Sleeping Through Stress

Sleeping princess

When we are younger, we are seldom bothered by sleepless nights. It wasn’t until I was in my late fifties that I started having problems sleeping. From the get-to I knew that my issues were stress induced. I only had problems when something was bothering me. Once the situation resolved, I slept like a baby.

Typically I have a set routine, in pajamas by 10, in bed reading by 10:15, asleep by 10:45. Sure I get up once or twice a night to visit the water closet, but typically can fall immediately back to sleep.

Recently I entered a situation new to me, with multiple tactical and emotional components. As usual, my body and mind responded by waking me in the middle of the night and keeping me awake for hours while I worried and chewed on the situation.

If you have stress related sleep issues, you know how uptight you can get.

Here are a few tips, based on my research and experience that can help you get back to blissful and healthful sleep.

Don’t dwell on your stress.

This one is hard for me. As soon as I entered my most recent situation, I started telling myself to shake it off, let it go, think of something else – but my mind kept going back to the problem trying to solve it. I dwelt on it so much during the day that my subconscious figured out it was a problem and started keeping me up at night!

Researchers have found that how two people react to the same stresser can be very different. If a person puts focus on tasks instead of emotions, they seem to be better able to sleep through the stressful period.

So, when you are stressed, get active. Exercise, get outside and walk, do some housework or yard work, get tasks done. It helps take your mind of whatever is causing your stress. I did that today!

Learn to manage your thoughts.

I continue to try to manage my thoughts. When I catch myself working over my stress issue, I consciously switch to a new thought.

In Tips to Reduce Stress and Sleep Better the author says:

 “What we think, how we think, what we expect, and what we tell ourselves often determine how we feel and how well we manage rising stress levels. You can learn to change thought patterns that produce stress. Thoughts to watch out for include those concerning how things should be and those that over generalize sets of circumstances (for example, “I’m a failure at my whole job because I missed one deadline.”) Many commercial audiotapes and books can help you learn thought management exercises.”

I think I need some of those tapes and books!

Get a bedtime ritual.

About 2 hours before your normal bedtime, stop drinking liquids, lower the lights around you and then do something very relaxing – such as watching a boring movie on TV or reading a less than exciting book or soaking in the tub or meditating.

Have a period of time before bed where you aren’t arguing, working or trying to solve problems.

When you do hit the bed, get rid of the blue light from your electronics and cover up the clock so you don’t stress out over how little time is left until your day has to start!

Keep the same routine every night, whatever the day of week.

Don’t lay in bed.

If you can’t get to sleep or (like me) if you fall asleep but wake up and start stressing, don’t stay in the bed. Get up, go in another room and do that calming restful activity again.

This article on WEB MD (the source my doctor recommends for medical information) quotes Matthew Ebben, PhD – a certified sleep specialist at the Center for Sleep at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and assistant professor of psychology in neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College as saying:

“Whether it’s 1 a.m. or 4 a.m., “get out of bed after 20 minutes and do something else. If you lie in bed awake, you just teach your body and mind that bed is a place where you lie awake worrying.”

Sleep is so important.  It helps our bodies and minds renew, it lets our brains absorb the days information and helps us stay healthy.  If you have trouble sleeping, try some of these tips.  If you continue to have troubles, talk to your doctor!

How have you solved your stress related sleep problems?


Sleeping Through Stress — 24 Comments

  1. When I can’t sleep because of stress, it helps me to write down whatever it is that is causing me stress. I tell myself that I will worry about it, or take care of it, tommorrow, and I am usualy able to get back to sleep again.

  2. Completely agree with not laying in bed. I tend to do a lot of my thinking while I fall asleep and if I am stressing about something it tends to be worse.

  3. Great tips! I also have trouble sleeping when I’m stressed. Getting out of bed sometimes works for me because if I’m just laying there, I’ll just continue thinking about what was stressing me.

  4. Great tips, Marie. When I can’t sleep, I clothes my eyes and smile. I know it sounds so hokey, but I do it. I then repeat, “I’m alive,” over and over slowly in my head. Sometimes I vary it to, “Ah, green.” Little sayings that help me get back to sleep.

  5. Wonderful tips, Marie!!! And sleep is ever climbing to the top of most healthy things we can do lists everywhere. Scientists are trumpeting it to kingdom come, so this article is timely. I avoid people who stress me out like the plague, tell myself to slow down constantly, and get up early to exercise every day. My sweet, sweet wife is perhaps the greatest ally I have in getting good sleep night in and night out.

  6. Great post!

    Another small strategy is not to stress about not sleeping. While it isn’t good for you to get too little sleep, you’ll survive for a few days on four or five hours of z’s. And realize that as you get older, you need less than eight hours, and it’s apparently natural for older people to wake up at the crack of dawn. Or earlier.

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