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How does stress affect how you sleep and work?


How does stress affect how you sleep and work?

You want to be at your best every day at work. In the cut throat modern business world you cannot afford a single down day, you need to be firing on all cylinders all of the time. One of the keys to ensuring that you are in the best physical and mental shape week in week out is getting the right amount of good quality sleep each and every night.

The problem is that this can be easier said than done, especially when your work is stressful. Stress plays havoc with sleep, it can make it nearly impossible to drop off. What is worse is that that not being able to get to sleep because you are stressed is stressful in itself, meaning that the stress compounds and you become exhausted and stressed about being exhausted. This is not conducive to climbing the corporate ladder, or even simply making sense at the big presentation.

Here is how stress affects sleep, and some methods to overcome it.

Stress limits the number of hours you get a night

While there are no hard and fast rules about how much sleep you need, most adults should get between six and half and seven and a half hours a night. When you are stressed you will struggle to get enough sleep. A recent survey found that an amazing 43 per cent of adults said that stressed caused them to lie awake at night and all of those respondents noted that they were foggy and tired the next day. Unsurprisingly, people who get the recommended amount of sleep each night reported feeling alert and refreshed.

It limits the quality of the sleep you get as well

Good sleep is not just about getting the right amount, it is also about getting good quality sleep as well. The problem is that stress not only effects the length but also impacts the quality of sleep. That is because it can actually hamper your sleep cycle. When you sleep you need to go through five distinct stages of sleep and studies have shown that when people are stressed they are less likely to actually manage all five, meaning even if they sleep all night they will not feel as good in the morning as someone who has been through all five stages.

Stress could increase your insomnia risk

While having your quantity and quality of sleep negatively affected is bad enough, not getting any sleep at all is even worse and stress is one of the leading causes of insomnia. For people who have suffered it in the past, it is the most likely cause of a relapse. The more stressed out you are the more you will struggle to go to sleep and this can become overwhelming to the point where you simply do not sleep at all during the night. As noted above, this compounds and means that the next night you are even more stressed and will struggle to sleep even more. 

But what can you do about stress and your sleep? Are there any methods or techniques that can help? Fortunately, the answer is yes, though none are magic bullets and the reality is that you also need to deal head on with whatever is causing the stress. That said, there are several things that you can do that will help.

Use natural sleep supplements

Ok, while it is not recommended that you use sleeping pills, as they will not only make it harder to get to sleep normally but will also leave you in a drug induced haze the next day, you can take natural sleeping supplements that will help you to sleep (and in some cases are proven to relax you as well). There are many different supplements, but the four that most sleep experts recommend are chamomile tea, valerian, melatonin and kava. All four of these have been shown to help people sleep well in a number of peer reviewed scientific studies, and valerian and chamomile have even been shown to be able to reduce anxiety and stress in people. However, they should all be used in moderation and if you suffer from any serious health issues you should talk to a medical expert before using them. You can find our guide on these supplements here.

Distraction methods

The classic distraction method is reading, when you read you are absorbed in your book and you will often forget about your worries, or at least put them to the back of your mind. The key is to read something that is engaging but not overly stimulating. People who are not big readers can try listening to relaxing music, white noise or even an audible book. The key is to try and distract yourself so that your stress recedes enough for you to sleep.

Relaxation techniques

Mediation and other relaxation techniques are excellent ways of relaxing when you are stressed. However, they take time to learn and you need to be quite dedicated. Mediation in particular is something that requires a degree of patience and focus. At the more basic end of the spectrum are techniques like muscle clenching and relaxing, or the use of an imaginary narrative to help distract you. We have several guides that will help you to learn these techniques but as noted they do take some work.

See an expert

If all else fails then you need to find a sleep expert who can help you. Sleep plays a fundamental role in your overall health and wellbeing so it is essential that you get on top of any stress related sleep problems.

So good luck, and remember that while these techniques can help, it is also important that you deal with the stress head on, or at least work on mitigating it so that you can live with it.

Further Reading:
If you enjoyed this article you might also find the below of interest:
What natural supplements can help you sleep?

Or read our very own Matthew White's article on the dangerous relationship between stress and sleep on Flying Solo

Or Download our Sleep Tips SlideShare Guide and get the best sleep of your life.

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