The Effects of Stress On Your Sleep
You probably know what it feels like to “stress out”. It can really impact your enjoyment in life, and sucks when you feel it taking over. You’ll also know what it feels like to not have enough sleep, laying there wide awake with your mind racing. Not to mention waking up tired and the impact that has on your mood for the rest of your day.
When you are stressed it can be hard to sleep, and knowing you are struggling to get to sleep is stressful - What a vicious cycle!
The good news is, there are simple steps you can take to bring your stress and sleep back into balance.
Let’s look further into:
- What are your signs of stress
- What is the stress hormone?
- The brain as we sleep
- Your dreams…
- What foods can help your sleep
- The best bedtime routines
- Relaxing herbs before bed
What are your stress signs?
Everyone experiences stress differently and it can be helpful to learn what your personal signs are so that you can better look after yourself.
Your stress signs are how your body talks to itself, letting you know that it needs some attention and support. When you learn what your stress signs are, the trick is to acknowledge them and give your mental health the nourishment it needs.
So what do stress signs look like? There’s a wide range of warning signs, some obvious and others a little more subtle. They can be physical, emotional or mental.
Read through the list below, and see if you can spot anything familiar:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Light and disturbed sleep and waking feeling unrested
- Waking at 3am and not being able to go back to sleep
- Low energy, feeling exhausted
- Recurring headaches or migraines
- Muscle tension – particularly in the neck and shoulders
- Increased PMS
- Facial muscle twitches
- Constant bouncing of your leg when stationary – when feeling bored or anxious
- Getting sick all the time – low immunity
- Loss of appetite or comfort eating
- Disorders may worsen or develop
- Getting grumpy or angry
- Over-reacting, and feeling emotional and sensitive around others
- Feeling on edge, nervous or anxious during the day, having panic attacks
- Having a foggy mind or being forgetful
- Depression and negative thoughts
- Feelings of being unable to cope
- Overthinking and worrying all the time
- Feeling like you don’t have time to wind down and rest
Were any of those a little too relatable? Read on to learn more about why they happen, and what you can do.
What is the stress hormone?
Adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys, and they release a range of different hormones, one of which is cortisol. This is otherwise known as the ‘stress hormone’. Stress hormones are produced for a variety of physical and mental reasons. For example, if you are feeling anxious or stressed you will produce more cortisol.
When experiencing heighten levels of stress over a long period of time (ie constantly releasing the stress hormone cortisol), your adrenals can become fatigued. This can cause them to start releasing stress hormones at the wrong time, which can disrupt your ability to fall or stay asleep.
In fact: one of the most obvious signs that stress is affecting your health, is a change in the quality of your sleep.
Do you dream?
Dreams usually develop from your daily activities, thoughts, and feelings. They can tell a funny story or sometimes, a more serious one. What you experience during your day can heavily impact your dreaming at night.
If you have been stressed, this can result in stress dreaming which is when our dreams create a feeling of stress or intense anxiety. It can also lead to nightmares or waking up suddenly in the middle of the night sweating and feeling panicked. For example - you might be nervous about a job interview the following day, and that night you stress dream about getting to an important destination at the wrong time.
Stress dreams reflect our emotions and are a red flag that we might be experiencing stress during the day.
Fun fact: You may or may not remember your dreams, but your brain will always dream, whether you remember them or not!
Foods for Stress and Sleep
The below stimulating foods and drinks can increase your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, making it harder for you to get to sleep:
- Caffeine - Coffee, Green or Black Tea, Energy Drinks
- Foods high in sugar - because your body uses sugar to fuel the body
- Salty foods - as these can increase your heart rate making it harder to relax.
Combining these stimulants with increased stress levels can cause overstimulation, which understandably can also make your sleep worse.
A word on alcohol: We know at the end of the day you may enjoy a beer or a glass of wine to help ‘wind down’. But if you are someone really struggling with their sleep, this may actually be making your situation worse, Alcohol can lead to a restless sleep later in the night which doesn’t help with your cortisol balance, and the result – and even more restless sleep!
Sleep supporting foods:
But, good news - there are foods that can help us sleep! Magnesium rich foods can be helpful because it plays a role in muscle and nerve function. It also regulates your blood pressure and blood sugar. It may help regulate neurotransmitters that are related to sleep.
Studies have shown that eating foods high in magnesium can support:
- Falling asleep
- Reduced muscle twitching, especially restless legs
- Sounder, more restful sleeps
So what foods are high in magnesium? Here are some healthy foods we recommend:
- Pumpkin seeds, almonds and peanuts (unroasted and unsalted)
- Green leafy veges
- Legumes such as peas, beans and tofu
Healthy bedtime routines
It can help to develop a relaxing routine as it gets closer to bedtime. Here’s a routine suggestion that can help you feel relaxed and ready for dreamtime:
- Drink a sleeping herbal tea about 2 hours before bed
- Dim the lights so the brain starts to unwind
- Stop using blue light devices about 1 hour before bed
- Take a relaxing bath or shower before bed
- Take HeadRest Herbal Night Drops 15-30 mins before bed to calm your mind.
- Place a few drops of lavender on your pillow case cover
- Lights out…
There are several herbs that help to support calm and relaxation so we can drop off to sleep easier. Our favourites are:
- Chamomile – Traditionally used as a sleep-inducer and in the treatment of insomnia.
- Passion Flower – Traditionally used an anxiety-reducing and sedative herb.
Hint Hint: Both can be found in our HeadRest night drops.
There are also adaptogenic herbs for stress, that can balance our cortisol levels. They work with the nervous system to help us adapt to stress during the day. Our favourites are:
- Ashwagandha - An adaptogen for soothing the nervous system, traditionally used to support a positive state of mind.
- Gotu Kola - Traditionally used as a brain tonic to improve memory.
- Holy Basil – An adaptogen traditionally used to support your body’s response to stress.
It’s important to get on top of your stress as soon as you start noticing the little signs. Even after a few stressful days it can start to alter the quality of your sleep.
The sooner you acknowledge the signs and nourish your mental wellbeing the more likely your sleeping patterns will remain stable. And you can look forward to waking up feeling rested, because when you’re well rested – you’re unstoppable!
- Crick.F and Mitchison.G. The function of Dream Sleep, Nature Publishing Group, VOL. 304, 111-114 (14 July 1983).
- Cleveland Clinic. Stress Dreams: Why Do We Have Them – and How to Stop https://health.clevelandclinic.org/stress-dreams-why-do-we-have-them-and-how-to-stop/ (May 9, 2019)