Going Both Ways: The Relationship of Stress and Sleep

Most of us know from experience that stress worsens sleep.  We do not necessarily how to blunt stress’s disruption of sleep.  Minimizing the effect of stress upon sleep matters because short-term stress may cause long-term difficulty sleeping.  Following the recommendations below may reduce your risk of developing such chronic insomnia.  

One intuitive response to stress is learning relaxation exercises.  Consider yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.  In fact, I often advise my patients to look for “relaxation techniques” on Google Video or on YouTube.   Select any relaxation activity that appeals to you, and make the activity part of your night-time routine.  For many people, evening sex reduces stress and fosters sleep.  Clearly, though, sex may be stimulating (to wakefulness) or activating (to mood) for some folks.   Also, you may benefit from creating a “worry list” at least 3 hours before dinner time.  Think to yourself, “I am writing these concerns down now so that I don’t have to think about them later.”

Along with practicing relaxation exercises, following the principles of better sleep reduces the burden of anxiety upon sleep.  Keep a regular schedule, minimize the extra time in bed, avoid naps, and don’t do drugs (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine) after lunch.

Not only may stress worsen sleep, but lack of sleep may worsen stress.  We become disinhibited and less able to process emotion when sleep-deprived.    So, provide yourself at least seven to eight hours to sleep during times of stress.

If your sleep does not normalize after your stressor resolves, let your doctor know.