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Eyes Wide Open: Sleep + Stress

Mucked up sleep and stress is not a winning combination. Unfortunately, sometimes when your brain and body desperately need sleep the most–during times of heightened stress–slumber struggles emerge like monsters in the dark. Trying to get adequate rest quickly becomes nightmareish.

At the end of the day, when you slide under the covers, the distraction and noise of the day is no longer there to drown out your thoughts and feelings. The volume in your head can get turned up.  Fast. And loud.  

You lay there.  Head spinning.

You look at the clock and think, “arughhhh. . . . now I am only going to get ___ hours of sleep.”  Your list of all of the things swirling anxiously around you right now just got longer by one item:  you will have less rest to ready you for the day that awaits you in a few short hours.

How can you best lay thee down to sleep?

You are a bright individual.  You know the basic sleep hygiene strategies you have found on the internet while you have Googled “insomnia” while staring at your phone in bed.  If you haven’t addressed the foundational behaviors, start there.  These clearly maybe need some work if you are indeed scrolling your phone smack dab in the middle of  the night while you lay on your duvet. Consider how things such as caffeine intake and blue light exposure may be interfering with your ability to slumber soundly.    

If you are seeking strategies beyond basic sleep hygiene, consider the following changes to your rhythm and routine:

  1. Pick a set bed time and commit to it seven days a week.  Enlist the help of your partner for accountability with this if needed.  It is not uncommon for people to have varied sleep and wake times on the weekends; however, this can wreak havoc on weeknight sleep.  Shifts in sleeping time actually create mini-jet-lags that your body has to try to rebound from over and over.  
  2. If you can’t fall asleep after ten or fifteen minutes, find your nearest exit.  Find an alternative space to settle into in your home. It can be a sofa or guest bedroom.  Engage in an enjoyable activity that is not over stimulating (think: reading, listening to a podcast, knitting, crosswords).  You can even try organizing a cupboard or doing a puzzle.  Wait until you start to feel sleepy, return to your bedroom, and see if you are able to doze off.  If you are still struggling to achieve a shut-eye state after ten or fifteen minutes, rinse and repeat this cycle.  The ultimate goal is to help your body and your brain link your bed and bedroom with sleep and sex only. If you aren’t snoozing or getting it on, get out of the room.
  3. Get rid of your clock.  If glancing at the time ratchets up your anxiety, remove the upsetting trigger.  Turn it around so you don’t see the number. The more you fixate on how much sleep you won’t get, the more distressed you will be, and the less likely you will be able to fall asleep.
  4. Replace your anxious sleep thoughts.  We often underestimate our ability to function fairly well on a small amount of sleep while we are lying in our bed.  Yet, I’m confident your life is full of evidence of times where you have been able to accomplish a great deal following a night sans ideal rest.  Set to the side the anxious idea that you will “only get” a certain number of hours of sleep. Instead, lay back and tell yourself, “my body will get the rest it needs for tonight.”

Set yourself up for sleep success.  Control the controllable: your environment, your intake, your thoughts, your actions.  Sleep hygiene strategies often sound simple, but simple things in life are sometimes not easy. 

Sleep matters. It will behoove you to care enough about yours to create and commit to the habits that will optimize your mental and physical functioning when you are awake and on the clock. 

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April 8, 2020

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