Why does stress impact your sleep?
Stress seems to be everywhere in today’s society; so much so that studies have found that 85% of adults are experiencing stress on a regular basis1 and that possibly 25% of absenteeism from work is due to this troublesome emotion. Whether it’s related to work, financial woes or family problems, there’s no escaping that we are a nation of worriers.
How does this translate to our sleep patterns though? Well, stress can impact our sleep in a number of ways. When we experience stress, our fight-or-flight reflexes are triggered which stimulates the release of steroid hormones such as cortisol which make us feel more alert and ready for action. This can be detrimental as the secretion of cortisol can influence your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, making you feel more awake and restless when you’re trying to nod off.
It also doesn’t help that stress can influence a number of other bodily functions too – it can increase your production of inflammatory chemicals too. This has the potential to upset digestive disorders like IBS or skin conditions such as eczema, plus it can cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate and it can even impact your immune function!
If you want to learn more a bit more about stress, anxiety and sleep, I’d highly recommend reading my blog ‘How to overcome stress for a better night’s rest’ which focuses a bit more on the physical and psychological impact of stress.
What can you do to get rid of stress during the day?
When it comes to tackling stress, it isn’t just your bedtime routine that you need to consider. Often the habits you have or the actions you carry out during the day can have a noticeable impact on your ability to nod off at night. That’s why I’m going to outline a few basic tips that should make things easier for you to drift off to sleep.
1 - Ditch that afternoon cuppa – If you’re feeling a bit sleep deprived, the chances are that you rely on tea and coffee to get you through the day. First thing in the morning this isn’t too much of a problem, but if you’re regularly boiling the kettle later on in the afternoon, it can have some unhappy repercussions for your sleep patterns at night.
This is because caffeine can linger in your system for far, far longer that you might have anticipated. It can take around 5-6 hours to eliminate just half of the caffeine you’ve consumed and this figure can vary if you’re on medications like the contraceptive pill!2 A cup of tea or coffee can also deplete your stores of sleep boosting minerals like magnesium which isn’t great as low levels of magnesium can sometimes lead to Restless Leg Syndrome.
It also doesn’t help that caffeine can increase your blood levels of cortisol, that pesky stress hormone I mentioned earlier! In short, if you’re already prone to stress, a cup of tea or coffee before dinnertime is probably the last thing you need. Instead, try to limit you’re intake after midday and consider other fatigue-fighting alternatives such as our Balance Mineral Drink.
2 – Get moving - Exercising through the day can be great way to tackle stress as working out encourages the release of endorphins, your body’s happy hormone. In fact, researchers have now even speculated that exercise can reduce your secretion of stress hormones like cortisol.3 I go into a little bit more detail about the benefits of exercise for your sleep patterns in my blog ‘Do you sleep better when you exercise?’ so I’d definitely recommend checking this out if you’re curious.
It’s also worth noting that by exercise, I don’t mean anything too intense – low impact forms of exercise like tai chi or even a brisk walk can help here. This improves the circulation of blood to your brain which may even help to boost your cognitive function! Not bad if you’re roaming around in a foggy, sleep deprived stupor.
3 – Keep hydrated – If you’ve read any of my other sleep blogs, you’ll already know that I’m constantly trying to drill this home – coffee, fizzy drinks and tea, even herbal tea, are not considered to be proper fluids! If you’re idea of having a drink is to boil the kettle, then you could risk becoming dehydrated which will make you vulnerable to all sorts of symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and mood swings!
I discuss the impact of dehydration more fully here but, suffice to say staying hydrated does matter. Ideally, you should be aiming to drink 1.5 – 2 litres of water a day but when you choose to drink matters too. If you go without drinking during the day and suddenly decide to down a pint glass right before going to bed then you’re going to find yourself waking up for a midnight bathroom break!
How can you improve your bedtime routine?
Okay, so you’ve tried to implement the changes that I’ve already mentioned but what can you do in the evening, right before you go to bed? Well, here consistency does matter – you should be aiming to go to bed at the same time each night to lull your body into a sense of routine. I’ve also mentioned a few additional tips below to help you nod off a bit quicker.
1 – Watch what you’re eating - What you eat throughout the day definitely matters but the foods you choose to munch on in the evening can often be the most problematic for your sleep patterns. If you’re snacking on chocolate, crisps or fizzy cola then all that sugar is going to have some consequences. The most obvious issue is that you’re blood sugar levels will spike which will lead to a sudden burst of energy followed by a more intense crash. If this happens while you’re asleep, these fluctuations can be enough to rouse you out of a deep sleep and into a lighter phase were sleep is more easily interrupted. Instead of giving into your cravings, I’d try opting for some of the foods I mention in my blog ‘What can you eat to help you sleep?’
2 – Set aside some time to relax - The hour or so leading up to your bedtime should be a time to relax and unwind, getting your mind and body ready for sleep. If you’re frantically checking work emails or running ragged after others then your mind will still be buzzing by the time your head hits the pillow. That’s why I recommend trying to set aside some all-important ‘me-time’, whether it’s indulging in a long soak in the bath or reading a good book. You could even try practicing 5 to 10 minutes of mindful meditation or write down your feelings on paper as this can actually help you to manage stressful emotions more efficiently. Whatever you do, make sure it’s not too stimulating – no horror films or action comedies please!
3 – Consider natural helpers - There’s no shame in turning to some natural remedies to get a good night sleep. These tend to be gentler for your body and don’t carry the same side-effects as conventional sleep medicines. It could be something as simple as adding a few drops of lavender oil to your pillow or sipping on a calming cup of chamomile tea. However, if you want something that’s specifically formulated to tackle tense, stressful emotions, I’d opt for our Dormeasan sleep tincture. This can help to relax your nervous system, making it easier for you to unwind and encouraging a deep, natural sleep.
What if I wake up in the middle of the night?
Unfortunately, getting to sleep is no guarantee that you’ll stay asleep. Sleep disturbances can be just as tricky to manage and equally as infuriating, especially if you have a clock within view! Nobody wants to lie awake counting down the hours until they have to get up which is why I’ve also included a few tips to help you get back to sleep too!
1 – Get up and walk around – When you think of your bed, you should immediately associate it with relaxation, tranquillity and other warm fuzzy feelings. If you’re tossing and turning at 3am though, your bed can transform into a stressful, restrictive environment. That’s why, if you find you really can’t sleep, I’d get up and have a little walk about. Try to avoid turning on lights and definitely don’t go near your television or mobile phone. Instead, you could try and sit in a darkened room until you start to feel a bit more sluggish and tired. Once this happens, you can then move back to the bedroom!
2 – Practice deep breathing – Deep breathing techniques can really do wonders when it comes combatting stress and anxiety. As I mention in my blog, ‘Simple breathing tips for a better night’s sleep’ the 4-708 breathing technique which can be extremely effective. Simply breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 and then hold your breath whilst counting to 7. After this exhale through your mouth for a count of 8 and then repeat the cycle up to four times. This should help your body to relax and hopefully, with practice, you’ll find yourself nodding off in no time!
3 – Take some more Dormeasan - Another option if you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night could be to simply take another dose of Dormeasan. That’s why I recommend keeping the tincture and a glass of water near your bed at night!
So there you have it – some simple tips to help you manage your stress and achieve a better night’s rest! Arguably the most important step though, is one I’ve not mentioned yet – talk to someone! You might not want to land all your emotions on your loved ones but trust me, no good will come from bottling things up. Whether it’s a friend or a family member, don’t be afraid to speak to them about how you feel. Even if you don’t think they can help, they might be able to offer a new perspective and sometimes simply having someone to listen to your thoughts is enough to take some of the weight off your shoulders.