Stress and Sleepless Nights

The Bottom Line: Not enough sleep = stress = not enough sleep = stress

I would be very surprised if many of us could honestly say that we have never had sleep problems.  I think we have all suffered from some form of sleep disorder, however brief and situational, or maybe some of us suffer from a more permanent condition as a result of chronic stress or, possibly, some form of sleep apnea that has physiological roots.  Or … maybe your pillow is uncomfortable.

Regardless, this is a stress-related topic that never gets old, mainly because sleep and stress go hand in hand and always will.  That stress often impacts sleep quality and duration, and vice-versa, is a well-known fact and it is not new that stress and a lack of sleep can both have a severe impact on physical and mental health.  If you are not getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night, you could be vulnerable to serious negative consequences.

As recent research has told us, about 35% of all adults get fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night which can lead to a sleep deficit that results in lasting physical and mental health problems.  By way of comment, although 35% is impressive, my work with stressed individuals suggests that the percentage is probably much higher than 35%.  It appears that sleep deprivation is growing to epidemic proportions and although the exact role of sleep is not clear, research has shown that it facilitates a wide range of bodily processes that include physical changes, such as muscle repair, and mental tasks, such as concentration.  In any case, it is evident that sleep is essential to your physical and mental health.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Not getting enough sleep can cause a negative mood, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and a general inability to function as usual.
  • Lack of sleep may affect your coordination, and have severe consequences in some circumstances, such as if a person is driving or operating heavy machinery when tired.
  • The occasional night of poor sleep is unlikely to cause harm, but persistent sleep deprivation can increase the risk of several chronic health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, arthritis, kidney disease just to name some.

Also, a chronic state of physical arousal caused by stress prevents you from sleeping.

Putting this all into perspective, how can you possibly function well throughout the day when you don’t have any energy, you have difficulty concentrating, and you are not able to enjoy anything the day brings your way.

So, how can you reduce the stress that contributes to sleep deprivation?  Many of these practices may already be familiar but, chances are, you are not practicing them.  Try some of these things out and you may notice a real difference in your sleep patterns.

  • During the day get some significant exercise, eat healthy foods, reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Do not take work home and, definitely, do not check your emails as a part of your evening activities.
  • Schedule activities with your family.  Perhaps a board game or card game or reading a book with your children.
  • Turn off the TV, at least when you get closer to bedtime.  News stories and the content of some of the programs can be upsetting, over-exhilarating and over-stimulating, and will keep you awake.
  • Eliminate all ‘screen time’. Computer monitors, tablets and smart phones stimulate random brain activity and make getting to sleep difficult. In fact, research has suggested that it is the type of light emitted from your mobile device’s screen that might just be messing up your sleep cycle, even after you turn off your device.
  • Before going to bed read a pleasant book, practice progressive relaxation (see my CDs on Progressive Relaxation and Visual Imagery) and/or practice meditation.

Although reducing stress can be very challenging, it is essential to identify the sources of the stress, which are often related to work or people-problems.  Although these problems can be difficult and slow to resolve, removing the source of your stress, whatever it is, will result in a better night’s sleep.

In the interim, if lack of sleep is seriously and negatively impacting your life and your productivity, perhaps try a low dose of Melatonin. This is a natural way to induce sleep and, hopefully, a restful night.