Trying to get good sleep while you’re stressed out is like trying to make a halfcourt shot while blindfolded. You can do it, but it’s really tough to pull off.
There’s a biological reason for this. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, the main stress hormone. This coincides with sugar, or glucose, entering the bloodstream, which elevates your blood pressure.
Soon, your muscles are tensing up, your heart is pumping, and your brain is working overtime. This reaction is best known as the “fight or flight” response our bodies activate when we’re in trouble. That does not sound like “setting the mood” for sleep!
Our bodies are simply hardwired to keep us awake when we’re stressed. A 2017 survey revealed that 45 percent of U.S. citizens had a hard time sleeping within the previous month due to stress.
When stress lingers for several weeks, that’s when it becomes chronic. This can be brought on by high-pressure jobs, money worries, divorce, the death of a family member, or anxiety over situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
At that point, the body starts to get used to higher cortisol levels, which is not good. This not only continues to get in the way of getting quality sleep, but can lead to more serious health issues, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and depression.
All by ourselves
Can loneliness make stress worse? Absolutely.
One downside of social distancing is that you feel less connected to your family and friends. It turns out that researchers have found loneliness is a key source of both acute and chronic stress.
In their study from 2014, they found loneliness is closely linked to poor sleep quality, as well as daytime fatigue, which can throw off your usual sleep schedule.
To safeguard against this — especially if you’re living on your own — make sure you find time to talk to your friends and relatives. Phone calls are great, or you can set up a video call to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while.
A vicious cycle
There’s one last thing to know about sleep and stress: it’s not just a one-way street where stress leads to poor sleep. Poor sleep can also lead to increased stress and anxiety, making this a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break out of.
Researchers from UC Berkeley last year found that a single sleepless night can lead to a 30 percent surge in emotional stress levels. Sleep plays a critical role in regulating our mood and helping us work effectively. When we don’t get enough of it, it’s harder for our bodies to properly manage stress.
I know it’s not the easiest time right now, but finding a way to relax and detach from the day’s stress should be a priority. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet are two great ways to both release tension and set yourself up for quality sleep.
Two other simple steps to consider: taking magnesium, and reducing your exposure to blue light at night. I am a huge fan of magnesium for relaxation, and if you have to stare at your phone or computer right before bed, consider getting a pair of blue-light blocking glasses, which are specially designed to block out blue light.
It may be a stressful time, but that doesn’t mean we need to let it ruin our sleep. For more tips, go to www.thesleepdoctor.com/sleep-pandemic and check out my podcast “Sleep Success” to learn more.
Check out Mediaplanet’s customized playlist, guaranteed to help ease the mind and body so you can get good night’s sleep. Don’t believe us? GIve it a listen and see for yourself.