleep by practising for 10 to 30 minutes before bed.

Exercise

Many symptoms of anxiety and stress can be alleviated by exercising. It is possible to improve your mental health and well-being through physical exercise. Reducing stress levels and improving sleep quality can be achieved by engaging in moderate or high-intensity physical activity. However, strenuous exercises aren’t recommended at night.

Although stress can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep, it doesn’t have to take control of your life. Making a plan for managing it and knowing the body’s stress response can help you regain control. Overall, exercise can affect your sleep positively! 

Get support

Remember that you don’t need to face stress on your own. Call a healthcare professional if you’ve tried to manage stress on your own and it’s still interfering with sleep. Mental health professionals, as well as doctors and sleep specialists, can help you cope with it. You should never be afraid to ask for help!

Have sex

Last but surely not least, a great way to relax before bed is sexual activity. Sex with a loving partner can give you a dose of relaxing hormones and provide other stress management benefits. But, unfortunately, many individuals that experience pressure and stress have a lower sex drive.

Bottom line

There is a close link between stress and sleep. Lack of sleep can cause stress levels to increase, and worrying can adversely affect sleep quality. Both can cause long term physical and mental health problems.

It’s essential that people who are having issues with one or the other (or both) don’t try to tackle them on their own. Instead, mental health professionals can provide care, and friends and family members can offer additional support.

We hope we were able to answer the how and why when it comes down to ‘How does stress affect sleep?’, and now it’s our turn to hear from you if any questions regarding the subject were left unanswered. Also, if you want to share some information, we would gladly hear about it in the comments below.

Isabelle Harris
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