The relationship between stress and sleep

The relationship between stress and sleep

Stress and sleep - what you need to know

Everyone knows that getting a good night’s sleep is important for your wellbeing. But what you may not know is the close relationship between stress and sleep.
Stress has a huge impact on your ability to sleep well, increasing agitation and awakening. Conversely, when you get quality sleep you’re more resilient to stress.
In this article, we explain how stress and sleep go hand-in-hand. Understanding this connection can help you take steps towards sleeping and living better.
The impact of stress
Stress triggers a number of physical and emotional changes in your body that can be detrimental to your health and can make sleeping difficult (creating a snowball effect!). Your body’s response to stress can reduce your ability to go to sleep, the quality of your sleep, and it can even lead to sleep disorders.
Medical Director of Sleep Health Centers and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Lawrence Epstein confirms 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."1

Difficulty sleeping is sometimes the first symptom of depression. Studies have found that 15 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with insomnia will develop major depression.2
For many of us it’s the day-to-day stresses of life that add up, causing a feeling of stress and anxiety – it’s not always just one major event that sets off our stress. Maybe it’s the pressures and deadlines of your job, maybe it’s juggling your family commitments with work responsibilities, or perhaps it’s relationship concerns that are keeping your mind racing and your adrenaline and stress levels up. It’s not a healthy and sustainable way to live and when you live on adrenalin you tend not to sleep well and get the restoration you need.
So, you need to stress less. This is where exploring stress reduction techniques and finding one that works for you is the best course of action - there are lots of treatments that can help.
First, look at your sleep habits and see if there are steps that you can take on your own to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. If problems persist, you might want to see a doctor and ask about an evaluation for sleep problems and mental health concerns. After an evaluation and diagnosis, they can advise you on the best course of treatment. Options may include behavioral or other forms of therapy and/or medications.3

Other options can be more traditional such as trying yoga or meditation to calm your mind and body. Get outdoors and move – take a walk, swim, breathe. Take some time to talk to a trusted friend about your stress. There are many avenues that lead to stress relief – you just need to discover which method works for you.
How sleep can help
When you’re able to achieve a good night’s sleep then this can in turn further reduce your stress levels - allowing you to wake feeling energised and giving you the ability to tackle the day’s challenges. Most adults need 7-8 hours of restorative sleep each night for us to feel better, more alert, more energetic, happier, and better able to function.4 Getting less than this can leave you feeling impatient, agitated and with higher levels of stress. Practicing good sleep habits and stress-lowering strategies can improve your quality of sleep.
Don’t get caught in the stress and restless-sleep cycle. If you’re feeling the impacts of stress, try to rest easy knowing that there are ways to reduce it, and ensure you get a good night’s sleep and wake up ready to cope with a new day!
2 Breslau, N. et al., Sleep Disturbance and Psychiatric Disorders: A Longitudinal Epidemiological Study of Young Adults, Biological Psychiatry. Mar 1996; 39(6): 411–418.
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