Stress is one of the leading causes of poor sleep. If you're a someone who struggles to fall and stay asleep, you may not realize that it could be stress that's keeping you awake.

While stress doesn't have an obvious effect on sleep, it impacts how the body functions and also the mind when it's time for bed. Learning more about this connection can improve your quality of sleep by eliminating the trigger that prevents a comfortable night's rest.

Stress and sleep are closely linked

Can lead to various sleep disorders (Image via Unsplash/Elisa Ventur)Can lead to various sleep disorders (Image via Unsplash/Elisa Ventur)
Can lead to various sleep disorders (Image via Unsplash/Elisa Ventur)

Stress can cause insomnia and other sleep disorders. The stress response is a complex network of physiological processes that work together to protect you from harm in threatening situations. It involves the nervous system, endocrine system (hormones) and immune system.

That can triggers various physiological changes to prepare the body for action, including increasing heart rate, blood pressure, glucose level and pain receptors. It can also slow down digestion, constricting airways and delaying lung reopening.

The purpose of these changes is to make sure that you have enough energy available if you need it for fighting or fleeing danger. However, these changes can also interfere with sleep by making it difficult for people who suffer from chronic stressors like money problems or relationship issues.

How does stress affect sleep?

Impacts negatively (Image via Unsplash/Vladislav Muslakov)Impacts negatively (Image via Unsplash/Vladislav Muslakov)
Impacts negatively (Image via Unsplash/Vladislav Muslakov)

Stress can have a negative impact on sleep. Stress may cause insomnia, sleep problems and even nightmares.

It can also lead to other sleep disorders like:

  • Sleep apnea - this is when you stop breathing while you're asleep. The airway becomes blocked by muscle spasms in the throat or tongue, causing shallow breathing and snoring. It affects around 3% of adults in the UK, but most people don't know they have it till they are diagnosed by their doctor or dentist during an examination for another reason (e.g., suspected snoring).
  • Restless legs syndrome - this disorder causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs, which makes them move continuously when resting or sitting still for long periods (e.g., watching TV). These movements usually only happen when lying down at night, so many people don't realise there's anything wrong till someone else points out that their partner keeps kicking them during the night.

How can I stop stress from affecting my sleep?

If you find yourself tossing and turning, with stress hijacking your sleep, it's time to take action. Discover these six strategies that can help shield your precious sleep from the disruptive effects of stress.

1) Establish a soothing bedtime ritual

Create a tranquil routine that signals the brain that it's time to unwind. Whether it's reading a book, practicing relaxation techniques or listening to calming music, find activities that help you disconnect from the hectic day and transition into a peaceful state of mind.

2) Create a sleep oasis

Create a cozy environment for sleep. (Image via Unsplash/Kinga Howard)Create a cozy environment for sleep. (Image via Unsplash/Kinga Howard)
Create a cozy environment for sleep. (Image via Unsplash/Kinga Howard)

Transform your bedroom into a haven specifically designed for quality sleep. Opt for comfortable bedding. Block out external noise with earplugs or white noise machines. Use room-darkening curtains, and maintain a cool temperature to promote a restful environment.

3) Prioritize stress reduction throughout the day

Implement stress-reducing techniques during waking hours to prevent it from seeping into your sleep.

Engage in regular exercise. Practice mindfulness or meditation, and find healthy outlets for your emotions, like journaling or talking with a supportive friend.

4) Limit exposure to electronic devices

The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with your sleep hormone production.

Banish gadgets, including smartphones and laptops, from your bedtime routine. Instead, opt for activities that promote relaxation, like taking a warm bath or reading a physical book.

5) Manage worries before bed

Practice stress reduction. (Image via Unsplash/Emma Simpson)Practice stress reduction. (Image via Unsplash/Emma Simpson)
Practice stress reduction. (Image via Unsplash/Emma Simpson)

If racing thoughts are keeping you awake, try journaling before bed. By writing down your concerns or creating a to-do list, you can offload your mind and ease anxiety.

This practice can bring a sense of closure and allow your brain to switch gears into sleep mode.

6) Seek help when needed

If stress continues to disrupt your sleep despite your best efforts, don't hesitate to reach out for support. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help identify underlying causes and provide personalized strategies to regain peaceful nights.

Stress and lack of sleep can be symptoms of other underlying problems. To combat stress and get a better night's sleep, it's important to identify the underlying cause and take care of that.

Whether that means adopting a more balanced lifestyle or getting professional help, identifying and dealing with the underlying problem will go a long way towards improving sleep and stress level.

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