Stress Is Keeping You Awake, But What Can You Do?

“Try not to be so stressed.”

How exhausting does that refrain get? We hear it all the time. Stress is bad for you—yeah, we get that.

Stress is keeping you awake, but what can you do?

But life in the 21st century is stressful. There is no getting around it. Many of us spend more than 8 hours a day working. We may commute for an hour or two each day. We come home and cook dinner, take care of our children, and make plans with family and friends. We struggle to keep up with our bills and take care of our health. Life just keeps speeding by.

And then we throw insomnia into the mix. We go to bed utterly drained, but somehow, we just can’t get to sleep. 

Then we wake up the next morning, totally fatigued, and do it all over again.

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And trying to keep up with it all on just a few hours of sleep a night? Talk about stress!

But stress may be the very reason you aren’t sleeping well at night—or at least a contributing factor.

That means no matter how stressful the worn refrain “Try not to be so stressed” may be, sometimes, we need to find a way.

Does Stress Cause Insomnia? Of Course, But It’s Not That Simple

To understand how stress can affect sleep, let’s take a look at what a few knowledgeable sources have to say on the matter.

The National Sleep Foundation writes

“Not all insomnia is due to stress, but people who are under considerable stress can have insomnia. In the case of insomnia related to stress, alleviating the stress should alleviate the insomnia. Stress causes insomnia by making it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep, and by affecting the quality of your sleep. Stress causes hyperarousal, which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness.”

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) writes:

Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems or make existing problems worse. And having an anxiety disorder exacerbates the problem … Anxiety causes sleeping problems, and new research suggests sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder. Research also shows that some form of sleep disruption is present in nearly all psychiatric disorders.”

The National Sleep Foundation further elaborates on the vicious cycle on this page, stating:

If you don’t sleep enough at night, your body boosts its levels of stress hormones. The brain chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop the production of stress hormones. As a result, when you don’t sleep well, your body keeps pumping out those hormones The next day, you feel more stressed, the following night you find it harder to fall asleep, and so on.”

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So stress causes insomnia. Insomnia causes stress. What a mess, right?

What Can You Do Today to Reduce Stress and Sleep Better at Night?

Reduce stress to sleep better

Any plan for tackling stress in your life is going to need to be highly individualized to your psychological needs and life situation.

But there is no reason we can’t present some ideas which might be broadly helpful to the majority of people.

You have two tasks ahead of you:

  1. Find ways to fight insomnia directly.
  2. Look for ways to reduce overall stress in your life.

Let’s go over some possibilities for dealing with each of these.

Your Insomnia Reduction Checklist: 

Let’s look at things you can do specifically to promote good sleep, thereby indirectly reducing stress. 

  1. Take an herbal supplement for sleep. Some good options include valerian, magnesium, passionflower, chamomile and L-theanine. All of these supplements have research backing them up. Individually, or in combination, they can help you to get to sleep more rapidly and stay asleep longer.
  2. If there is any reason to suspect you might have sleep apnea, this is something you should consult with a doctor about.
  3. If you do not have a consistent routine for waking up and going to bed, start going to bed and getting up at the same time of day every day, including on weekends.
  4. Make your room as comfortable and conducive to sleep as possible. If you are sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress or pillow, replace them. If your room is too hot or cold to fall asleep easily or get quality rest, look into heating or air conditioning (or opening a window or running a fan) as needed. Heated mattress pads can also be helpful. Your room should be dark. It should not have disruptive noises if possible.
  5. Clear your mind before bedtime if you can. You do not want to go to bed with a head full of problems. You should find something pleasant to distract you, like listening to music, reading a book or playing a game, meditating, or working on a craft. You can then go to bed hopefully not ruminating about your stressors. 
  6. Some people find that taking a warm bath before bed is a good way to relax and fall asleep fast.
  7. Exercising more in general can help to promote sleep. Should you work out right before bedtime? This can have varying results. The question is whether it will rev you up or calm you down. You know your body and mind best in this respect. Regardless, daytime exercise on a regular basis can go surprisingly far to help curb insomnia.
  8. There are certain things which you should avoid late at night. For example, you should not drink alcohol or caffeine late at night, and some people can even be kept up by caffeine if they drink it in the late afternoon or early evening. A large meal before bed also can keep you up.
  9. While it might go without saying, you should not work on things that make you anxious before bed. That means that you probably should not be dealing with issues involving work, money, relationships, or so forth if you have problems with them at the moment. This urge can be tough to resist, but losing more sleep over your problems will not help you solve them.
  10. Are physical issues keeping you awake, like menopause symptoms, headaches, or other forms of discomfort? Try treating these symptoms directly to get more sleep. There are herbal supplements you can try for many different health conditions.

Your Overall Life Stress Checklist (It’s a Big One): 

Stressed

Now let’s go over some possibilities for reducing your life stress in general, which should help to indirectly promote good sleep. 

  1. Cut away unnecessary obligations. Are you overcommitted? That can certainly ramp up your stress levels. So can dealing with toxic people or situations. In both cases, see if you can cut back on any unnecessary commitments or interactions. 
  2. Bring more structure—or spontaneity—to your life. If you are someone who needs structure, look for ways to create more structure in your life if it is lacking. Sometimes that is just a matter of building a more stable routine and sticking with it. On the other hand, if you are lacking spontaneity in your life and that is something which can bring you delight, give yourself permission to be spontaneous more often.
  3. See a therapist if you need professional help. A professional may be able to give you perspective and ideas that you would take longer to get on your own. If this is not an option, doing your own research can bring you most of the same benefits.
  4. Plot a realistic course toward solving life problems. While adjusting your mindset can help you to feel less stressed in many situations, there are others where your body is trying to tell you that you really need to make a change. If you are in a poisonous workplace, a toxic relationship, or dealing with serious health problems, do not sit in the backseat. Take the wheel and see if you can work toward fixing some of these stressful problems. 
  5. Meditate, deep breathe, practice yoga, or practice other relaxation techniques. There are so many different relaxation techniques out there which are widely practiced.  One or more of these may be able to help you de-stress. Try out different techniques to find out what you like.
  6. Go outside and get more fresh air. If you spend most of your time indoors, think about going outside more often. If possible, try to surround yourself with natural beauty. It can be a great stress-reliever.
  7. Work out. According to the Harvard Medical School, “Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”
  8. Socialize. If you don’t spend much time with friends or family, think about socializing more. Even if you are an introvert, socializing more can help you to de-stress, so long as you still pay attention to your limits.
  9. Learn something new. How recently have you researched a topic which interests you, or learned a new skill? Consider finding a new hobby, taking a class, or just reading up on a subject of interest. When you expand your horizons, that can help you to feel less stressed. 
  10. Do activities you enjoy. You do not necessarily need to sit on a cushion and meditate to de-stress. Any activity can help you relax so long as it is something which you enjoy doing. Whatever it is that you love doing with your free time, try and do more of it. Cutting back on unnecessary obligations can help make this happen.
  11. Respect your limits. One of the easiest ways to raise your stress levels and deplete your energy and well-being is to 1-not know where your limits are, and/or 2-not respect those limits. If you are in an overwhelming situation which you can retreat from, sometimes retreat is the healthiest and most sensible choice. In other words, know when to take a break, and actually take one.
  12. Look for ways to reframe bad situations you cannot escape. While there are many things we can change, there are also many we cannot. Although these things may be inherently stressful, you still may be able to reduce stress levels somewhat by changing the way you cognitively frame the situation. 

Conclusion: Stress and Insomnia Are Worth Tackling Simultaneously for the Best Results

Stress and insomnia can be strongly interrelated in many situations. If one increases, the other frequently will as well. If one decreases, the other may be at least partially alleviated.

So to combat both loss of sleep and stress most effectively, you should treat both as best you can. It may take some time to put the necessary lifestyle changes into effect. But once you do, hopefully you will soon be having less stressful days and more restful nights.

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