We’ve all experienced getting into bed with a racing mind and a tense body, unable to release the stresses of the day and fall asleep with ease.
Why stress impacts our ability to fall and stay asleep
When we are stressed, we are pushed into a state of fight or flight. This response occurs due to an elevated secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, and manifests in our body as increased alertness, blood pressure, and heart rate; symptoms which aren’t conducive to falling asleep. In addition to the physical symptoms, feeling stressed can also keep our mind racing and worrying, which is one of the biggest obstacles that keeps people from sleeping. Stress not only delays our sleep onset, but it can also disrupt our sleep quality, causing us to experience lighter and less restorative sleep.
How sleep helps us to manage stress
On the flip side, sleep enables us to manage stress and be more resilient to stress by allowing the brain to process emotions. Sleep also preserves our prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for rational thinking, which means that we’ll be able to deal with stressful situations that may come up the following day better.
How to manage everyday stress to sleep better
Establishing a wind-down routine is a great way to decompress from a busy and stressful day, and allows us to calm ourselves down from a fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous state to the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous state which will allow sleep to arrive. Try incorporating a few small, daily habits in the hours before you go to bed to help calm the body and mind, and release the stresses from the day. If you’re in need of inspiration, try some of these:
1. Taking a warm shower or bath
2. Switch off screens a few hours before bed
3. Do a gentle stretch
4. Note down what you're grateful for
5. Listen to a wind-down meditation