Many of us know that we’re not functioning at our best after a poor night’s sleep, but did you know sleep deprivation can have profound consequences on your physical health? Lack of consistent sleep reduces life expectancy and puts you at risk of suffering from number of serious medical conditions, including obesity and heart disease. Yet despite this, over 40% of us sleep for less than the recommended 7 hours each night.
It’s not that we don’t want to sleep. Many of us simply can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. You know the drill: you try to get an early night after a busy day (you might even feel exhausted), but as soon as your head hits the pillow your mind is met with a million thoughts. While this can be attributed to a range of lifestyle and biological factors, stress is a leading cause for a significant number of people.
Everyone experiences stress. In short bursts, it can actually have a positive impact, such as helping you meet a deadline or avoid danger. However, long-lasting stress can have detrimental effects on your physical health and mental well-being, even causing anxiety and depression. The impact of stress on sleep is particularly harmful as it exacerbates these health problems, which in turn can lead to further stress. This feedback loop may at times seem impossible to break in a world where stress and sleep problems are on the rise.
According to the American Institute of stress, 33% of the population have suffered from extreme stress in the last year and 48% of people report trouble sleeping due to stress.
So what can be done to combat these alarming figures, reduce stress and help you get a better sleep?
In addition to managing your day-to-day lifestyle to reduce stress and promoting a healthy work-life balance, try the following:
Regular Exercise - There is solid evidence demonstrating the powerful role exercise plays regarding the quality of your sleep. Just 20 minutes of moderate intensity cardio each day can help you fall sleep more quickly, improve deep sleep quality, and reduce insomnia.
Though the mechanism explaining the impact exercise has on helping you sleep are still unclear, it’s strong link to reducing stress is likely to be a factor. Exercise releases endorphins, which are described as ‘natural painkillers’, relieving stress and leading to the ‘feel good’ factor you get after a workout.
There is also evidence to show that regular exercise lowers cortisol, the hormone that is released during stress and derails many bodily functions when levels are too high. And it’s not just cardio that has these positive effects, weightlifting and yoga has also been shown to reduce stress and help you sleep.
Pro-tip: Apart from some light yoga, don’t exercise too close to your bedtime. Exercise increases your core body temperature and alertness levels, making it difficult to sleep.
Meditation - The art of being more aware of the present and getting out of your head might be particularly beneficial in the evening, just before you drift off, as this is when the mind tends to wander the most.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation breaks the train of your everyday thought and evokes the relaxation response. The relaxation response is a term coined by Dr, Herbert Benson, who explains this physiological response can alleviate stress and stress-related conditions, such as high blood pressure and poor mood.
Studies have also shown that meditation can reduce cortisol levels and initiate melatonin, the hormone responsible for promoting sleep. It’s no surprise then, that meditation can alleviate insomnia and day time sleepiness. Try adding meditation to your bed-time ritual!
If you’re unsure on how to meditate, check out Headspace, which offers guided meditation for both stress and sleep.
Turn Off Electronic Devices: Using Light emitting devices, such as laptops, TV, smartphones too close to your bed-time will disrupt your sleep. The light emitted from these devices, particularly blue-light, suppresses melatonin, making it a challenge to drift off.
This is becoming increasingly acknowledged, yet it’s still estimated that more than 90% of Americans use technology during the hour before bed, causing insomnia cases to rise.
New studies also suggest that the use of technology may lead to stress, which as we know is likely to contribute to sleep problems. One study showed that people who sent a text message or surfed the web within two hours of going to bed reported higher levels of stress than those who did not engage in these activities.
And whilst stress levels weren’t seen to rise with all forms of technology; there was no correlation when watching TV for example, we think the best advice is to stay clear of all light-emitting electronic devices at least an hour before you sleep. Try reading a book, listening to music, or talking with a loved one instead.
The stress management solutions mentioned above are by no means an exhaustive list and not all sleep problems are directly linked to stress. However, if you’re like the majority of us and suffer from the occasional stress induced sleep problem, then we hope these can help. Reducing stress in your life will not only make you feel better, it will also help you to sleep better, which in turn will have profound effects on your overall health and stress reduction.