​Sleep and Stress: Understanding and Breaking the Cycle

Posted by Level Sleep on

Okay, February, your post-holiday, nasty weather, cabin fever days are making us feel stressed. Worse, our stress may be keeping us up at night. So what is the link between stress and sleep, and what can we do to sleep better?

Does stress interfere with sleep?

While not everyone experiencing stress suffers from sleep problems or insomnia, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “43 percent [of adults] report that stress has caused them to lie awake at night in the past month.”

The mid-winter doldrums challenge us in many ways: For example, we’re not as active and, as a result, don’t release endorphins that can improve our mood and bring down stress. Under stress, we tend to eat and drink more, increase our caffeine intake, and spend more time in front of electronics that disrupt our circadian rhythms and interfering with the buildup of melatonin, the hormone that initiates the onset of sleep.

Stress-related moods don’t help, either: Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Lawrence Epstein suggests that "There's a big relationship between psychiatric and psychological problems and sleep. So people who are depressed or have anxiety often have trouble with sleep as part of those disorders."

Can poor sleep increase stress?

Anyone who’s been challenged to fall asleep already knows the answer. But how do we know if we’re stressed or simply restless? Stress is experienced in a variety of ways.

  • Emotional: Nervousness, feeling burned out, boredom, irritability, depression, feelings of helplessness
  • Physical: Headaches, stomach aches, and backaches, fatigue, cold sweats/clammy hands, restlessness
  • Behavior: Irritability, change in eating, bossiness, drinking more alcohol

So back to the question: Is stress affecting our sleep? The National Sleep Foundation says it is. For example, in NSF’s research, adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress than those getting eight or more.

Compared to those who slept more than eight hours, adults with less sleep reported:

  • Feeling irritable or angry (45 percent vs. 32 percent)
  • Lacking interest, motivation or energy (42 percent vs. 30 percent)
  • Feeling overwhelmed (40 percent vs. 27 percent)
  • Losing patience or yelling at their spouse or partner (50 percent vs. 36 percent)

Breaking the Cycle

“Sleep and stress are so integrated that we ask patients to evaluate each and incorporate any challenges into the care we provide” says Dr. Tony Garrow of Jersey Shore Wellness Center, which combines chiropractic, massage therapy, weight loss, acupuncture, and physical therapy and recommends Level Sleep products.

Dr. Tony Garrow

Bringing the relationship between stress and sleep to light is the first step in breaking the cycle. What’s next? As sleep experts, we’ll start with approaches to getting better sleep.

  • Dr. Garrow and others recommend starting with the right mattress and pillow. Our TriSupport Mattress’s three zones align and reduce physical stress on your body, while minimizing the pressure buildup on your shoulders, hips, and back that contributes to tossing and turning. Our Restore Pillow works with the mattress to prevent neck pain and disruptive snoring. In other words, you’ll sleep longer and more soundly.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and stimulants that interfere with sleep. While you may fall asleep faster with alcohol, it has a major negative impact on your sleep cycles and sleep quality.
  • Consider natural supplements or remedies such as melatonin or chamomile.
  • Create a consistent sleep-preparation routine and schedule that gets you ready for sleep and signals your body it’s time to wind down.
  • Exercise regularly--but allow at least two hours between your exercise and sleep time.
  • Prepare your bedroom for sleep by turning down bright lights and establishing a cool, comfortable sleeping environment.
  • If you’re consistently sleeping (as opposed to being in bed) fewer than eight hours, don’t force yourself to bed; instead, try and match your schedule in bed to your natural sleep pattern, then gradually expand your time in bed to reach eight hours.

To reduce stress, we recommend the following. (Please note that we are not medical professionals at Level Sleep. If you are experiencing high stress levels and advanced insomnia, see a physician.)

  • Reinforce habits and behavior that encourages healthy, consistent sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet, avoiding junk food and sugars, as food can change change your hormonal balance, affecting your sleep patterns.
  • Exercise consistently, whether it’s a light walk or a heavy workout. Remember the “two-hour rule” of not exercising close to bedtime.
  • Be social and spend time with friends and family; sharing your challenges and feeling supported will help you offload stress.
  • Understand sources of stress. Take the time to review causes of your stress and, where possible, delegate and/or read up on techniques for managing your workload and life challenges.

To learn more about topics related to sleep and health, we invite you to visit the Level Sleep blog at https://www.levelsleep.com/blog.