Anxiety, Stress and Your Sleep

It can come from trouble at work. It can come from personal relationships. It can come from dissatisfaction with the way you look or even come from steady doses of evening news. At some point everyone comes under stress or feels heightened anxiety. Often this leads to restless nights spent tossing and turning as your mind whirls a mile a minute. You awaken sleepy and irritable and try to begin another day.

It can come from trouble at work. It can come from personal relationships. It can come from dissatisfaction with the way you look or even come from steady doses of evening news. At some point everyone comes under stress or feels heightened anxiety. Often this leads to restless nights spent tossing and turning as your mind whirls a mile a minute. You awaken sleepy and irritable and try to begin another day.

The occasional sleepless night due to stress is common. But too many nights without restful sleep can compound the effects of stress and endanger your health. The detrimental effects of prolonged sleeplessness include:

  • Impaired attention, memory and reaction times
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impatience and irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Erratic temperament and mood swings

These conditions may seem more like nuisances than "health problems" but if you're driving a car, operating heavy machinery, or working with hazardous equipment, these can expose you to significant risk. Stress also contributes to medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and recurring migraine headaches.

There are also the social and professional implications of lack of sleep due to stress. Relationships with spouses, children, siblings, friends and co-workers can suffer when stress leads to sleeplessness and the behavioral problems that come with it. Not surprisingly, troubled relationships then compound the stress, which accentuates the symptoms.

Common Stress-Related Sleep Issues

Heightened stress and anxiety can manifest themselves in a number of sleep-related problems. These problems can affect everyone, regardless of gender or age. Some of the more common sleep problems provoked by stress are:

Insomnia:This is characterized by inability to fall asleep, frequent awakening in the middle of the night, and early awakening where you don't feel rested and refreshed. Insomnia is not uncommon, but if it is prolonged (more than a day or two) it could indicate a significant sleep issue.

Nightmares:

Though most common in young children, nightmares can happen to anyone. Frequent and recurring nightmares can leads to disturbed sleep patterns and the symptoms and consequences of sleep deprivation.

Excess Daytime Sleepiness (EDS):

Symptoms of EDS include a tendency to doze off during the day - often when watching television or reading. Chronic EDS may indicate a larger sleep related condition and a physician should be consulted.

Dealing with Stress and Sleeplessness

The conventional wisdom is to reduce stress and a good eight straight hours of sleep each night. Of course, that is easier said than done - especially given the inevitable stress that comes with everyday life. So what can you do to promote healthy sleeping habits and stave off the consequence of sleeplessness?

Monitor your diet:

Minimize or eliminate the use of caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine is often used as a quick fix to sleepiness, but it only masks symptoms and makes getting real rest more difficult. Alcohol, sometimes used to relax, actually interrupts healthy sleep patterns. Also, do not eat or drink too much near bedtime.

Exercise right:

Regular exercise can help your body regulate its internal biological clock. Exercise also reduces stress and anxiety. However, you shouldn't exercise too close to bedtime. Allow a minimum of three hours between workouts and heading to bed.

Adopt bedtime rituals:

Regular rituals at bedtime cue your body that it is time to unwind, and help to relax you in preparation for sleep. Television can be too stimulating, especially with evening news reports on such stressful issues as terrorism, recession, and crime. Instead, listen to soothing music or read. If you find yourself taking longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, get up and engage in a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.

Talk it out:

If you're under stress, talk to someone about it - a friend, a co-worker, your spouse or family. Often getting stress '"off your chest" reduces it effects. Remember that everyone feels anxiety, and you are very likely to find a sympathetic ear.

Seek professional help:

If you're having trouble managing the stress in your life, or simply can't get enough sleep despite your best efforts, talk to your physician. Your family doctor will be able to point you in the right direction to find help whether you can benefit from therapy, medication, or both.

A good night's sleep can go a long way to coping successfully with stress, while. restless nights can compound its impact and make each day that much more unpleasant. People suffering from sleep deprivation due to stress often experience the symptoms of sleep deprivation, but don't identify them as stemming from their lack of proper rest. Awareness is the first step to solving the problem. Pay attention to your sleep habits, and if you feel them beginning to slip, take measures to get back on track, and back into bed.

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