How Does Stress Affect Sleep?

I am sure you have a strong suspicion that the more stressed you are the less sleep you will get or the more disrupted your sleep will be. Yes your suspicion is true.

Too much stress can cause bad sleep leading to poor mental and physical health.

When we experience stress, our body releases this stress hormone called cortisol which is meant to help us regulate our blood pressure, metabolise glucose, keep us alert and help us to perform better and even run faster especially away from a lion. 

In today’s modern world, it’s not the lion that we are running away from but rather when our bosses give us tight deadlines or when the whole world is in lockdown and we are worried about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Our brain will trigger the fight or flight response in our system to help us cope with this external threat and the stress hormone will subside when the threat is removed and our body will relax again. The problem comes when these stresses become chronic and our cortisol level becomes elevated for a long period of time causing inflammation and thus suppressing our immune system. 

It’s no wonder that we can’t sleep when we are stressed because our body is in this ever-ready fight or flight mode on a physiological level, ready to tackle any perceived threat coming our way.

Here are top 5 strategies you can start using to lower your stress levels to improve sleep

Try some natural relaxation and breathing techniques

Meditation, praying and even using the Calm app may help you to destress. Whenever you feel like you are experiencing some forms of stress, try taking a 5 mins break to engage in some deep breathing exercise. Remember to breathe from your abdomen, as you breathe in your abdomen should expand and when you breathe out it should contract.  This will tell your body that it is no longer in fight or flight mode and your body will switch to rest and digest state, lowering your cortisol level. 

Make sure you drink plenty of water

Even if you don’t feel thirsty, you need to keep yourself hydrated. As soon as your body becomes slightly dehydrated, your stress response will be triggered. A good rule of thumb is to divide your weight by half, and drink that number in ounces on a daily basis.

Exercise regularly

We are born to move and we need to make sure we do that on a daily basis to ensure optimal health. Exercise releases endorphins into the body that not only make us happy but help reduce our stress level and improve our sleep. Studies have shown that regular exercise is associated with decreased anxiety and depression as well as heart disease and diabetes.

Try journaling before bedtime

Journaling before some shut-eye has been shown to reduce stress. Write down your thoughts and feelings to understand more clearly. The University of Rochester Medical Center recommended journaling to help you gain control of your emotions, manage your fears and anxiety and improve your mental health. 

When you journal, you can prioritise your problems, fears and concerns, track your day to day triggers and stressors and help you work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress.

Watch your diet

It’s been shown that what we eat largely affects our sleep. The healthier our diet is, the better our sleep will be. A study conducted for a group of healthy adults found that those who consumed low fiber, more high saturated fat and more sugar resulted in lighter, less restorative sleep with more awakenings through the night. 

So how do you know if your stress level or cortisol level is through the roof?

If you have been experiencing chronic stress for a while, your cortisol level may be elevated and it may be causing other underlying physiological conditions. You might experience muscle weakness, high blood pressure, rapid weight gain, diabetes, osteoporosis and other health problems.

One last thing…

With modern science, you can have tests that you can take to determine the root cause of your bad sleep. In my Sleep Like A Boss program, we will be running 5 lab tests to find out if you have hormonal imbalances, poor gut health, vitamins and mineral deficiencies, thyroid dysfunction or food sensitivities that may be affecting your cortisol level.

If you want to get better sleep quicker and consistently every single night, I would encourage you to get in touch with us to see how I can help. At the same time, do follow these 5 strategies on a daily basis to help reduce your cortisol and hopefully improve your sleep too.

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