Stress is the number one reason people have trouble sleeping. Even if you don’t normally have a problem sleeping, high-stress days or events can keep you from getting your much-needed ZZ’s.
How does stress keep you from sleeping?
Most of the stress today is caused by psychological threats. These threats are things like a fight with your partner, getting a poor performance review from your boss, or being jealous of your friends who are posting their accomplishments on social media. Your conscious brain makes you believe that the stress is over. You make up with your partner, you put an action plan in place for work, you congratulate your friends, and tell yourself that one day you will have and do the same things.
However, your subconscious brain doesn’t understand when the threat is over like it does for a physical threat. When you slay the tiger or survived a car accident, your brain easily connects that the threat is over. But a psychological threat doesn’t have the same distinct ending and the subconscious doesn’t understand that the stress has ended.
This keeps the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, elevated in preparation for fighting or fleeing. These hormones are designed to prepare you for action by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and brain waves, so you can think quickly and move with speed, agility, and strength.
Combined, all these things lead to reduced deep sleep, making your sleep lighter and more easily disrupted. And if you have a propensity to relive situations, the constant replay of the events will make it more difficult to go to sleep or back to sleep if you’ve woken during the night.
Here are 10 ways to help you reduce your stress and get some sleep.
Tried and True Methods for Reducing Stress:
Exercise is a great stress reliever. It produces endorphins, which act as a natural pain reliever, and reduces cortisol and adrenaline. Not only does the physical exertion help you to forget what is bothering you while you work out, but your brain makes up for physical stress by increasing deep sleep allowing you to sleep more soundly through the night.
Journaling is a great way to help your brain process the feelings and emotions that arise when under psychological stress. This helps the brain move past the perceived threat allowing your body to reduce your cortisol level resulting in a more natural sleep cycle with proper deep sleep.
Meditation, like journaling, is a good way to help your brain process the psychological stressors that keep you awake at night. Studies show that meditation can help the brain respond to stress rather than react to it. This helps you to better deal with the stressors as they occur and reduce the automatic physical reaction of the stress response.
Stress tends to make your breathe shallowly in your chest or even hold your breath. This leads to an inefficiency in the body’s ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide which adds stress to the body. Breathing into the abdomen allows better oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, reducing stress on the body which helps calm the body and allows you to relax.
Watch a Laugh Out Loud Comedy
Laughing is a great stress reliever. Not only does it help you change your focus from the stressful situation, but it also helps you to breathe deeper into your lungs. Who can have a big belly laugh without breathing deeply?
Get Some More Sunshine
Research shows that no matter when you live in the world, you only get about an hour of sunlight per day. And with so many companies switching to work from home, I would guess it’s even less than that.
Sunlight helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and can improve mental health. For those who live somewhere where the sunrise and sunset vary greatly depending on the time of year, you’ll know that the winter months can be more difficult. Likewise for areas that see long stretches of gloomy, dreary, rainy weather.
Opening the blinds as soon as you get up and keeping them open until the sun sets, sitting in an east-facing window with your coffee in the morning, or a west-facing window an hour before sunset will help you to get more sunlight. If the sun doesn’t shine much during certain times of the year, investing in a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) light can also help you get enough bright light to keep your sleep cycle regular.
Spend Time with Family or Friends
Nothing helps reduce stress more than being around the people who love and support you. Sharing your challenges, reaching out for help, and receiving love are all good ways to reduce stress. It’s a bonus if they can help you laugh out loud.
Learn Something New
Research shows that exercising your brain is just as important as your body in helping you sleep. When you’re under stress, taking the time to engage your brain in an activity that requires focus on an interesting topic can help you build confidence as well as reduce your tendency to ruminate on the stressor. Pair this with a new hobby, like learning to play an instrument or how to dance the tango and you can have a little fun too.
Pick Up a Hobby
Change your focus from your stress to something you enjoy. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re having fun. Better yet, combine your hobby with any of the other suggestions here. Golf adds exercise, sunshine, and fun times with friends and family. Painting can be meditative. Learn something new while you read or write.
Tapping (aka emotional freedom techniques) is a self-help energy psychology that removes the associated negative emotions from a memory, thus freeing the individual from paralyzing fear, stress, anxiety, and other emotional traps. This involves using your fingers to tap on acupressure points on your face and body while thinking about a stressful event or situation to calm your nervous system.