Stress, worry, insomnia, more stress…
I just can’t sleep!
The thoughts, the worries, the NIGHTMARE of life right now rolling around in my head keeps me up ALL NIGHT sometimes – often, too often.
Is it possible that I’m TOO TIRED to sleep?
Sometimes I lie wide awake because I’m worried, then I can’t get things done during the day I’m so tired that I can’t think straight; I get more stressed and then lie awake worrying about that.
Nobody intends or wants to engage in a damaging cycle like this. And let’s be clear – it is a cycle. We worry because things are hard, REALLY HARD for some of us right now. The worry keeps us awake, in turn this spikes our stress and then we can’t fully attend to the challenges as we need to. But how does how does stress cause insomnia?
Cortisol at the heart of the matter
Cortisol is a stress hormone that generates alertness and normally we cycle through low and high cortisol levels throughout a day. The natural cycle is for cortisol to rise in the morning to help us wake up and engage with our world. Then it reduces in the evening which helps us relax and go to sleep. Sleep helps us restore our brain and body so we can be physically and mentally fit for another day.
But if cortisol is too high in the evening, it keeps us awake and then when we don’t sleep well, that normal cortisol rhythm is thrown out of kilter, along with our abilities to think and perform well.
When we think about something stressful, cortisol is released into our bodies, and each time we revisit that thought, another dose of cortisol is released.
Sleep deprivation itself can increase cortisol levels. When we don’t get the sleep we need, the system that manages cortisol stops operating properly. It can take some time to restore this back to its normal state.
You should also know that a disrupted cortisol cycle can create other problems like weight gain, faster ageing, lower immunity, memory problems, headaches and a whole list of other ills including burnout.
What can you do about it?
This is a big and important question. And the answers aren’t necessarily easy. Simple sounding, maybe, but probably not easy.
First, take this seriously. If you are in this worry-insomnia cycle, it is too damaging to ignore. And it won’t help you solve any of the things you are worried about.
Be kind to yourself. Your worries are most likely there because you care about what happens to you, your family, your colleagues and maybe even the world. Thank you for caring. But, sadly, worrying isn’t going to change anything. We all need to learn how to set worries aside temporarily so we can take care of ourselves and then we can do something about them.
Tips for better sleep so you can manage your stress
Here is a list of things to try out – you don’t have to do them all; choose what feels right for you.
Practice Mindfulness – learn to stop ruminating on worries and reduce the cortisol you are generating in your body.
Stretching or Yoga – stretch your muscles and move your body to release tension and cortisol. This may seem silly – but just try some simple stretches that may be helpful.
Keep a worry journal – write down all your worries and concerns a couple of hours before bed so you can get them out of your head.
Create a nighttime wind-down routine
Using a combination of the above techniques, you signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Some of these might also help
- Read something that calms your mind (i.e., not a gripping murder mystery)
- Put your devices away at least 30 minutes before bed
- Use a Mindfulness app
- Listen to calming music
- Tend to your sleeping environment: cool, dark, quiet, comfortable bed
- Reduce sugar intake, don’t drink caffeine after noon, try to avoid alcohol especially late in the evening. Eat early.
Change your thinking patterns
As stated above, learning to set aside your worries can be one of the best things you can do for yourself, and changing your mindset might help.
Consider some of these thought patterns that may be helpful:
- This is hard right now, but I can’t control it
- I am not responsible for everyone and everything
- I can only control myself and my actions
- This too shall pass
There are many things you can do to support your sleep. Many of the suggestions in this article have come from the work of Matthew Walker, neuroscientist and sleep expert.
Sleep is the number one best thing you can do for your physical and mental health. Please do what you can to support it. You might also consider talking to your doctor if you feel you have chronic sleep issues; there might be something else that’s going on.
To find out more about how to reduce stress at work, contact us.
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