How to Sleep Well in the Age of Stress

Sleep Well in the Age of Stress

Stress can be good. The right amount can drive you to accomplish your daily tasks, and then some. But too much can ruin the mind and body, affecting your overall well-being. The effects on your body, mood, and behavior manifest as symptoms. And having sleep problems is one of them.

More than 50% of the patients seen by Nancy Molitor, Ph.D., an Illinois-based psychologist, struggle with sleep. In Molitor’s case, physicians referred these patients to her because she could help them manage their health condition, like insomnia, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy.

In one woman, she found out the sleep disorder was caused by excessive stress. So she used a collaborative approach that combined stress management methods and lifestyle changes.

Similarly, if you need to manage stress, you have to know first when it is becoming more of a crutch than an accelerator. Here are 5 signs to watch out for:

How to Know If Your Stress Is No Longer Healthy

Take A Self-Assessment Survey

One of the quickest ways to find out if your stress has reached red alert status is to take a quiz. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) designed the Stress 360 Survey for this purpose.

Note the Signs and Symptoms

Observe yourself. Notice any changes in your feelings, thoughts, and actions. Normally, sleep issues come along with other common signs and symptoms. Refer to this checklist created by AIS:

Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
Gritting, grinding teeth
Stuttering or stammering
Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
Lightheadedness, faintness, dizziness
Ringing, buzzing or “popping sounds
Frequent blushing, sweating
Cold or sweaty hands, feet
Dry mouth, problems swallowing
Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
Rashes, itching, hives, “goosebumps”
Unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks
Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
Excess belching, flatulence
Constipation, diarrhea, loss of control
Difficulty breathing, frequent sighing
Sudden attacks of life-threatening panic
Chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse
Frequent urination
Diminished sexual desire or performance
Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
Increased anger, frustration, hostility
Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
Increased or decreased appetite
Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
Trouble learning new information
Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
Difficulty in making decisions
Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness
Little interest in appearance, punctuality
Nervous habits, fidgeting, feet tapping
Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
Overreaction to petty annoyances
Increased number of minor accidents
Obsessive or compulsive behavior
Reduced work efficiency or productivity
Lies or excuses to cover up poor work
Rapid or mumbled speech
Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
Problems in communication, sharing
Social withdrawal and isolation
Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs
Weight gain or loss without diet
Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
Excessive gambling or impulse buying

The British are known for their motivational message: Keep calm and carry on. But in the age of stress, it seems you’re treading a fine line between calm and chaos. Learning how to handle stress is essential for carrying on. Dig in to know about what you can do. 

If you’re in a hurry, skip to the next subtopic in which we share 9 quick tips on how to sleep better if you’re stressed.

Sleep Well in the Age of Stress

How to Handle Stress

1. Identify the Source of Your Stress

Step outside of a stressful situation to figure out what’s causing it. This could mean literally leaving the office or house. Let your feet wander inside a cafe, drink calming tea (avoid coffee), and then identify your stressor/s. For some people, it could be work, home, relationships, or finances.

2. Move, Move, Move

Fit a regular physical activity into your schedule. You can blow off steam by hitting the gym, running, swimming, even boxing. If you’re into less strenuous options, check out yoga or pilates classes in a studio near you. Consult your doctor before exercising if you have other health conditions, have been leading a sedentary lifestyle for a while, or are 45 years up.

3. Eat a better diet

You’ve heard of this over and over. A healthy, balanced diet helps improve your stamina and immune system, making you feel better inside. Proper nutrition also enhances cognitive functions. So eat your fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Avoid tobacco and illegal substances, and drink caffeine and alcohol in moderation. 

4. Spend Time with Family and Friends

Meeting with family and friends regularly not only keeps you updated about each other’s lives; it also provides you with group support when you need to vent or solve a problem. Other times, you can just do something fun together and let the stress melt in the background.

5. Don’t Spread Yourself Thin

It’s easy to fill our calendar with commitments. But if you’re failing to follow through some of them, the thought of it can add to your stress. Find ways to delegate some tasks or seek help from others. Start saying no to more activities and free up some time for leisure.

6. Retrain Your Brain to Recognize Bedtime

Your body requires plenty of sleep to recover from life’s daily impact, including stress. But if stress is keeping you awake, you can introduce some changes into your bedtime habits. You can work with a psychologist or a sleep specialist using an approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Retrain your brain to acknowledge sleep as a favorable activity using the tips below

Sleep Well in the Age of Stress

How to Sleep Better If You’re Stressed

1. Start With Small Changes

Aim for changes that you can do in a week. You can start by going to bed when you feel tired instead of setting an early bedtime (see tip #2). This will help you get rid of the anxiety that comes with the inability to fall asleep. When you lie down, don’t reach for your phone (tip #4) or turn the lights back on (tip #8). 

2. Go to Bed When You Feel Tired

If you feel anxious about falling asleep, try to hit the sack when you’re feeling tired. Getting your mind worked up because you aimed for an early bedtime may even make it harder to doze off. You can perform light exercises like yoga Nidra, but don’t do hard workouts at this point.

3. Avoid Taking Late Afternoon Naps

Taking power naps is all right as long as you do it in mid-afternoon or better yet, right after lunch. Having them several hours before bedtime will definitely affect your ability to sleep. Also, do not prolong your naps. You can set your alarm to wake you up after 15 to 20 minutes. Make it around 45 minutes, and you’ll already feel groggy.

4. Remove Digital Devices In the Bedroom

Light is an important factor in resetting your body’s internal clock. At night, the body reads the lack of light as a sign to end and restart the 24-hour cycle. The blue light emitted by electronic devices, however, can interfere with your circadian rhythm. So keep your devices out of reach once you’re in bed, or leave them outside the bedroom.

Do note that your biological clock can also be in shambles because of disorders like the delayed sleep phase syndrome.

5. Take A Warm Bath

Warm baths are not only relaxing. They also help cool down the body afterward, which sets you up for sleep. This is because it replicates the temperature drop your body experiences during sleep (except for the feet and hands, which warm up as you snooze).

6. Perform Some Relaxation Techniques 

A guided body scan meditation can help you relax your body gradually, which is a precursor to sleep. Yoga has the same effect. You can also perform deep breathing and visualization techniques. Explore your options until you find something that works for you.

7. Listen to Music

Listening to soft music has been shown to help people fall asleep faster. Think about how babies can be put to sleep with a lullaby. Apparently, songs are also effective for adults. Try classical, jazz, or folk music for starters. A Spotify poll also found Ed Sheeran as the top artist that makes for easy listening and thus is good to play on the background during bedtime.

8. Do Not Turn On the Lights

Once you’ve turned off the lights, avoid turning them back off. This tip applies even when you tend to wake up in the middle of your sleep or can’t sleep at all. If you’re tossing and turning, get up and move to another room. You’re advised to keep the lights out when you do so.

9. Write Down What You’re Worrying About

Finally, beat stress before bedtime by listing down the things you need to do tomorrow. Migrating your thoughts to paper (or your go-to Notes app) can trick your brain into forgetting them. Plus, this exercise gives you perspective as you’ll probably realize nothing is more urgent than you going to sleep.

Final Thoughts

Remember that it takes a few tries to see the effects of these changes. So keep taking small steps in combating stress and sleeping well. Don’t give up even on days—or night—when you’re struggling to sleep. Cultivate the right habits to help you manage stress. And then work your way toward a restful and rejuvenating slumber.

For more tips on achieving your best sleep, check out our articles on sleep education.