Winding down before bed is a must. Imagine trying to transition straight from work mode to sleep mode! Your mind would be racing a mile a minute as all the information you’ve processed that day whirrs round and round in your brain. Now that sounds like a recipe for a night of tossing and turning.
Stress can impact your sleep more than you might think. But stress isn’t completely avoidable either. We all experience stress almost daily to some degree. And sometimes all we need is a good night’s sleep feel more like ourselves again. But, stress can also be all-consuming. Cue us lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, mind racing and sleep nowhere to be found.
So, why does stress affect our sleep? Can improving our sleep hygiene actually be beneficial all-round? And how can we de-stress before bedtime? Let’s find out!
what is stress?
While stress comes with negative connotations, it’s actually a totally normal response to challenging situations (1).
When we experience a stressful situation, our brains send out an SOS triggering a “fight or flight” response. Stress hormones are released by our nervous systems to shake our bodies into action. Cortisone and adrenaline surge through our bodies which results in a spike in both our heart rate and our blood pressure. This also increases the oxygen supply to our muscles and puts us into a state of high alert (2).
Thinking back to our days as hunter-gatherers, it’s clear that this stress response played an important role in our survival. But today, our various sources of stress are quite different. And even with less predators threatening our existence, our bodies respond in much the same way.
Wherever your stress stems from, if your body has made up its mind about a threatening situation, this chemical chain reaction will be triggered. And once your body is confident that the danger has passed, so too will the side effects of stress. Your heart rate and blood pressure will return to normal range and your brain and body will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
And as we feel calmer our minds clear too. So, de-stressing helps us to improve our positive-thinking mindsets, enhance concentration, improve memory performance and make rational decisions (3).
Relaxing before bed allows our heart rates to slow down, reduces our blood pressure and helps to ease any tension in our bodies.
But if your body’s natural stress response doesn’t pass, stress starts to cause problems.
why does stress interfere with sleep?
So how does stress cause havoc with our sleep? Well, good sleep comes with many benefits. Not least of these are the positive effects good sleep has on our physical and mental wellbeing (4).
Sleep is a key tool when it comes to dealing with stress. After achieving a good night's sleep, your levels of cortisol and other stress hormones will be greatly reduced (5).
Not only this, but while we sleep, our bodies and brains process all the information from that day.
But if you suffer high stress frequently, a somewhat vicious cycle can start up. The surge of cortisol in your system prevents you from falling asleep, and yet a good sleep is what’s needed to regulate those cortisol levels.
But all is not lost! You’ll be pleased to hear that there are plenty of ways you can break this vicious cycle, reduce your stress levels and enjoy all the benefits of a better night’s sleep!
Now that we know the whys, read on and learn how to de-stress before diving under the duvet.
5 steps to help you de-stress before bed
De-stressing is all about sleep hygiene (6). So, follow these simple steps before bed to secure some stress-free zzzs:
- Turn the lights down. An hour ahead of your usual bedtime is the perfect time to start winding down. And dimming the lights can help to prepare your brain and your body for sleep.
- Ditch the screens. Put those electronic devices that rule our lives (tablets, phones, and computers) away for the day. And that includes switching off the TV! Blue light has many negative effects. Not least of which being that it can keep you awake and alert (7) – hardly what we’re going for when we’re trying to prepare for sleep.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness comes in many forms so it’s up to you how you choose to practice it. But mindfulness before bed is linked to being able to fall asleep faster, experience fewer sleep disturbances, and thus achieve a better night’s sleep all-round (8).
- Keep your mind on track. When the mind wanders, recognise that it’s wandering and set it back on track. It’s also important not to beat yourself up about your mind wandering! Everyone’s mind wanders. The trick is in being able to getting it back on track efficiently.
- Dive under the duvet and concentrate on your breathing. Being unable to fall asleep straight away isn’t uncommon! If this happens to you after a while of lying there and focussing on your breathing, don’t dwell on it. Instead, get up! Return to a relaxing pre-bedtime activity in a dimly lit room (that isn’t your bedroom) and don’t return to bed until you’re feeling sleepy.
our top 3 activities that can help you minimise the stress you take to bed
If you’re looking for solutions to help minimise the stress in your life, the first thing you need to do is stop taking that stress to bed with you. So, here are 5 things you can try to banish your stress before bedtime.
While some people may find that exercising too close to bedtime interferes with their ability to fall sleep, others are fine. So, provided you think about the type of exercise you do and its effect on you, exercising in the evening is a great way to wind down. And if you find that it interferes with your ability to fall asleep, simply adjust your routine so that there’s longer between exercising and getting into bed. It’s all about finding that sweet spot.
2. cut back on caffeine and alcohol
You may feel as though a glass of wine after work is the key to unwinding. But the reality is that even the smallest amount of alcohol has the potential to affect your sleep. And while alcohol may make you fall asleep faster, it can reduce the quantity and quality of sleep you achieve overall (10).
Caffeine also has the potential to come between you and your good night’s sleep. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks can actually elevate the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body which will then interfere with your sleep (11).
What’s more, if you were stressed out before, your cortisol and adrenaline levels will be raised already. The caffeine will only elevate those further.
3. build your own personal wind-down routine
We often associate bedtime routines with the little ones in our lives. But bedtime routines (aka wind-down routines) are just as beneficial for adults.
Preparing your body for sleep will, after a few nights of sticking to your routine, help to signify to the body that it’s bedtime. Something as simple as an evening walk followed by a shower or reading a book for 15 minutes before brushing your teeth is enough to implement at first. This is all part of sleep hygiene which can help you achieve a better night’s sleep more consistently (12).
Then all you’ll need to do is repeat your chosen routine each night.
and in conclusion
So, here we’ve learned that stress isn’t all bad. But it definitely isn’t something we should take with us to bed! Find your sweet spot and sleep better with eve.