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How Stress Affects Your Sleep

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

Stress and sleep have a reciprocal relationship. High levels of stress can lead to trouble sleeping, and poor-quality or insufficient sleep can further increase your stress.

Tips to Sleep Better When Stressed

Implementing sleep hygiene techniques may help improve sleep during times of stress:

  • Avoid Caffeine in Evenings: Caffeine consumption can make it harder to fall asleep, even when taken a full six hours before bedtime. Try to limit your intake to the morning and afternoon.

  • Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco: Consuming alcohol and tobacco within five hours of bedtime can have a negative effect on sleep quality.

  • Save Your Bed for Sleep: To strengthen the mental associations of the bed with relaxation and sleep, it is recommend to not use the bed for general purposes. Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, and avoid working, eating, and watching TV in the bedroom. Do not go to bed until you feel sleepy.

  • Schedule Stress Time: It may help to schedule worry time at a set time every day, earlier in the day. This provides the opportunity to write down or talk through concerns, and shift negative feelings away from bedtime.

  • Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Waking up and going to sleep around the same time every day may make it easier to fall asleep and contribute to longer sleep time and better sleep quality. If possible, try to choose a bedtime and wake-up time that fits your natural inclinations, depending on whether you are an early bird or a night owl.

  • Manage Light Exposure: Regular exposure to sunlight during the day, especially in the morning, can help regulate the internal sleep-wake clock. Along the same lines, it is best to avoid bright artificial lights in the evening close to bedtime, as these can make it harder to fall asleep.

  • Stay Active: Regular exercise may help reduce stress and improve mood, as well as improve sleep quality and duration. Exercising in daylight generally provides the most benefits for sleep. Evening exercise can still have a positive effect on sleep for many people, but it is best to avoid vigorous workouts an hour or less before bedtime.

Not all sleep problems are due directly or entirely to stress. Certain hormonal changes that come with menopause or even natural ageing can alter sleep patterns. Certain medications can also have an effect on sleep, as can caffeine, alcohol, and other things you consume. If you are feeling that you are managing your stress well and find that your sleep has not improved, you should consult your doctor to see if one of these other causes could be affecting you or if you might have a sleep disorder.

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