Who doesn’t want to sleep well? Who doesn’t want to drift away easily, sleep through the whole night and wake up refreshed the next morning without the need for a cup of coffee? I dare say this is everybody’s wish. However, the findings from the 2018 Great British Sleeping Habits survey undertaken by Chemist 4 U present that a typical person who lives in the UK sleeps between 5.78 and 6.83 hours per night. Thus, considering the above statistics, we do not obtain the recommended by the National Institutes of Health of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Even though most of us know how fundamental sleep is for our physical, intellectual and mental health, why do we still neglect it?
Well… Sleep is a complex state (or rather an activity) of our mind and body. There are many external and internal factors that influence it. Additionally, some of these components affect one another in both ways. Thus, it is a bi-directional relationship, or even a many-directional connection. In other words, sleep influences all the body’s major physiologic systems, memory, weight, overall quality of life just to name a few, but the opposite is true as well. These systems are related to each other and their functioning also impacts how well we sleep.
So, what does keep us awake? Participants of the Great British Sleeping Habits survey1 answered that their sleep was commonly disturbed by stress (25.55%), noise (13.60%), medical condition (8.89%), bed partner (8.35%), too much caffeine (4.30%) and children (3.50%). In the light of the above, the factor that harms our sleep the most is stress. We also know from other research that lack of sleep can further amplify levels of anxiety2, anger3 and mood change. It seems to be a vicious circle, so what could be the best way to tackle the issue?
“Your life is a reflection of your sleep and how you sleep is a reflection of your life”Rafael Pelayo
If you have already identified that it is stress that keeps you awake at night, you are probably thinking of how to best manage it. How to reduce or, even better, eliminate stress from your life. I also bet you have already heard about many strategies that you could put in place, but who has got time for it in a such busy life with so many diverse responsibilities? Or maybe you tried some of them and felt they did not work?
And yes, at the beginning you will need some time and space to look for directions or an inspiration. Your engagement in the process will be crucial as well. However, after a bit of practice, you will possess at least a few techniques that resonate with you and work effectively in your individual circumstances.
UNDERSTAND YOUR STRESS TRIGGERS AND TOLERANCE POINT
Stress is our physical and mental response to a demand or a change. Anything that disrupts our current balance can trigger this reaction. This could be an illness, divorce, loss of a loved one, house move, graduation, work promotion etc. Stress, by definition, is not something terrible, however it can become harmful when we experience too much of it or over a prolonged period of time.
Stress is a very individual phenomena in way that it can come from different sources (e.g. working under a demanding supervisor, being a single parent of a child with disability, having to manage a tight budget, coping with fibromyalgia etc.) and we also differ with the stress tolerance point. It means that the same event can affect different people in a different way depending on how much stress they can take before it becomes counterproductive.
THE SENSITIVITY FACTOR AND WAY OF REACTING
The whole matter of the stress becomes even more complicated when we add the factor of our vulnerability to it. Due to our personality, upbringing, cultural context etc. we are more sensitive to specific categories of stressors than others. Whilst you can have a high stress tolerance at work, you might be very sensitive to issues around your family and home.
In addition, I would like to mention our different ways of responding to demanding situations. When you face obstacles in your life, how do you tend to react? Some people reach for food, others get a cigarette or a glass of wine. There are also those who need company and others, on the contrary, want to be alone.
In summary, stress is an important factor that often causes sleep disturbances or deprivation. In order to deal with it effectively, first of all, it is important to know your own stress profile and its components such as personal stressors, your own tolerance point, sensitivity and ways of reacting. This stage is the starting point for the next step which is getting to know and selecting some adequate to your own life circumstances coping techniques.
To find out about these strategies, read my next blog post ‘The Fool-Proof way of Managing Your Stress’
2. Simon, E.B., Rossi, A., Harvey, A.G, & Walker, M.P. (2020). Overanxious and underslept. Nature Human Behaviour. 4, 100–110.
3. Krizan, Z., & Hisler, G. Sleepy anger: Restricted sleep amplifies angry feelings (2019). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(7), 1239–1250.
4. Adamson, E. (2002). The Everything Stress Management Book. Practical Ways to Relax, Be Healthy and Maintain Your Sanity. Adams Media Corporation.