Since April is Stress Awareness Month, we’re examining how stress affects your sleep and vice versa!

Spring is here! And Wolf Corp wants to address a very pertinent issue for Stress Awareness Month – the connections between sleep and stress. Conversations surrounding stress and its impacts on physical, mental, and emotional health are especially relevant considering the events of the last two years (which have caused a significant increase in stress in the general population). 

Anecdotal evidence can tell that sleep and stress are tightly linked. Got in an argument with a loved one? No sleep that night. Worrying about a job promotion? No sleep. Got a trip in the morning and you’re freaking out about the weather and delays and other frustrations at the airport? No sleep. 

Not all stress affects sleep – our bodies can naturally cope with a moderate amount of stress that accompanies everyday life without issue. The effects of certain kinds of stress on sleep can go much deeper than a single restless night, especially when the stress is chronic.

According to the Sleep Foundation, stress can have all kinds of unpleasant physical symptoms, and since stress affects every part of your body, it can have physical manifestations across the body. Everything from your heart to your gut to your libido can be affected by stress, but the symptoms differ from person to person. Chronic stress and anxiety disorders, especially when left unmanaged, can make those physical symptoms much worse. 

Insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders, is primarily caused by stress. Though categorized as a disorder, insomnia doesn’t necessarily last a lifetime. If the external stressful circumstances resolve themselves, or the person becomes accustomed to the change, the insomnia can go away. Any number of things can cause short-term insomnia: changes to a sleep routine, grieving, work stress, parenting difficulties, marital difficulties, the list goes on. 

The biggest problem comes when the stress and insomnia both become chronic. A prolonged lack of sleep, in turn, can cause feelings of fatigue, difficulty paying attention, irritability, poor performance at work/in relationships, impulsivity, aggression, decreased energy, and a heightened risk of errors. Any one of these symptoms can, in turn, increase stress, and decreased energy could lead to falling asleep at an inopportune time. Increased risk of errors could mean making mistakes at work. Aggression could lead to unnecessary arguments. Cue the vicious cycle: stress became insomnia, insomnia became more stress, more stress makes the insomnia worse. 

Ironically, one of the most effective solutions to chronic stress tends to be… sleep. That thing that’s so hard to get when you’re stressed. 

Luckily, stress isn’t the only thing that affects your ability to sleep: sometimes you can offset your stress with other measures. If you find that your stress is affecting your sleep, try compensating for it by doing one or more of the following: 

  • Exercising & getting outside
  • Keeping a healthy diet; don’t have any large meals before bed, and if you can, reduce the intake of nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol (especially later in the day)
  • Reach out to friends and other trusted members of your social circle to talk about your stressors and find comfort
  • Keep a sleep schedule and cultivate a wind-down routine to help prime your body to sleep
  • Avoid electronics and screens for a couple of hours before you sleep

If you find that none of these solutions are helping (or you are practicing all of them), you might benefit from some short-term therapies that can pinpoint anxious or stress-inducing thoughts and help you deal with them internally. Finally, if your sleep quality continues to erode due to stress, consult with your doctor for more options.


Sources:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/stress-and-insomnia

https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538178/