Sleep and Stress
Stress often has a very negative effect on healthy sleep, impacting quality and duration. It does this in a number of ways, including extending how long it takes to get to sleep and fragmenting sleep. A lack of healthy sleep can then actually increase your stress levels and have a severe impact on physical and mental health. This can become a vicious cycle. In fact, the National Institutes of Health explains that sleep problems are very common in anxiety disorders. Some anxiety disorder definitions even include sleep problems, such as insomnia or nightmares.
In general, sleep helps reduce stress levels in a number of ways, including reducing anxiety by improving your ability to process stress and react to it in an appropriate way. Experts point out that a good night’s sleep has the ability to improve your overall mood and general outlook. One way it does this is by driving down cortisol levels, sometimes referred to as a “stress hormone.” The American Psychological Association reports that on average, adults with lower reported stress levels report sleeping more hours a night than do adults with higher reported stress levels. Prof. Matthew Walker of the University of California explains “without sleep it’s almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake.”
You can not exactly sleep stress away, but getting a healthy night’s worth of sleep can certainly help. Research measuring brain activity shows that a night without sleep can boost anxiety levels by as much as 30%. In addition, not all sleep is equal. For example, the third stage of non-REM sleep, otherwise known as ‘deep sleep,” has been shown to be a particularly good way to fight anxiety.
To reduce stress so you sleep better, it’s important to get some exercise and stretch every day. It’s also important to eat well. And when it’s actually time for sleep, you want to be sure that you have plenty of quiet and dark so that you can relax. Turn off all screens, for example. Having a comfortable temperature in your bedroom is also important. If you’re too hot and do not have air conditioning, then use a fan. It can cool you down and block out also ambient sounds that can be distracting.