The Unhealthy Connection Between Stress and Sleep

February 10, 2021

You’ve likely heard someone say, “Don’t lose sleep over it.” Well, there’s a pretty darn good reason why that’s a well-known saying. Think about why someone might say that to you. You’d hear it when there is a difficult situation or decision in your life, right?

You’ve been there - lying awake in your bed, anxiety-ridden, mulling over this or that situation or problem in your path. You try counting sheep, breathing deeply, forcing your thoughts to something else, but often, to no avail.

That’s because stress and sleep don’t mix.

Woman curled up on a bed, unable to sleep.

Stress Raises Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone,” which sort of paints it in a bad light. Stress is not an excellent thing for your mind or body. Its relation to so many illnesses and medical conditions alone means it is often typecasted as the “bad guy.”

But cortisol actually does some pretty important things for you.

  • Controls blood sugar levels
  • Regulates your metabolism
  • Helps with forming memories
  • Aids in reducing inflammation

Cortisol also literally keeps you out of trouble.

 

*Warning: Long, sciencey-medical terms coming up. (But it won’t last long.)*

See, your brain’s emotional processor, or your Amygdala, is responsible for sending your hypothalamus an SOS in times of possible crisis. (In other words, when you’re stressed.) From here, your hypothalamus releases the corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), making your pituitary gland secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

What does this have to do with cortisol? Well, when your adrenal gland detects ACTH, it triggers the secretion of our friend cortisol.

 

This is also known as your “fight or flight” response. Meaning, your body gets ready to take on whatever is threatening you or head for the hills. In either event, thanks to cortisol, you’re ready. When your cortisol levels increase, check out what else happens to your body:

  • The large muscles in your body flood with energy-rich glucose.
  • Your insulin production slows down, so you can immediately use that glucose to fight or flight.
  • Your arteries narrow as cortisol and adrenaline make your heartbeat and blood pump faster.
  • The “unnecessary-at-the-present-moment” body functions that may slow you down come to a halt; things like your reproductive and digestive systems.
  • An anti-inflammatory response is automatically triggered to help you recover from possible injury or infection.

NOW how do you see cortisol? Not such a bad guy, huh?

What Does Cortisol Have to Do With Sleep?

As the sun sets and your body winds down, getting ready for bed, the hormones that promote sleep begin to shift. Your serotonin and melatonin levels rise, and cortisol levels drop. This natural shift in hormones fosters a feeling of sleepiness and calm - obviously, two things you need to sleep well.

But then comes the real villain in the story: STRESS.

So you know how we were talking about cortisol and adrenaline and heart pumping and stuff when you’re stressed? Well, that’s no good for sleeping.

Even if you’re not in a life or death situation, if you’re stressed out about something, you’re not going to be able to sleep very well. That’s why people have trouble sleeping before a big exam or a big event - they’re stressed.

In other words, they’re riddled with cortisol.

See, melatonin, your sleep hormone, and cortisol work in opposition to one another. When your cortisol levels are high, your melatonin levels are low. It’s a good thing because these two hormones’ natural function helps you sleep when it’s time to rest and stay alert when it’s time to be alert.

 

Of course, that’s in a perfect world without stress.

How to Sleep When Stressed

It’s totally normal if you can’t sleep due to stress. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop trying. Stress and sleep deprivation go hand in hand. When you can’t sleep due to stress, you’re sleep-deprived. And when you’re sleep-deprived, you feel more stressed out. It really is a terrible vicious cycle.

Here are some tips and tools you can try to help you try to sleep when stressed.

  1. If possible, deal with your stressors early in the day.

Yeah, we know, that’s a whole lot easier said than done sometimes. But if you find yourself unable to sleep due to stress caused by something you can identify, keep a worry journal.

It may sound hokey, but some people swear by this idea. In it, you can write down what is causing your sleepless nights. Then, earlier in your day, away from the bedroom, you can read through it and try to think it through before bedtime.

2. Don’t stay in bed too long when you can’t sleep due to stress.

We’ve all been there. You can’t sleep, but you want to try. So you stay in bed, slam your eyes shut and try to will yourself to sleep. But this seldom works.

If you find yourself in this predicament, experts say you shouldn’t stay in bed trying to fall back to sleep longer than twenty minutes. At this point, you should get out of bed and try to do some tedious, monotonous activity that doesn’t involve screens. (Blue light and sleep don’t mix either.)

3. Have sex.

Obviously, this pertains to those of appropriate age. Having sex releases some amazing hormones that help you fall asleep and forget about your stress. Unfortunately, stress often quells the sex drive of many people—yet another vicious cycle.

4. Try diaphragmatic breathing.

Say what? Yeah, that’s a mouthful.

There are many breathing exercises out there that may help you beat stress to help you fall asleep. One of them is the diaphragmatic breathing method.

    • Lie on your back with a pillow under your knees.
    • Put one hand on your heart and one on your stomach.
    • Take deep breaths through your nose. Feel your chest and stomach rise and fall.
    • Keep doing this until you master the art of slowing your breathing to the point where only your stomach moves with your breathing and not your chestSleep under a weighted blanket.

5. Sleep under a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets are back by science to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. That’s because they help regulate those three hormones we discussed earlier. Because weighted blankets deliver Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) on your entire body, your melatonin and serotonin levels rise, and your cortisol levels drop.

Sound familiar?

Yup, that’s what you want to help you sleep.

Woman under a blanket.

Stress and Sleep: No Magic Pill

Unfortunately, like all difficulties in life, there’s no magic pill to help you overcome stress. Of course, there are sleeping pills, but those come with a vast host of side effects you might not want to risk.

But you can take steps toward reducing the stress in your life. If you are experiencing sleep-stealing stress day in and day out, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. But if you have the occasional battles of trouble sleeping due to stress, then try out some of the tips and tools above to see if they can help you out.

Something you can do today to set you on the path for better sleep and reduced stress is to purchase a weighted blanket. But not just any weighted blanket. Not a knock-off, lumpy, hot, cheaply-made weighted blanket. (And there are lots out there.) We know where you can buy a weighted blanket that delivers the amazing DPS benefits and is backed by a 100-night risk-free trial. Not to mention, high quality breathable materials like bamboo and microfiber.

There's only ONE weighted blanket like that. Only one high-quality, non-toxic, excellently-made weighted blanket.

And you can find it right here.

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