When we’re feeling overwhelmed, stress can affect us in many was on the emotional, physical and behavioral level. I’m sure you can come up with some examples that highlight how stress affected your life on those areas, or the lives of people you know.
Sleeping problems can be a frustrating consequence of stress, especially when that stress is chronic. You night feel unable to fall asleep, you might wake up during the night, have nightmares or sleep very restless. This is often caused by our brains working overtime, creating a state of alertness and anxiety about everything on our plate, things that need to get done or worries we have about all kinds of situations. On top of that, the fact of having a disturbed sleep pattern, can create even more stress.
There are several things that can help you and when you really take them to heart and try out, it might actually really help.
The first one is to focus on your physical sleeping space. Try to make it look and feel cozy, happy, calm around you. Be mindful of what you put In your sleeping space, add some items that make you feel good, books that you like, even if you don’t read them, things that are dear to you. All this helps to create an environment of comfort that feels like it is really you. This will help you relax.
Another thing, which might take some practice but will help if you keep it up, is try to keep a regular sleeping rhythm. Go to bed and get up around the same time. What this does, is that your body will start responding automatically, instead of you having to tell it to sleep.
The food you eat and when you eat it, is another thing to take into consideration: ideally, don’t eat the last two hours before you sleep, and focus on healthy foods that stimulate your overall wellbeing. Keep it low on the sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake, as all these can actually increase stress and disrupt sleeping patterns.
If you struggle with falling asleep itself, don’t force yourself. If you lay wake for a long time, it is better to get up and do something light (no screens!), read a book, write something, or any other light activity that you enjoy, until you feel more sleepy and then go to bed. Trying to force yourself just makes it worse and results often in frustration.
Alcohol and drugs might increase irregular sleeping patterns so try to find natural ways to relax. Turn off all electronics at least 45 mins before you want to try to sleep, and I mean OFF haha. No more of it until the next day. This might be a challenge at first, but it really helps your head to calm down.
Reduce the amount of news and input you put into your brain the last hour and a half before you sleep. No work, news, disturbing videos, overload of social media…. They all create unrest in the mind, which doesn’t help with sleeping.
TURN OFF WORK at normal hours. Your brain needs to disconnect so you have a heathy work-life balance. If this is difficult, tell your colleagues that you are doing this more often, so you can have a healthier work-life balance. Your brain needs space.
Whether you are or are not familiar with meditation, it can really help you calm down. There are a few great apps like Calm and Headspace, but you can also google for (guided) meditations. Guided meditations are meditations where someone talks you through the meditation. Sometimes it helps to hear someone’s voice instead of only meditation music. A lot of meditations can be short, like even 5 minutes. Meditating before you sleep (try to look for sleep meditation) can actually help a lot!
Having a shower or bath before your sleep and putting some nice cream or oil on your body might help a lot.
Try to do some physical exercise every day after work, it is a great way to increase your ability to sleep because of the energy flow in your body. There are great exercise apps, Yoga Daily (easy and simple), or 7, an app that provides a daily 7 mins workout. You can also just go for a walk or run, or any exercise you enjoy.
If you have a lot of thoughts and worries on your mind before you sleep, write them down in a notebook. Preferable outside your bedroom when you write them down, so you literally don’t take it to sleep with you. It will make your brain feel more relaxed because your thoughts are ‘taken care of’. Your brain will feel it easier to let it go.
When encountering sleeping problems, especially if they last for longer periods of time, we might end up feeling hopeless and chronically tired. We wish there is an easy fix to what we are experiencing, and that a normal sleeping pattern will soon return to our lives. The thing is, that especially when we are dealing with a chronically stressful environment, that pattern will most likely not just knock on our door by itself. But we can help develop those healthy responses of our brains and bodies by really committing to try out the tips and ideas above, and explore how they can help us on the short and the long term, to create restful and satisfying sleep.