When it comes to daily factors that can rob us of good sleep, pressure, stress and anxiety are right up there on the list.
How can stress affect sleep?
The stress response is a natural one. When we feel pressure or out of control, or even just a little frustrated at something or someone, adrenaline and cortisol flow through the body from the adrenal glands helping to mobilise sugar from the muscles into the bloodstream to be used for energy to fuel the stress or ‘fight or flight’ response.
There are two things to be wary of with the stress response:
1. In our modern environment, it’s much less appropriate to either fight our way out of a situation, or to flee the scene. It’s much more likely that we have to bite our tongue and internalise any frustration, so we are continually producing stress hormones without using them in any productive way. This can disrupt the daily chemical balance of our body.
2. Life is busy and change is constant so it’s likely that we’ll experience the stress response many times every single day. After a while we can begin to overlook low but constant levels of stress because we just ‘get used to it’. This isn’t necessarily a positive situation.
If you think that stress in any area of your life might be affecting your sleep, it can be helpful to keep some notes and record moments in the day when you feel your usually calm and focused approach has been disrupted. This will help build up a clear picture of what’s really going on.
Repeatedly producing these stress hormones through the day means they build up in our system. If this happens, we then try to process them and regain a physical balance later in the evening. Creating work for the body with this rebalancing process can prevent us from unwinding and falling asleep at night.
Many people lose sleep because they struggle to unwind in the evening and can’t switch off at night. This usually happens if you’ve had a busy day, up to and including the period right before bed. You may even still be busy when you get into bed – one of the down sides of smart phones and tablets is that they enable us to blur the line between daytime activities and nighttime sleep.
Rather than allowing the ‘busyness’ of every day to create a situation where stress hormones build and build, seek strategies to process and deal with your day as it unfolds.
The problem if you have days that are packed with activity that continues late into the night is that you’re compromising the natural wind-down time of the evening - the period when your mind makes sense of everything that’s happened since you woke up, and organises and interprets your day in order that you can relax into undisturbed sleep.
The only way to ensure your best night’s sleep is to plan for it. Two things really help here.
1. Establishing your bedtime and determining the rituals that will ensure you can fall asleep at this time – your pre-sleep routine
2. To get a great night’s sleep you need to think about laying the groundwork for this with your mind and body throughout the day. It can be challenging to run a busy daily routine and then expect to instantly unwind at night. If you can achieve moments of calm, relaxation and balance periodically throughout the day, you’ll find it much easier to achieve this state at night. One way to get better at switching off is to practice regularly. Mindfulness is a topic talked about a lot at the moment as great way to do this.
Mindfulness really just means engaging at a deeper level with whatever you are doing. It can mean focusing on an activity, and it can mean focusing on inactivity. Living more mindfully is an attempt at bringing quality to our everyday life by tuning out some of the distracting background noise that we’re all subject to and allowing us to enjoy the moment at hand.
You can be mindful doing anything in life, and you can be mindful doing nothing. The benefits of the technique come from both total focus and total distraction
Focusing on what you’re doing
This is a good habit to get into and it is quite simple. Rather than adopting the default position that many people have of feeling busy with one thing and pressured to be doing a variety of other tasks, put your full focus on what you’re doing at the present time. This can feel strange at first but if you can persuade yourself that you’ll get the job done more quickly, and probably produce a better result if you give it your full attention, you can develop this focused approach quite quickly.
How does this help me sleep?