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Stress and Sleepless Nights – 22 Tips For When You’re Too Stressed to Rest

Stress is prevalent in our daily lives. Work, finances, family, friends, responsibilities all take a toll. On an average day, with nothing going particularly wrong, you can experience high levels of stress.

There is no way to sugar coat it, 2020 has been a rough year by anyone’s standards. Emotions such as shock, confusion, fear, grief, and anger have been amplified to the highest of levels. Around-the-clock news and social media continuing nonstop coverage allows for almost no escape. High levels of stress can leave you feeling helpless, physically, and emotionally drained, irritable, and/or, overcome with anguish.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress affects your body, mood, and behavior.

Stress takes a toll on your body:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pains
  • Chest pains
  • Heart Disease
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Digestive Problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight Gain

Stress takes a toll on your mood:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of Motivation or Focus
  • Ill-tempered
  • Sadness or Depression

Stress takes a toll on your behavior:

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Exercising less

Any stressful situation can activate the “fight-or-flight” response, also known as the Acute Stress Response. Stress hormones produce physiological changes that prepare your body to either stay and fight the threat or run away to safety. This response was inherited from our ancient ancestors when they faced danger in their environment.

Once the “fight-or-flight” response is triggered due to acute stress, the sympathetic nervous systems stimulates the adrenal glands, prompting the release of catecholamines, which includes adrenaline and cortisol.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.”

You can see why it can be difficult to sleep while your body is releasing these hormones.

According to the CDC, “adults need 7 or more hours of sleep per night for the best health and wellbeing. Short sleep duration is defined as less than 7 hours of sleep per 24-hour period.”

“Even in normal times, approximately 30 percent to 35 percent of the population experiences acute, or short-term, insomnia,” said Posner, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a founding member of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine. The current global situation is causing many more millions of individuals to lose sleep.

According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in the short term, lack of adequate sleep can affect:

  • Judgment
  • Mood
  • Ability to learn and retain information
  • Increase the risk of serious accidents and injury

In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including:

  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Early mortality

It’s a vicious cycle. Stress leads to lack of sleep and lack of sleep leads to more stress.

If you or your clients are experiencing problems sleeping, we suggest trying out the following tips to get a better night’s rest.

(1) Eat healthy – We are preaching to the choir; trainers know all about proper nutrition prescription and the importance of a well-balanced meal plan.

(2) Drink water – Always remember the Individuality Principles with all guidelines. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is:

  • About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men
  • About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women

These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages, and food. About 20 percent of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks. You’ve probably heard the advice, “Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.” That’s easy to remember, and it’s a reasonable goal. For some people, fewer than eight glasses a day might be enough. But other people might need more.

(3) Exercise – for the general public, a goal of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day will promote sleep quality. Try to schedule workouts earlier in the day to avoid stimulation before bedtime.

(4) Avoid caffeine or other stimulants late in the day – stimulants may keep you from falling asleep.

(5) Avoid alcohol late in the day – according to Harvard Health, “while alcohol may help you sleep more quickly, it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night or early morning.”

(6) Avoid eating right before bed – Sleep experts recommend the average person stop eating 2–3 hours before bed. This allows your digestive system ample time to break down your meal before your head hits the pillow. According to Dr. Scott Gabbard, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic, “when you lie horizontally with a full stomach “[you] lose the effect of gravity that helps to keep the contents of the stomach down, allowing the contents of the stomach and digestive juices to flow back up into the esophagus and cause irritation.”

(7) Time for a new mattress? – Mattresses are not made to last forever. The lifespan of a mattress is roughly every 7-10 years. The quality of your mattress will dictate your lifespan. If there is a dent in your mattress in the shape of your body, it’s time to chuck it. A saggy mattress can disrupt sleep and cause aches and pains. Also, even if your mattress hasn’t reached its maturity, if it doesn’t offer proper support, alignment, or if it’s uncomfortable in general, it’s time for an upgrade. Waking up stiff and sore could not only cause poor sleep but contribute to chronic back, hip or neck pain.

(8) The same goes for pillows – the National Sleep Foundation recommends replacing pillows every 1-2 years. Depending on the pillow type (foam, polyester, feather, latex, bamboo, etc.) you might be able to push that timeline to 3-4 years.

(9) Avoid naps during the day – Studies have produced mixed results regarding naps. Short naps appear to improve alertness and wellbeing, however, 2 hours or more naps appear to lead to poor sleep quality. Some studies have shown naps do not affect nighttime sleep at all. However, if you are napping during the day to make up for your poor night’s sleep, try cutting out naps altogether.

(10) Adopt a regular sleep schedule – set a consistent bedtime each night and wake time each morning, in order for your body and circadian rhythm work to your benefit.

(11) Stay on track Saturday and Sunday – don’t throw your body off on the weekend by sleeping in or staying up late.

(12) Take a Hot Bath with Lavender Oil – Lavender essential oil is one of the most popular essential used in aromatherapy. It is believed to promote relaxation, treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia, among other things. Many people swear by essential oils, others think they are a scam. It doesn’t hurt to give it a shot if you are desperate for sleep.

(13) Turn off the Blue Lights – According to Harvard Health, “while light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully.” Power down all electronics 2 to 3 hours before bed. If you are working late, consider “blue-blocking glasses”.

(14) Stretch before bed – While exercise is not recommended, light stretching for about 15-30 minutes before lying down may help you fall asleep faster and improve your overall quality of sleep.

(15) Drink Up – Dr. Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital prescribes, “warm milk, chamomile tea and tart cherry juice for patients with sleep troubles.” There has also been some research on the benefits of taking the herb Ashwagandha to aid in sleep. Always check with your Doctor first, but a ½ tsp. of ground ashwagandha powder with warm milk at night, is believed to lower stress and improve sleep.

(16) Gratitude journal – There have been multiple studies now that have shown having thoughts of gratitude before sleep results in falling asleep more quickly and for a longer period of time. With all the stress in our lives, it can be very easy to forget what we have going for us, and the many things we have to be thankful for.

(17) Create a restful environment – people tend to sleep better in dark, quiet rooms. Consider investing in room darkening shades or curtains if there is too much light in your space.

(18) Lower the Room Temperature – According to the National Sleep Foundation, “In general, the suggested bedroom temperature should be between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.” I’m closer to the 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I have friends that like to sleep closer to 75 Fahrenheit. The bottom line try lowering the temperature and see if it helps facilitate a more restful sleep.

(19) Wear a sleep mask and/or earplugs – According to the National Sleep Foundation, “the use of earplugs and eye masks can result in more REM time, shorter REM latency, less arousal and elevated melatonin levels.”

(20) Sounds Machine – If a completely soundless space isn’t helping you fall asleep, try a sound machine. Both my Daughter and Granddaughter utilize sound machines to promote a more restful sleep.

(21) Curl up with a weighted blanket – According to the Sleep Foundation, “Weighted blankets are designed to provide a warm, gentle pressure on the user that mimics the feeling of being held (known as Deep Touch Pressure).”

(22) Checkup – If you are still having trouble sleeping after four weeks, or lack of sleep is interfering with your daytime activities or ability to function, it is time to call your Doctor.

I hope some of these tips help you and/or your clients’ get a better night’s sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough, just like there is not one universal magic workout to help all your clients lose weight, it’s the same with finding a restful night of sleep.

My eldest daughter swears by a Warm Milk, Tumeric, Ashwagandha, Cinnamon, and Ginger mixture to help her sleep. My younger daughter gave it a try and was up all night. While some of these tips might work on one client, they might not work on the other.

Let us know what worked, and what didn’t. If you have any tips we missed, let be sure to let us know!

Best Regards,

Dr. Jim Bell

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