Home Mental Health & Well-Being “I’m a Sleep Expert” – Here’s My Top Tips for Sleeping Better when Feeling Stressed and Anxious

“I’m a Sleep Expert” – Here’s My Top Tips for Sleeping Better when Feeling Stressed and Anxious

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Stress can disrupt sleep; the two are interconnected more than you think. Reduced stress levels can improve sleep quality, whereas increased levels of stress can negatively impact sleep.

In aid of Stress Awareness Month and as Google searches for “how to sleep when stressed and anxious” surge by 350%, Bensons for Beds’ resident sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock, has shared her best practices on how to get a better night’s sleep to help those who might be stressed and anxious and feel like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Dr Sophie Bostock, a renowned sleep science expert, delves into the complex relationship between stress, anxiety, and sleep. She asserts that acute stressors, often arising from work pressure or personal life events, can severely disrupt our sleep patterns. Dr Bostock explains, “Many of us struggle with sleep when we’re experiencing an acutely stressful situation. This might be work stress, a tricky relationship, a bereavement or significant life event.”

Under such stress, it’s common to have a racing mind that prevents one from switching off, leading to difficulty falling or staying asleep. However, Dr Bostock offers reassurance: “The good news is that stress doesn’t have to keep you up at night. Some people seem to sleep soundly, no matter what is going on in their lives. Sleep reactivity is the name given to describe the extent to which stress disrupts sleep, a difficulty falling or staying asleep. Our genetics will influence our sleep reactivity, the nature of the stress and life experiences will all play a role; but we can all learn strategies to decrease our vulnerability to stress at night.”

What is stress?

Defining stress as a trigger for our ‘fight or flight’ response, Dr Bostock elaborates: “In our bodies, the term ‘stress’ or ‘stressor’ can refer to anything that provokes our ‘fight or flight’ stress response. The stress response evolved to help our ancestors fight or flee from danger.”

This response involves adrenaline release, escalating heart rate, increased blood pressure, and cortisol release. Stress not only affects our physical state but also narrows our focus and heightens our emotional sensitivity, particularly towards negative events.

Common causes of stress

Today’s stressors are more psychological than physical, as Dr Bostock points out: “The stress response was very helpful for our ancestors when they faced an acute physical threat. Unfortunately, most of the stress we experience nowadays is not physical, but psychological.”

These psychological stressors can range from new, unpredictable situations to fears related to discrimination or financial pressures. A critical issue with such stressors is their often undefined duration, prolonging stress and its effects.

Signs of stress

Stress manifests differently in individuals, depending on its nature. Acute stress signs, such as sweating, racing heartbeat, and narrowed attention, are commonly recognized. However, chronic stress, marked by weight changes, mood fluctuations, and sleep disturbances, might not always be as perceptible.

How stress relates to anxiety

Dr Bostock distinguishes anxiety from stress, noting its connection with persistent worry and emotional disorders, including anxiety disorders and depression. She explains that chronic stress can reduce our emotional resilience, making us more susceptible to anxiety and depressive disorders.

Impact of stress and anxiety on sleep

Discussing the impact on sleep, Dr Bostock states: “Under stress, we tend to produce more of the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is a very useful hormone for fueling action, but before bed, it increases our levels of arousal at a time when we need to relax.” Stress leads to hyperarousal, delaying sleep onset and causing lighter sleep, making one more sensitive to disturbances.

Strategies for better sleep amidst stress

Dr Bostock suggests several techniques for managing stress and improving sleep, such as resolving stress sources, practising relaxation, and using tools like box breathing, positive imagery, and reflective writing.

Finally, Dr Bostock advises seeking support when overwhelmed by stress, recommending conversations with friends, family, or healthcare professionals, and exploring resources from mental health organisations like Mind.

By explaining the nuances of stress and its profound impact on sleep, Dr Bostock provides valuable insights and practical strategies for those seeking relief and a better night’s rest.

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