Sleep is one of the most important things for maintaining good health and sanity, so much so that even a good diet and exercise come second. Sleep helps your body rebuild tissues, replenish cells, and regain lost energy while your brain processes memories and flushes toxins. If you feel tired and have a hard time concentrating, it could be because you don’t get sufficient sleep.
But the negative effects of insufficient sleep are much graver; when you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to regulate your emotions is affected, making it harder to control your feelings and leading to episodes of anger, sadness, and even stress. If you’re someone who has been struggling with getting proper sleep, and experiencing stress as a result, below is an explanation of why it’s happening and a few tips to deal with it.
The Science Of Sleep And Stress Reduction
Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and its production is intertwined with our sleep cycle. Sleep loss triggers our body’s stress response system, leading to an elevation in stress hormones.
Our sleep cycle has several stages, including a Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and three non-REM stages. The first stage of non-REM sleep happens during the initial minutes of falling asleep, while the second stage is a lighter form that precedes deep sleep. During this stage, body temperature drops, and muscles relax, aiding stress reduction.
The last non-REM stage transitions into REM sleep, and is when vivid dreams occur. All of these stages do their part in keeping cortisol production in check, and when you don’t get enough sleep, your body secretes more cortisol during the daytime in an effort to stimulate alertness.
How to Get Better Sleep
Since sleep is such an important factor in reducing stress and maintaining good health, having a proper routine and incorporating good sleeping habits into your life can be a game-changer. Here are a few tips to achieve that.
Create a Relaxing Sleeping Environment
Having a relaxing environment is very important to get some quality sleep. If you don’t have a relaxing environment to sleep, below are a few steps you can take to create one.
- Reduce noise: To get a good night’s sleep, it’s important to create a peaceful sleep environment. One way to do this is to turn off external noises, like the TV, and use white noise machines to create a calm atmosphere. If you live in a noisy area, it’s recommended to position your bed away from shared walls or windows.
- Get a good-quality mattress: A comfortable sleeping surface is essential for a restful sleep and reducing stress. It provides proper support for your body, eliminates pressure points, and reduces discomfort. Here is a guide that will help you choose the right mattress for you from the different available types.
- Make sure the room temperature is right: Although it varies from one individual to another, to sleep well, your bedroom temperature needs to be between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius). That way, your body will lose heat easily and you’ll sleep better. If your bedroom is too hot, your body will work harder to cool down, and if it’s too cold, it’ll struggle to warm up.
But that’s only a general recommendation, and personal preferences vary. Experiment until you find your ideal temperature. You need to strike the right balance between the air temperature and the temperature under the sheets.
Limit your screen time
A relaxing environment does wonders for good sleep, but there is one thing that can be an obstacle even if you’ve perfected the aforementioned things – screen time.
Melatonin is the hormone responsible for inducing sleep, and it releases a few hours before bedtime. However, blue light from our screens impacts its production, making it difficult to fall asleep.
If you want to get proper sleep, limiting your screen time – especially an hour or so before bedtime – is the single most important change you can make in your lifestyle. It will not only allow you to fall asleep more easily, but also enjoy a good-night’s sleep and wake up refreshed.
Exercise and Eat Healthy
Another change you can make in your lifestyle for better sleep and reduced stress is exercising and improving your diet. Both exercise and diet can positively affect sleep. Consistent exercise can enhance sleep quality and duration while decreasing daytime drowsiness. Just make sure to avoid exercising near bedtime and allow a couple of hours to relax before sleeping.
Similarly, maintaining a healthy diet also promotes better sleep quality. Foods high in sugar and fat can interfere with sleep, whereas those with fiber and protein can aid in getting better sleep. Make some changes in your diet and eat healthy to improve your sleep quality.
Techniques For Reducing Stress Before Bed
The impact of sleep on stress is a two-way street. Just like lack of sleep increases stress, sleep is also disrupted by stress. As such, reducing stress before bed is a great way to promote good sleep. You can use relaxation techniques to do that.
Relaxation techniques are intended to achieve physical and mental relaxation, reduce physical tension, and prevent thought processes that interfere with sleep. The most effective and commonly-used relaxation techniques include:
- Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises are the most popular forms of relaxation techniques.They can help induce a relaxation response, which can make it easier to fall and stay asleep. If you want to try some, diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, deep breathing, and abdominal breathing are just a few that will help.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: It’s hard to be tense when your muscles are relaxed. Progressive muscle relaxation involves consciously tensing and relaxing muscles, leading to feeling relaxed and ready to hit the hay.
- Visualization: Visualization can be a powerful technique to help you unwind, relieve stress, and even fall asleep. Instead of focusing on your anxious, fearful images, visualization expands your ability to focus on calming and restful images.
- Meditation: Meditation is a mental exercise that develops attention and mindfulness; it’s often used to reduce reactivity to negative thoughts and feelings. Meditation can induce relaxation and calmness of mind, helping you with sleep issues.
- Massage: Massage can be beneficial to your self-care routine in various ways, such as easing muscle soreness, promoting relaxation, and providing an opportunity for self-care. Getting a simple massage before bed could potentially improve your sleep quality.
Impact of Sleep on Mental Health
The importance of proper sleep for good mental health cannot be overstated. Sleep helps maintain cognitive skills and regulate emotions and behaviors. Lack of quality sleep can cause negative emotional responses and decrease positive emotions, making it difficult to cope with stressors and even impacting our ability to perceive the world accurately. Adequate and restful sleep is crucial for our general health and wellness, and it may even enhance our likelihood of living to 100.
Proper Sleep Can Improve Mental Health
Sleep is intricately linked to emotional and mental well-being. Sound sleep enhances cognitive abilities such as learning and problem-solving, while adequate sleep is consistently linked to enhanced mood, increased productivity, and overall satisfaction with life.
Adults typically need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and children and teenagers require even more. Giving your body the amount of rest it requires will make sure you don’t experience any negative-side effects like stress or mood swings.
Sleep and stress are deeply linked to each other, and impact each other significantly. The production of Cortisol as well as your mood and mental health rely on the amount and quality of sleep you get.
Good sleep helps you enjoy a healthy life and avoid potential health problems such as stress, depression, anxiety, obesity, and heart diseases. You can create a relaxing environment, limit your screen time, exercise and eat healthy, and try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization to get a good night’s sleep and enjoy a healthy, stress-free life.