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Stress and Sleep

High-quality sleep can have a hugely positive impact on our health, including a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can even boost your mood and cleanse your skin. One of the most impactful benefits, however, is the effect it can have on stress levels.

While some stress is natural, too much of it can be detrimental to your health. Some stress can be caused by different internal and environmental factors, but it is largely impacted by how much sleep you get, or don’t get. With a growing number of overly-stressed adults, getting enough sleep has become an increasingly important and healthy lifestyle choice.

A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. Anyone who has had a good nights sleep know the feeling of waking up well rested and feeling on top of the world. Sleep is just as important as eating healthy and exercising for your overall wellbeing as sleep is nature’s healer.

Here are 5 ways that sleep will improve your health:

1. You will be ill less frequently

Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function and your ability to fight off infection.  Study after study shows that if you skimp on sleep, your are likely to get ill. The more sleep you get the more you create the optimum environment for your natural defences to work well.

2. You will be more relaxed

You will be able to cope netter with the pressures of the day if you get enough sleep. You will help yourself avoid building up high libels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline – then they are present you are unlikely to get a good quality deep sleep.

3. You will be able to maintain your weight

Poor sleep is strongly linked to weight gain.Your body needs sleep to normalise weight-control hormones. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity.

In one extensive review study, people who slept 4 hours a night for two nights running had a 24% increase in appetite, craved sweet, starchy and salty foods and lost interest in fruit, vegetables, protein and dairy products. If you’re trying to lose weight, getting quality sleep is absolutely crucial.

4. You will improve your memory

Deep sleep dramatically improves how your brain works. It affects how nerve cells in the brain connect, governing everything from how the brain controls behaviour to the ability to learn or remember.

5. You will be a lower risk of heart disease or stroke

It’s known that sleep quality and duration can have a major effect on many health risk factors. These are the factors believed to drive chronic diseases, including heart disease.  A review of 15 studies found that people who don’t get enough sleep are at far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who sleep 7–8 hours per night.

Getting better sleep is easier than you might think

We often take sleep for granted until we can't seem to get it, but we should be practising healthy sleep habits long before we hit the pillow.

Because of how intertwined sleep is with other aspects of health, it's important to focus on wellness and lifestyle factors when trying to improve it, Dr. Wertheimer says.

A healthy diet and exercise encourages better sleep. And meditation, calming music, guided relaxation, self-reflection and deep breathing techniques can boost mental health.

For example, a healthy diet and exercise encourages better sleep. And mindfulness boosts mental health. That includes meditation, calming music, guided relaxation, self-reflection and deep breathing techniques. Even just breathing in and out in a slow, controlled fashion will help calm you down, he says. 

Breaking the Sleep-Stress Cycle

As there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing stress and improving sleep. we may all need to experiment with different approaches to see what works for us.

The key to a good night's sleep is routine, Dr. Wertheimer says. 

He recommends going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, regardless of how much sleep you've managed to get the night before. Avoid napping during the day. 

And go outside regularly if possible: Sunlight helps strengthen the circadian rhythms that regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

Dr. Wertheimer suggests getting off phones and devices 30 minutes before bedtime, focusing on other entertainment such as reading or listening to music. Likewise, exercise spikes the nervous system, so he suggests doing it earlier in the day and no later than two to three hours before bedtime.  

Also, avoid eating and drinking things that will interfere with sleep before bed—such as heavy or spicy foods, caffeine or even water. Drinking too much close to bedtime can result in interrupted sleep.

Tips to Sleep Better When Stressed

Implementing sleep hygiene techniques may help improve sleep during times of stress:

  • Save Your Bed for Sleep: To strengthen the mental associations of the bed with relaxation and sleep, sleep experts recommend reserving the bed for sex and sleep only. Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, and avoid working, eating, and watching TV in the bedroom. Do not go to bed until you feel sleepy.

  • Do Not Watch the Clock: Refrain from looking at the time if you wake up during the night.

  • Schedule Stress Time: It may help to schedule worry time at a set time every day, earlier in the day. This provides the opportunity to write down or talk through concerns, and shift negative feelings away from bedtime.

  • Avoid Caffeine Later in the Day: Caffeine consumption can make it harder to fall asleep, even when taken a full six hours before bedtime. Try to limit your intake to the morning and early afternoon.

  • Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco: Consuming alcohol and tobacco within four hours of bedtime can have a negative effect on sleep quality.

  • Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Waking up and going to sleep around the same time every day may make it easier to fall asleep and contribute to longer sleep time and better sleep quality. If possible, try to choose a bedtime and wake-up time that fits your natural inclinations, depending on whether you are an early bird or a night owl.

  • Manage Light Exposure: Regular exposure to sunlight during the day, especially in the morning, can help regulate the internal sleep-wake clock. Along the same lines, it is best to avoid bright artificial lights in the evening close to bedtime, as these can make it harder to fall asleep.

  • Stay Active: Regular exercise may help reduce stress and improve mood, as well as improve sleep quality and duration. Exercising in daylight generally provides the most benefits for sleep. Evening exercise can still have a positive effect on sleep for many people, but it is best to avoid vigorous workouts an hour or less before bedtime.

How to Manage Your Stress for Better Sleep

General sleep hygiene is crucial, but managing stress may be just as important. Certain changes may help you control your stress to improve sleep quality:

  • Limit Your News Feed: Consulting constant updates on stressful current events may worsen feelings of stress and anxiety. Try limiting the time spent looking at news media to once or twice a day, and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom.

  • Keep Up With Your Hobbies and Interests: Participating in hobbies is associated with better psychological well-being, improved blood pressure and stress hormone levels, and better sleep.

  • Unwind Before Bed: Find a relaxing activity such as reading, yoga, or taking a warm bath to include in your nightly routine.

  • Use Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques are designed to reduce stress and induce a state of relaxation. Examples include progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and guided imagery, and deep breathing, all of which can be done when you are already in bed.

  • Connect with Your Family and Friends: Try not to let stress isolate you from your friends and family. Loved ones represent an important source of social support and can help protect against the mental health effects of stressful life events.

  • Practice Mindfulness: Focusing too much on negative thoughts, also called rumination, is associated with depression and anxiety. Ruminating may also make it more likely that stressful life events lead to poor sleep quality. Practicing mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing on the present moment, may help you relax in preparation for sleep.


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