Sleep During Tough Times: How To Leave Stress Behind Before Bed
How did we come to live in a world in which a good night’s sleep has become a luxury? After all, rest is one of the pillars of physical, mental, and emotional health. Sacrificing it, no matter the reason, is one of the worst things we can do to ourselves.
Yet often, the cause of losing sleep isn’t that we’re doing something wrong. It’s just that we’re dealing with overwhelming circumstances, professionally or personally. And the only way to “get back on track” is to manage the elements which are causing our health damage.
The negative effects of stress and lack of sleep
In addition to poor sleep hygiene, which our modern lifestyles unfortunately perpetrate, the most common cause of insomnia is stress. According to a 2017 survey by Gallup, 8 in 10 Americans are under stress. That’s not just a significant portion of the population, it’s the great majority.
Even more worrying is the fact that stressful situations don’t just make it difficult to fall asleep at night. They significantly impact sleep quality including slow-wave sleep, REM sleep, sleep efficiency, and increase the number of awakenings during the night. And while the most obvious result of low-quality sleep is the feeling of grogginess in the morning, it actually has bigger health consequences.
The effects of chronic lack of sleep include:
- trouble concentrating
- memory issues
- mood swings
- weakened immune system
- high blood pressure
- increased risk of diabetes
- weight gain
- low sex drive
- cardiovascular disease
- poor coordination
Considering all of this, it becomes obvious that fixing our sleep schedules should be high on our list of priorities. But how do we do this when we’re dealing with stress, or simply going through a tough time?
Locating the root of our problems
On the whole, stressors can be divided into two categories: internal and external.
Internal stressors are those which we impose upon ourselves. They can be expectations, fears, our mindset, or the pressures we put on ourselves to perform in different areas of life. External stressors, however, are those that stem from our environment. Work or school are the common roots of stress. Similarly, economic factors such as financial instability are often the cause of stress in adults.
The extent to which we can influence these factors differs greatly. While we can decide to work on our mindset, shifting towards a more positive way of thinking, we can’t exactly wake up one morning and decide to single-handedly end a worldwide pandemic like Covid-19. Thus, it becomes obvious that eliminating stress from our lives, and preventing it from negatively influencing sleep isn’t a problem with a single best solution.
But, does that mean we have to accept the fact that we’re going to be sleeping poorly for the rest of our lives?
Most definitely not.
Focusing on that which we can control
Even though most people can’t just up and quit their stressful job without prior preparation, there are factors we can work on eliminating with the goal of ensuring a better night’s sleep. For one, we can choose to focus on what’s important in our internal system of values. Re-evaluating our priorities, the aspects of our life that we are happy with, and changing those we’re not is one of the best ways to lead a less stressful life.
Simple habits such as yoga, meditation, or breathwork can help us reconnect with our inner selves. These ensure that we get a better grip on what truly matters and what’s nothing but a distraction. Practicing them upon waking up and before sleep helps put the mind in a calmer state. Meditation (in any of its forms) slows down our thoughts, allows us to let go of that which is causing unnecessary stress, and focus on the positive aspects of our days.
Furthermore, we can choose to prioritize our physical health. This is certain to ensure better sleep as well.
Small things that have a big impact include:
- getting regular exercise to manage energy levels
- including sleep-promoting micronutrients in our diet
- being mindful of the effect of light and digital devices on the circadian rhythm
- nurturing meaningful relationships and letting go of those that bring no true value
Targeting the cause, not the symptoms
Nowadays, many people reach for melatonin or CBD oil to fix their sleep. However, although these can do wonders to help us sleep, they’re still temporary fixes. More often than not, they treat the symptoms, but the stressors which are causing poor sleep in the first place remain.
It is for this reason that seeking out help is so important. You can decide to talk to a therapist, friend, or family member – whichever feels most comfortable. Conversation (or even writing) has an excellent way of addressing and treating stress and trauma. Additionally, an experienced therapist can do more than help fix your temporary problems. They can equip you with the skills needed to more effectively solve life’s biggest challenges.
It can be difficult to calm the mind before bed. Especially when we’re going through tough times. Although we often can’t control all of what life throws at us, we can focus our efforts on making the most of our situation. Self-care is an excellent antidote to stress, and in addition to promoting better sleep, it can also encourage positive habits in all areas of life.
So, if you feel like you’re too stressed out and the hyperaware state is causing you to lose sleep, try to do little things which will help you relax: take a hot bath, meditate, talk to a friend. And if your condition is chronic, don’t forget to seek out help so that you can address the root of the cause. You’ll see, it is sure to result in a healthier, happier you.
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