Can’t Sleep? Try These Tips for How to Sleep When Stressed

If you’re reading this, you are likely part of the 33% of Americans who report not getting enough sleep. Reports also indicate that 40% of Americans have unintentionally fallen asleep during the daytime at least once in the past month. Stress is often the hidden culprit behind many sleep issues. It subtly infiltrates our daily lives, influencing our ability to relax and transition into restful sleep.

Due to this, it’s crucial to understand the cascading effects that stress can have on our sleep patterns. Stress triggers the body’s fight or flight response, flooding it with cortisol, which can disrupt sleep by keeping the brain hyper-alert. This often leads to a vicious cycle: lack of sleep increases stress levels, which in turn makes it even harder to fall asleep.

Dr. David Gustitus provides monthly health workshops. Interested in attending our next live webinar? Click below to get notified!

What’s the Connections Between Lack of Sleep, Stress and Anxiety

Understanding the vital role of quality sleep is fundamental to appreciating why the sleep-stress cycle is so detrimental. When we sleep, our bodies engage in essential repair processes that affect nearly every tissue and system. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Library of Medicine getting enough sleep can:

  • Help you get sick less often: Sleep bolsters the immune system, reducing the frequency of illnesses.
  • Reduce stress: Adequate sleep helps regulate stress hormones like cortisol.
  • Improve mood: Well-rested individuals are more likely to have stable and positive moods.
  • Enhance mental clarity: Sleep is critical for cognitive processes, improving focus and decision-making abilities.
  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced muscle memory
  • Boost performance: A good night’s sleep can enhance your performance both at school and work.
  • Prevent accidents: Sufficient sleep reduces the risk of accidents, such as those caused by drowsy driving.

However, the consequences of not getting enough sleep are profound and far-reaching, as detailed by Matthew Walker in his book Why We Sleep. Sleep deprivation harms many things, including:

  • The Brain
    • Impairs memory
    • Worsens focus and concentration
    • Reduces emotional control
    • Contributes to mental illnesses, including severe psychiatric conditions and Alzheimer’s Disease
  • The Body:
    • Damages overall physiological health
    • Is linked to a shorter lifespan
    • Increases the risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease, through adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, metabolism, and immune function.

As Walker succinctly puts it, “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” By framing sleep as a pivotal component of overall well-being and a powerful tool in our health arsenal, we can begin to appreciate the critical need to tackle the sleep-stress cycle head-on. Whether through mindfulness practices, establishing a calming bedtime routine, or seeking professional guidance, addressing our sleep needs is a crucial step towards a healthier, more balanced life.

How Cortisol Levels and Sleep Quality Are Related

You can’t understand how to sleep when stressed without understanding cortisol. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” plays a pivotal role in how our bodies respond to long-term stress. When we’re stressed, our body prioritizes survival, often at the expense of other functions such as immunity and digestion. This survival mode means our senses remain in a high alert state, making it difficult to relax and achieve restful sleep.

Chronic stress leads to prolonged elevation of cortisol levels, which takes a significant toll on our health. High cortisol levels increase heart rate and blood pressure—both of which are crucial to our discussion on sleep. Elevated cortisol not only affects our ability to fall asleep but also maintains our body in a state of readiness, which can disrupt the sleep cycle. Furthermore, cortisol boosts blood sugar levels and fats to provide energy for anticipated threats and increases blood clotting as a preemptive measure to repair potential wounds.

The daily rhythm of cortisol production is also a critical aspect of its relationship with sleep. Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the early morning to help kick start our day by boosting blood sugar, and they taper off as the day progresses. However, this cycle can be disrupted by late-night consumption of carbohydrates, sugars, or alcohol. These simple sugars cause a rapid spike in insulin levels, which in turn lowers blood sugar dramatically. Typically, around 3 a.m., when blood sugar levels have dropped significantly, our body responds by releasing more cortisol to elevate blood sugar. 

This not only disrupts sleep but also triggers all of cortisol’s stress-related functions again, such as increasing heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, you may find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, feeling the full effect of cortisol’s energy-boosting capabilities at a time when you should be resting. This illustrates how important it is to manage our diet, particularly in the hours leading up to bedtime, and to address chronic stress effectively.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms and are looking for relief?

Lifestyle Factors That Increase Your Cortisol Levels and Harm Your Sleep Quality

Lowering your cortisol levels requires addressing the factors in your life, the stressors, that contribute to why your cortisol levels are high in the first place. These stressors could be emotional, chemical, or physical. Here are some examples of these stressors:

  • Emotional Stressors:
    • Negative self-talk
    • Relationship difficulties
    • Work tensions with boss or coworkers, production deadlines
    • Financial struggles
  • Chemical Stressors:
    • Toxins in air, water, or food
    • Products used on skin (creams, lotions)
    • Excess consumption of carbs, sweets, alcoholic beverages, and artificial ingredients
    • Dietary deficiencies in essential nutrients
  • Physical Stressors:
    • Recent or unhealed injuries
    • Lack of exercise
    • Poor postural habits
    • Structural misalignment patterns (e.g., spinal misalignments, chronic posture shifts like forward head, pelvic or shoulder tilts)

By recognizing and actively working towards relieving these various stressors in your life—whether they’re emotional, chemical, or physical—you can take proactive steps towards reducing cortisol levels and promoting better sleep hygiene. Incorporating strategies to manage these stressors can lead to improved overall well-being and a more restful night’s sleep.

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep from Stress

When stress keeps you awake at night, there are several effective strategies you can try to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Consider incorporating these techniques into your nightly routine:

  • Try listening to soft music, guided imagery, or meditation audios that can be found on apps such as the Insight Timer, Headspace, or Calm.
  • Relax your body one part at a time. Begin by squeezing the muscles in your feet as for 5 seconds, then do the same with your calves, then your thighs, glutes, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, and face.
  • Practice the 4,7,8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. 
    • Begin with inhaling for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale for a count of 8 seconds. This technique has been shown to be effective for stress reduction and for relaxing the nervous system.

In addition to these techniques, consider managing your dietary intake before bedtime and incorporating stress-reducing practices such as mindfulness or yoga into your daily routine. Consulting with healthcare professionals to address cortisol levels may also be beneficial in breaking the cycle of stress and poor sleep.

How to Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

When approaching how to sleep when stressed, establishing healthy sleep habits, known as sleep hygiene, will aid you in getting restful and rejuvenating sleep. Follow these tips to improve your sleep hygiene and enhance your overall well-being:

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine: Set a consistent bedtime and stick to it. Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • Light management: Create a conducive sleep environment by using blackout curtains in your bedroom and wearing an eye mask to limit exposure to light, which can disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Balancing your circadian rhythm—the body’s internal clock—can also aid in combating sleeplessness caused by stress. Spend 5-10 minutes each day basking in the amber light of sunrise and sunset. This exposure influences the brain’s perception of impending darkness, signaling the production of melatonin, a hormone essential for sleep regulation.
  • Keep an optimal bedroom temperature: Keep your bedroom cool, ideally 2-5 degrees cooler than your comfortable daytime temperature. Maintaining a slightly cooler environment helps regulate your circadian rhythm and promotes better sleep quality.
  • Keep good eating habits: Finish eating at least three hours before bedtime to allow for proper digestion. Avoid consuming heavy or sugary foods close to bedtime, opting instead for a balanced meal rich in protein, good fats, complex carbohydrates, and vegetables.
  • Don’t drink too much water close to bedtime: Minimize drinking water in the last hour before bedtime to reduce the likelihood of disruptions from bathroom trips during the night.
  • Exercise timing: Engage in mild activity and stretching before bedtime, but avoid vigorous exercise within two hours of bedtime, as it can stimulate your body and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Limit your screen time: Steer clear of blue light-emitting screens, devices, or phones at least one hour before bedtime. Blue light exposure can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone crucial for sleep regulation.
  • Try relaxation techniques: Consider incorporating relaxation techniques such as meditation or prayer before bedtime to calm your mind and promote feelings of serenity and peace.
  • Gratitude practice: Spend a few minutes each evening writing in a gratitude journal. Focusing on positive thoughts and experiences can help alleviate stress and anxiety, making it easier to drift off to sleep.

By implementing these simple yet effective strategies into your nightly routine, you can optimize your sleep hygiene, reduce stress and enjoy the benefits of restorative sleep.

Nutritional Supplements for Better Sleep

In addition to adopting healthy sleep habits, incorporating certain nutritional supplements into your routine can support a restful night’s sleep. Here are some supplements recommended by experts for promoting healthy sleep.

  • Magnesium plays a crucial role in promoting relaxation and calming the body. Consider magnesium malate or magnesium glycinate formulations, which are particularly beneficial for supporting brain health and aiding sleep.
  • B vitamins, especially B12, are essential for regulating the body’s stress response. During periods of stress, these vitamins may become depleted. Taking a B complex vitamin formula can help replenish these nutrients and support overall well-being, including better sleep quality.
  • For occasional insomnia or short-term sleep disturbances, melatonin supplementation may be helpful. It’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider to determine an appropriate starting dose based on factors such as body weight, age, and sensitivity to the supplement. However, long-term use of melatonin should be approached with caution, as it may interfere with the body’s natural production of melatonin over time.
  • CBD has gained attention for its potential to improve sleep quality, particularly in individuals experiencing insomnia and anxiety. While research on CBD’s effects on sleep is ongoing, some studies suggest that it may help promote relaxation and alleviate sleep disturbances. As the effects of CBD can vary among individuals, more research is needed to fully understand its impact on sleep.

When considering the use of nutritional supplements for sleep support, consult with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure compatibility with your overall health and any existing medications or conditions. Integrating these supplements into a comprehensive approach to sleep hygiene can help optimize sleep quality and overall well-being.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms and are looking for relief?

Sleep as a Coping Mechanism for Stress

Sleep serves as a coping mechanism for stress, offering respite and restoration to the mind and body. However, the relationship between sleep and stress can manifest in both positive and negative ways.

For adequate sleep as positive coping, you can experience:

  • Stress Reduction
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Cognitive Function

However, excessive sleep as negative coping may cause:

  • Avoidance and Escape: Some individuals may use excessive sleep as a means of avoidance or escape from stressors in their lives. Oversleeping can serve as a temporary distraction from problems but ultimately prevents individuals from addressing underlying issues.
  • Withdrawal and Isolation: Chronic oversleeping can lead to withdrawal from social activities and isolation, as individuals prioritize sleep over engaging with others or participating in fulfilling activities.
  • Physical and Mental Health Risks: Prolonged excessive sleep is associated with various health risks, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Oversleeping disrupts the body’s natural rhythms and can exacerbate feelings of lethargy and fatigue.

Striking a balance between adequate sleep and avoiding excessive sleep is the best practice for effective stress management. It’s important to address underlying stressors and develop healthy coping strategies beyond sleep. Seeking support from mental health professionals, practicing relaxation techniques, and engaging in stress-reducing activities can complement efforts to improve sleep hygiene. While sleep can serve as a valuable coping mechanism for stress when practiced in moderation, excessive sleep can have detrimental effects on physical and mental well-being.

The recommended amount of sleep per night is 7-9 hours. Some people simply need more sleep than others in order to feel and function at their best. Utilize these tips and tools to help you restore balance to your sleep routine and to give your body the benefits of healthy sleep.

While understanding and managing sleep habits is crucial for stress management, it is equally important to consider how physical therapies can complement these efforts. Our bodies respond to stress in complex ways, often storing tension that disrupts both our physical and mental well-being. This is where the benefits of a holistic chiropractic approach come into play, extending the management of stress and its effects beyond mere sleep hygiene.

Benefits of a Holistic Chiropractic Approach for Lowering Stress and Improving Sleep

Chiropractic adjustments play a crucial role in aiding the body’s healing process, particularly when it comes to addressing past stress patterns and re-balancing the function of the nervous system. At Whole Body Health Chiropractic, we understand how stress can manifest in the body, keeping it stuck in a state of tension and hindering restorative sleep. By gently realigning the spine and restoring brain-body communication, chiropractic care helps the body transition out of stress mode and into its neutral state of rest and digestion. This shift allows for improved sleep quality and overall well-being.

In addition to chiropractic care, we take a holistic approach incorporating functional medicine principles. By addressing lifestyle stressors, such as toxic behaviors and nutrient deficiencies, we can optimize your body’s ability to heal and thrive.

Our comprehensive approach considers how you eat, move, and think, ensuring that every aspect of your lifestyle supports your health and vitality. Ready to stop wondering how to sleep when stressed and start experiencing deeper, more restorative sleep? Experience the benefits of chiropractic care and functional medicine for yourself by scheduling an appointment with us today.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Sleep When Stressed

Common causes of sleep issues include stress, anxiety, poor sleep hygiene, medical conditions like sleep apnea or insomnia, certain medications, caffeine and alcohol consumption, and environmental factors like noise or light pollution.

Stress triggers the body’s fight or flight response, leading to the release of cortisol, which can disrupt sleep by keeping the brain hyper-alert. This creates a vicious cycle where lack of sleep increases stress levels, making it even harder to fall asleep.

Elevated cortisol levels, often associated with chronic stress, increase heart rate and blood pressure, maintain the body in a state of readiness, disrupt the sleep cycle, and trigger stress-related functions like increasing heart rate and blood pressure, making it difficult to relax and achieve restful sleep.

Chiropractic care helps the body’s healing process by addressing past stress patterns and rebalancing the function of the nervous system. By gently realigning the spine and restoring brain-body communication, chiropractic adjustments help the body transition out of stress mode and into a state of rest and digestion, promoting improved sleep quality and overall well-being. Additionally, a holistic approach incorporating functional medicine principles addresses lifestyle stressors and optimizes the body’s ability to heal and thrive.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms and are looking for relief?

No comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *