Sleep and stress are closely interconnected. When you are stressed, your body produces hormones such as cortisol, which can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. In turn, lack of sleep can make it harder to cope with stress, creating a vicious cycle.
Understanding the two key ways that that sleep and stress are linked is key to addressing any particular sleep issues you may be having.
1.)Stress can lead to insomnia. If you’re feeling stressed, you may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. This can lead to insomnia, which can exacerbate stress and create a cycle of poor sleep and stress.
2.Lack of sleep can increase stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, your body produces more stress hormones, such as cortisol. This can make it harder to cope with stress and can make stress feel more intense.
Sleep hygiene sounds like an odd term but refers to a set of habits and practices that help promote quality sleep. You already know all of these I’m sure, but read through this reminder list of these eight fundamentals and choose one where you could put your energy now to improve your sleep or your sleep quality. Within this one step then, decide on one small step you will take and commit to this then for a one month period. For example you might decide to focus on step two – create a sleep-conducive environment . What practical thing might you do now to improve your sleep environment? Do it and maintain this for one month and notice the difference this makes. Some days you will forget or you will not get to take the step so you have an opportunity to practise self compassion – you are human and doing the best you can and you do not need to strive for perfection to bring about the changes you want. Then after a month move on to another practical action within this step. Slowly, slowly you are reframing your relationship with sleep, making changes in a way that is sustainable.
Here are some basic tips then to improve your sleep hygiene
1.Stick to a consistent sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
2.Create a sleep-conducive environment: Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. Use comfortable bedding and invest in a good quality mattress.
3.Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime: Limit exposure to electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or computers, for at least an hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime.
4.Establish a relaxing bedtime routine: Incorporate relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, into your bedtime routine to help calm your mind and body.
5.Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help promote restful sleep, but avoid exercising too close to bedtime. Time spent in nature – green or blue spaces will also greatly improve your bodies ability to slow down, let go and relax.
6.Avoid daytime naps: If you must nap, keep it short and avoid napping too close to bedtime.
7.Limit exposure to bright light at night: Exposure to bright light, especially blue light, can interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Avoid using electronic devices before bedtime, and consider using blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block out external light sources.
8.Keep your bedroom quiet and comfortable: Make sure your bedroom is quiet, cool, and comfortable. Use earplugs, a fan, or a white noise machine to help block out external noise.
By choosing even one of these steps and focussing on even one practical action within this you can improve the quality of your sleep and wake up feeling more rested and refreshed.
If you are deep into the experience of sleep deprivation through persistent insomnia your first port of call is definitely with your doctor. You may initially need medical help to address sleep deprivation enough to get stabilised and the invitation is to then once you are safe and in a better place to do the brainwork of changing your relationship with sleep forever.
If you are not so sleep deprived that you need to first begin with some medical intervention but you need to improve your ability to get to sleep try exploring what we know from evidence based mindfulness and lifestyle medicine about the mind/body connection and how through simple practises we can learn to stress less and relax more.
Mindfulness as a way to address stress and improve sleep
Mindfulness can be beneficial for sleep because it helps to calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety, which are common causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders. By practicing mindfulness, you can train your mind to focus on the present moment and become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without judgment. This can help to reduce racing thoughts and worries that can keep you awake at night.
Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve sleep quality, reduce insomnia symptoms, and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep. A 2015 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation improved sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances. Another study published in the journal Mindfulness in 2018 found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program improved sleep quality and reduced insomnia symptoms in individuals with chronic insomnia.
So practicing mindfulness before bed can help you relax, calm your mind, and reduce stress and anxiety, which can lead to better sleep quality and duration.
Set aside twenty minutes before bedtime for one of these mindful practises
- Gratitude Journaling: Write down three things you’re grateful for each day. This can shift your focus from worries to positive things in your life.
- Visualisation: Imagine a peaceful scene, like a beach or forest, and try to imagine the sensations of being there. Engage all of your senses in the visualization.
- Mindful Breathing: Focus on your breath and take deep, slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. This can help slow down your heart rate and calm your mind.
- Body Scan: Starting from your toes, move your attention up your body, focusing on each part and consciously relaxing any areas of tension or discomfort.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tense and release each muscle group, starting with your toes and moving up your body.
If your particular challenge is waking up during the night and then having difficulty going back to sleep try this:
Get up and go to a quiet place, and read from a book you have set aside for this. Only get back into bed once you begin to feel drowsy. Stay away from screens.
Vespers – John O’Donoghue
At the end of the day, we are sometimes tired, worn out, and ready to sleep. For many of us though, sleep eludes us as our minds don’t turn off quite as quickly as our bodies may wish. This poem might be an opportunity to set aside the chaotic thoughts and align our body, mind, and spirit into rest. You might like to read it quietly, either silently or out loud, as you close your waking day:
As light departs to let the earth be one with night,
Silence deepens in the mind, and thoughts grow slow;
The basket of twilight brims over with colors
Gathered from within the sacred meadows of the day
And offered like blessings to the gathering Tenebrae.
After the day’s frenzy, may the heart grow still,
Gracious in thought for all the day brought,
Surprises that dawn could never have dreamed:
The blue silence that came to still the mind,
The quiver of mystery at the edge of a glimpse,
The golden echoes of worlds behind voices.
Tense faces unable to hide what gripped the heart,
The abrupt cut of a glance or a word that hurt,
The flame of longing that distance darkened,
Bouquets of memory gathered on the heart’s altar,
The thorns of absence in the rose of dream.
And the whole while the unknown underworld
Of the mind, turning slowly, in its secret orbit.
May the blessing of sleep bring refreshment and release
And the Angel of the moon call the rivers of dream
To soften the hardened earth of the outside life,
Disentangle from the trapped nets the hurts and sorrow,
And awaken the young soul for the new tomorrow.
~John O’Donohue, from “To Bless the Space Between Us”
You might also like to read this earlier blog: