Sleep Well in Times of Stress

How to Sleep Well in Times of Stress

It is often really hard to sleep well in times of stress.

Our minds are full of anxious thoughts and our body feels lethargic and out of sorts.

When we are stressed, we tend to change our habits, and this also has a knock-on effect to our sleep.

The problem is, we need our sleep to keep healthy physically, mentally and emotionally so that we can cope better with the stress in our life.

Losing sleep, even for one night, can also trigger a biological stress response, and this just adds to the amount of stress that we are having to cope with.

Before you know it, you are in a vicious cycle of increasing stress and decreasing sleep.

In this podcast episode, Gillian Duncan, Clarity Junction host and author of 'Sleep: Cure Your Insomnia, Improve Your Health and Feel Better Now', shares advice on how to sleep well in times of stress.



When we are faced with stressful periods in our life, for whatever reason, one of the first things that tends to be disturbed is our sleep.

The problem with sleep loss during times of uncertainty and upset, is that it adds to the stress response that is already happening within our body.

This natural response to a lack of sleep can then have an adverse effect on our health, our mood and our overall wellbeing.

Sleep is often the last thing that we seek to improve in our quest for a happier and healthier lifestyle, but poor sleep is often the root cause of many of our problems, and knowing this, should make improving your sleep high on your list of priorities – especially during times when your stress levels are already high.

So, keep listening to discover ways in which you can learn to sleep better during times of stress, and in turn help your physical and emotional health.

My name is Gillian Duncan. Positive Life and Wellbeing Coach, inspiring women to live the life they want, and I am delighted that you are here with me today.

Our body has so many processes working at any one time. Everything is cleverly interlinked and timed carefully.

If one process is interrupted or disturbed, then this results in other connected processes also being disturbed.

As our health and wellbeing relies heavily on many well-balanced systems happening in the right way at the right time, then it will be no surprise to realise that just by offsetting one of these processes can affect the rest of your body as a whole.

Your sleep is one of those processes.

Sleep is a natural habit that is controlled, in part, by your internal biological clock, known as your circadian rhythm.

This rhythm is influenced by a number of factors, including daylight, and your ability to sleep involves a combination and balance of hormones and neurotransmitters.

As adults, we all need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. This is the recommendation so that our body can rest, replenish chemicals and hormones in our body that we use during the day, and to re-balance our internal systems so that we are ready to face the next day.

When we don’t allow our body the time to sleep, this essential maintenance will be lacking, and our body will become stressed.

Even missing out on sleep on one occasion, produces a stress response within the body.

Missing sleep can produce unwanted side effects, including weight gain and obesity, Type II Diabetes, heart disease, infertility, lowered immunity, decreased cognitive function and emotional upset.

Therefore, you can perhaps begin to understand why getting enough sleep at a time of stress, can be very important.

If you are experiencing stress throughout your waking hours, then the last thing that you want to do is to add to that stress by not getting enough sleep.

The problem arises, however, that when you are stressed, you tend not to sleep very well in the first place, and before you know it, you are in a vicious circle of getting less and less sleep while becoming more and more stressed, which inevitably has a knock-on effect to your physical and mental health.

So, what can you do to jump off this merry-go-round?

Well, although the reasons behind your sleeplessness is specific to you, and there is not a ‘one size fits all’ remedy, there are some basic fundamental actions that you can take to start helping to improve your sleep today.

The first thing is to look at is the amount of exercise that you are taking. I think that exercise is the first point to look at when you are stressed, for the simple reason that when you exercise, your body releases hormones called ‘endorphins’. These hormones are often referred to as the ‘happy hormones’ as they make you feel happier and reduce the amount of pain and inflammation in your body. Exercise also reduces the amount of stress hormones that are released within the body.

So, with this combination of less stress hormones and more happy hormones, you will start to feel more positive and feel that you are more in control of any situation presented to you.

In turn, you will begin to sleep better as your mind rests and begins to feel clearer and more focused.

The other reason why exercise is my number one priority during times of stress is because it brings the feeling of true physical tiredness to your being. This will override any feelings of fatigue and will help you to nod off to sleep at night.

The second thing on my list of to-dos’ when you are stressed and looking to improve your sleep is keeping an eye on your diet.

When you are feeling stressed and emotional, you are more likely to comfort eat.

Comfort food tends to be high in all the things that you normally would be mindful of such as sugar, salt, fat and carbohydrates. So, we are talking about chocolate, sweets, cake, crisps, chips and foods such as these.

When you are tired, your body’s system is also messed up and it will produce signals that will make you want to eat more, not tell you when to stop and also override any sensible food choices with those comfort foods that you crave.

It’s not a great combination.

Not only will this affect your weight, as your body will store unused calories as fat, it will also start to affect the nutrients that you are providing your body.

By replacing nutritious food with processed comfort food, you start denying your body of the building blocks that your body requires for its well-balanced systems that keep you healthy.

Once your body is low on these building blocks, it will, again, increase its stress response, bringing poor overall health, including sleeplessness.

What you eat affects your sleep, therefore as a basic rule, avoid foods high in sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Keep eating a well-balanced diet and make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Remember that your body requires to be well hydrated in order to carry out it’s necessary functions well, and this includes flushing toxins from your body.

So, we’ve covered exercise and diet, now the third thing I want to cover is your daily routine.

During a stressful period, your daily routines tend to be affected, and this can have a negative consequence for your sleep.

Sometimes when we feel stressed or anxious, we can find ourselves trapped in an action paralysis, when we find everything so overwhelming or difficult to cope with, that we end up doing nothing, or not enough.

The problem with stopping, staying still and going into shutdown, is that you start to feel lethargic very quickly. Lethargy is not the same as tiredness, even though it may feel to you like you are tired.

The more lethargic you become, the less you want to do and the more depressed you will end up becoming. This can quickly lead to a downward spiral to depression.

If you can no longer keep to your usually daily routine, then you need to create a new one.

Find a new focus to keep your brain (and body) engaged. This could be learning a new hobby or taking up an online course.

Don’t get trapped into watching TV all day. Set time aside for watching TV and films, but make sure you have this planned into your day so that you are not just passively binge-watching show after show.

Your mind needs to be fed, just like your body. So be just as choosy when you come to feed it.

Get up in the morning at the same time and go to bed in the evening at the same time. Repeat this each and every night.

Plan out your days so that you are eating and exercising as you normally would.

 It might seem like an unnecessary ritual, but as I mentioned before, your body runs on an internal clock, and internal rhythm. It needs this rhythm to flow and be steady.

Now that you have thought about keeping a daily routine in place, it’s now time to discuss the fourth element to help you to sleep during times of stress.

For this you need to look at the habits that you fit into your day. Besides eating healthily, exercising regularly, and keeping an overall daily routine, you need to closely look at and be aware of any sleep defying habits that you have.

One of these habits may include not allocating enough time in your day to get the full 7 to 8 hours of sleep that you need. Whether you sleep those hours or not is of no consequence – you need to have set those hours aside in order to get them if you do manage to sleep!

Another sleep disturbing habit is watching high drama programmes late in the evening, then going straight to bed to sleep. TV, films and books are all written to grab your imagination – that’s why you enjoy them so much.

When you are engaged in watching or reading these stories, however, your brain cannot reasonably distinguish between whether it is fact or fiction. That is, whether it is happening to you in real-life or not.

Your brain will respond as if it would under natural circumstances and produce whatever coping mechanism it will deem fit at that time.

Your mind and body are then awake and engaged in the drama.

This is not the ideal situation before bedtime, and you will find it hard to fall asleep, or you will wake in the night with a very active mind indeed!

There are a lot of habits that can disturb your sleep and the biggest one, by far, is not turning off your phones, laptops, tablets, TV, e-book readers at least an hour before going to bed.

Again, you sleep is controlled by a natural rhythm, and one of the influencing factors of this rhythm is daylight. Your brain cannot easily distinguish between natural light and fake light. Therefore, by keeping your brain exposed to light, right up until you place your head on your pillow, you are not allowing your natural sleep process to kick-in.

So, turn those devices off and hour before bedtime, and give your brain a rest.

My last piece of advice for how to sleep well when you are stressed is to try to control your stressful and anxious thoughts during your waking hours. By dealing with your thoughts and emotions during the day, you begin to give your mind permission to rest at night.

While I realise this is easier said than done, there are ways in which you can do this.

I have 3 favourite ways that I use to control my feelings during the day.

Firstly, I write my thoughts in a journal. Just pouring my thoughts and feelings into a notebook, really helps me to organise and address any overwhelming thoughts that I may have.

The second thing that I do is to practice meditation. As a meditation teacher, I have learned so much about the benefits of meditation over the years and I think it is one of the most beneficial health practices and life-skills that you can learn.

Again, it’s something that will take practice to master, but it is definitely worth learning, particularly when it comes to helping your sleep.

The third thing I do is to practice gratitude. Being and feeling truly thankful for the things in your life shifts your mental focus from concentrating on the negative to concentrating on the positive.

Over time, this practice of focusing on the positive becomes a habit, and each day you become stronger as begin to leave any negativity in the past, where it belongs.

When you combine these 3 practices into your daily routine, they become an even more powerful tool for lifting your stress and anxiety.

So, there you have it.

These are some of my top suggestions on how to sleep well in times of stress, but I do have plenty more!

If you would like more information and help on how to improve your sleep, then visit clarityjunction.com/sleep

There you will find details of my book, Sleep: Cure Your Insomnia, Improve Your Health & Feel Better Now, my ‘Improve Your Sleep’ online course, One to One sleep coaching with me, and lot’s more information including a free guided sleep meditation.

That’s all for this episode.

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Thanks for listening.

Bye for now and keep being awesome!

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