When the pressures of life mount up and we begin to feel stressed, sleep can become increasingly elusive. ‘A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’ (Oxford English Dictionary), a little bit of stress can be motivational, even improving focus and performance. The body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, our natural instinct designed to protect ourselves in dangerous situations, is triggered by stress. The nervous system releases hormones in a rush: they race thorough the body, senses on high alert, and it is only once the danger passes that the hormones subside and the body can begin to relax. Under normal stress loads the body has time to recover but when stress is long term, the effect becomes detrimental to your sleep habits and to your health.
Too stressed for good sleep?
With our busy lives and hectic schedules there are many reasons for us to feel under pressure. At the end of the day instead of taking the time to relax and unwind before sleep, we are finishing those last minute chores, already planning for the next day. The Sleep Foundation suggests that your body will provide several clues as your stress levels escalate to a point that will impact your sleep. They suggest that you may be unable to calm your mind, with minor worries assuming outrageous proportions, escalating to keep you awake. You may experience tight sore muscles, particularly around the neck and back, causing headaches or pain and discomfort that further prevents sleep. Under great stress, you may even be able to feel your heart racing as you try to relax.
Ideas to unwind
In stressful periods, both falling asleep and staying asleep can become gradually more difficult. As challenging as it may be, the key is to maintain a good bedtime routine that allows you to set aside the worries of the day before you head to bed. Some tips to minimise stress and help you achieve a better night’s sleep include trying to get some exercise each day, minimising caffeine and alcohol later in the day and avoiding heavy meals in the evening. Start preparing for bed at least 30 minutes prior to bed time. Turn off any screens and start to unwind – take a warm bath or spend some quietly reading. Find a guided meditation or a short yoga routine that will help clear your mind and relax your body in preparation for a night of deep and uninterrupted sleep.