Feet looking out of a pink duvet

Sleep and Stress


So after covering why sleep is important and the link between sleep and nutrition this final week in this series focuses on the linkage between sleep and stress. Lets’ dive in.

Woman closing her eyes lying on the floor
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

What do I mean with “Stress”?

In short, stress is a state of the sympathetic nervous system where we experience a “fight or flight” response. During this time, we release both hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These two are meant to keep you alert, elevate your heart rate and increase your blood pressure so that you could run faster away from danger if you wanted to. But it does not matter whether you are running away from a lion or you are stressed because your email inbox is overflowing, your body will, ultimately, trigger the same response. I have also written a lot more about this topic in my post about the mind-body connection.

Leg lying outside of blankets
Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

Sleep and Stress are on Opposite Ends of a Spectrum

So, if we think about it – an elevated heart rate, higher blood pressure, more “awake” hormones coursing through our bodies is the exact opposite end of the spectrum that we need for a restful night’s sleep. Even though our busy “monkey mind” may still allow us to fall asleep because as a society we are chronically overtired, it likely will not have you sleep as deep and thereby you wake up unrefreshed.

Feather floating in the wind with a hand below it
Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

We need to switch from the sympathetic nervous system back to the parasympathetic one

So, even if you did have a long, stressful day at work and/or are feeling mentally exhausted this does not mean that all is lost for your night’s rest. Cortisol and adrenaline tend to need a good 1 – 2 hours before completely leaving the body. So, how do you switch back from your sympathetic nervous system to your parasympathetic one (the one that allows you rest, digest, boost your immunity, and is also needed to fall asleep)?

Flower buds coming out of the earth
Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

Your brain will react to small habits/changes over time

As human beings, we are creatures of habit. And these habits can also indicate to us that it is time for bed. So, a good bedtime routine can signal to the brain that we are now doing all the things needed in order to wind down the body. These habits, over a period of time, will promote better sleep quality altogether. Some awesome tips for habits or changes are below:

  • Meditate
  • Gentle stretching
  • Drinking camomile tea
  • Darkening and cooling your bedroom
  • Reading a book with a dim light
  • Taking a hot bath
  • (Gratitude) journal
  • Not looking at devices/social media/messages at least one hour before bed. Anyone who has been awake for most of the night because they saw something that triggered them (🙋🏼‍♀️) knows the feeling…

Meditation, in particular, has been shown to increase certain areas of your brain and creates a so-called neurological dominance. This increase in the brain can then better control your “monkey mind” (the one that constantly chatters). As a result, your brain will be less reactive to stress altogether and produces less cortisol as a response mechanism. How cool is that?!

Clock visible on a countertop
Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

What if I Truly Cannot Sleep at Night?

We all have had those nights where we are lying in bed and thinking: “I only have so many hours of sleep now.” You look at the clock time and time again. You also get more frustrated because sleep has still not arrived. A good way is to think of sleep not as something that you can control. Rather, try to think of it as something that will show up when the time is right. Connect to your breath and become present with your surroundings (e.g. the sheets and where they are connecting with your body).

Allow the thoughts to pass and perhaps label them, e.g. this is a work thought; this is a family thought. This takes some of the power away from the thought. Thank your thoughts – they want to protect you and tell them that you are resting now and will come back to them. For me personally, it also helps me to have a notepad next to my bed so that I can write anything down that may “bug” me in terms of not wanting to forget.

I hope the above has helped you and provided you with some tips and tricks. The beautiful cover photo is by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash. Speak to you next week 💕.

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