There’s a clear relationship between stress and sleep problems. Too much pressure at work, not enough down time, trouble at home, money worries… All too often, they’re enough to literally keep you awake at night. Conversely, losing sleep can add to the pressure you’re under. If you regularly sleep badly, you’re an ideal candidate for chronic stress.
In other words, it can all become a vicious circle. And that’s something you don’t want to fall into, because it can be more than just a nuisance – it may seriously affect your health. So how do you recognise the trap? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you escape it ?
From stress to poor sleep
Everyone sometimes has trouble sleeping due to stress or emotional upside. That’s annoying, but hardly a major problem. In general, the issue resolves itself sooner or later and you sleep easily again. But what if poor sleep becomes a persistent problem? After all, a persistent lack of sleep can affect your mental and physical health. It makes you more vulnerable to infections and other diseases, and undermines your concentration, responsiveness and decisiveness. It can even knock your emotional balance so hard that it leads to full-blown depression.
Stress doesn’t always affect sleep
Not everyone loses sleep due to stress and tension, though. Some of us are better at dealing with stress than others. The amount of stress any of us can take, and for how long, differs. And other factors play a part, too. Our health, our lifestyle, our social network, our own assertiveness and how we cope with problems and conflicts.
Burden versus resilience
Nevertheless, the greater the burden of stress you’re under, the more likely your sleep is to suffer. Stress increases the activity in your brain, and research shows that people who sleep badly have more active brains than those who sleep well. Unhealthy stress also permanently increases levels of adrenaline in the blood and that, too, is bad for sleep.
How to sleep better
Stress-related complaints like sleeping badly, but also chaotic behaviour, irritability and negative thoughts, are signs warning that you need to take life easier and relax more. The longer you wait before heeding them, the more time and effort it takes to recover.
The first thing we advise is that you take a good, critical look at your own life. What’s causing the stress? Once that’s clear in your mind, you’re in a better position to do something about it. For a start, you can try to increase your resilience by adopting as healthy a lifestyle as possible. That means eating healthily and making sure you get enough exercise. And relaxing properly. Relaxation exercises, yoga and meditation can all help reduce stress, but so too can reading a good book or taking a walk. Do what suits you. Don’t be afraid to ask family, friends or colleagues for support, either. Finally, set yourself strict boundaries – and home and at work – and make it clear that you expect other people to respect them.
If this advice doesn’t help, you still feel overwhelmed by stress and it’s still keeping you awake at night, contact your GP to discuss other approaches to stress and sleep problems. He or she might be able to refer you to a therapist or prescribe medication to help you get a good night’s rest.
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Last updated on March 22, 2016.
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