Which Came First...Insomnia or Stress?
But do we even need to?
It’s no surprise to anyone how intertwined insomnia and stress are. What we find surprising is how little value we place on our sleep knowing what a powerhouse it is for mood improvement, memory consolidation, immune system function, safety and longevity. Maybe it’s because people don’t really have a full understanding of the impact or maybe it’s because the pull of one more episode of Schitt’s Creek or another hour of scrolling are just too strong.
Did you know??
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Anything less is categorized as: sleep deprivation. To recover from sleep deprivation...wait, what? We really can’t recover chronic sleep deprivation? “With chronic sleep deficits (more than a week or so of nights less than 7 hours or inconsistent nights between 4-7 hours of consolidated sleep ongoing) we can’t recover the functioning that we’ve lost.” (From seventhgeneration.com)
“In 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on six hours or less sleep a night; in 2017, almost one in two people is. The reasons are seemingly obvious. “First, we electrified the night,” Walker says. “Light is a profound degrader of our sleep. Second, there is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer times in commute. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead. And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society. Alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All these are the enemies of sleep.” Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep.
“When we are stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol into the bloodstream which makes it very difficult for us to fall asleep. The cortisol level, ordinarily, is the highest in the wee hours of the morning right before we wake up. This level starts dropping throughout the day, reaching its lowest point right before we doze off. When our sleep space is full of clutter, then the cortisol levels refuse to fall. As a result, we struggle to go to sleep.” Wakefit, March 25, 2020
According to The American Psychological Association: Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress such as feeling irritable or angry than adults who sleep 8+ hours. And...adults with high stress are also more likely than those with low stress to say they feel the effects of getting too little sleep. - 68% say they feel sluggish or lazy versus 36% of adults with low stress - 59% say they are irritable versus 20% of adults with low stress - 45% say they have trouble concentrating versus 12% of adults with low stress - 27% say they feel sad or depressed versus 2% percent of adults with low stress You get the picture.
Stress doesn’t stand as much of a chance when we are getting enough sleep. And the quality of our sleep improves when we are reducing our stress. Win win.
But here's the short list of ways we can improve our sleep which will ultimately have a positive impact on the ways we manage our stress.
Improve your sleep hygiene: a. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time daily. b. Sleep in a cool, completely dark room. c. Leave your screens out of the bedroom - dock all the phones in another room. d. “Power down” from screens in the hour before bed to give your body a chance to start producing Melatonin - the naturally occurring sleep hormone that is brought on by darkness. e. Avoid stimulants (caffeine and nicotine) before bed and also avoid alcohol as much as possible. Alcohol may seem like it helps you get to sleep, but it is often the culprit of those unwanted wakeups and fragmented sleep. f. Work out earlier in the day - don’t get your heartrate up in the late evening. g. Avoid big, rich meals before bed.
Cover your clock. If you are prone to wake up during the night and panic about the time and your interrupted sleep, take the clock out of the equation. It isn’t helping.
If your struggle is falling asleep in the first place, try listening to this free “13 Minute Body Scan for Sleep” from UCLA. Set yourself up for success and make sure you are in bed, in the dark and won’t have to look at your phone (blue light) when it’s complete.
When or if you wake during the night - be sure to avoid light. It is the best way to start the full waking process and production of Cortisol. Keeping the phone outside the bedroom and reading with a book and small headlamp will help.
Want to know more?
Here’s a great article on stress and insomnia from Sleepfoundation.org