The Undeniable Correlation Between Sleep and Stress & How to Improve Both
Let’s address the effects of chronic sleep and stress and look into solutions, shall we?
Chronic lack of sleep spans much further than simply feeling a bit sluggish the next day:
- Appetite problems: lack of hunger during the morning/daytime and insatiable hunger in the evenings.
- Loss of willpower: feeling demotivated and giving into cravings.
- Emotional eating: existing emotional eating is heightened.
- Problems with memory: issues recalling knowledge and retaining new knowledge.
- Slowed reaction time: this is akin to driving drunk.
- Lowered physical performance: day-to-day walking and workouts are harder to perform.
- Unstable mood: mood swings and irritability.
Here are ways to improve sleep patterns:
- Having a workout routine that is sustainable and efficient can work wonders for enhancing the quality of your sleep, but optimizing your sleep can also work wonders for the quality and sustainability of your workout routine.
- It takes a few seconds to diffuse essential oils to create a spa-like atmosphere in your room. Some favorites include lavender oil and chamomile oil.
- Keeping a journal by your bed may also help release any worries or to-do items you do not want to forget so that you can rest easily without stressing over those things all night. For me, a worry/anxiety section with a solutions column works wonders to calm my mind which has no semblance of brakes unless imposed by some light force (like writing it out).
- Adjusting the temperature of your room to your liking is also important for your comfort.
- Try to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
- Try to isolate from sound as much as possible and ensure the room is as dark as possible.
Never underestimate the effect of sleep on physical and mental health. Sleep has a very direct impact on quality of life and decisions.
Stress affects all areas of life, especially sleep and health. That being said, it is important to differentiate between stress and distress.
Stress is a normal physiological response to changed conditions (either inside or outside) and prepares your body to better deal with those changed conditions. It is a necessary function. Without it, we wouldn’t survive or evolve. Distress, on the other hand, is a state where stress has gotten out of hand. Prolonged and out-of-hand stress wreaks havoc on the body and brain.
Distress is harmful to metabolism and stunts its basic functions. While you may be able to correct nutrition and physical activity, as those aspects of health are related to strategy and knowledge, distress cannot be turned off that easily. Distress, if untreated, causes the same kind of hormonal problems that sleep disorders do. Distress causes increased hunger or emotional eating, decreased motivation, inflammation and insulin, decreased willpower, fat-storing as visceral fat, slowed cognitive function, decreased memory and learning, mood disorders, and all kinds of unwanted things that so often lead to a downward spiral.
What are the practical ways to deal with distress?
- Analyze the situation. Stop and write down everything that affects your everyday life, and emotional, and physical well-being. Don’t leave anything out. If it suits you better - write a diary for some time. What causes what? Is bad sleep the problem of your stress or is it the other way around?
- Deal with the cause of stress first, not the symptoms. We so often overemphasize the importance of recovery, but it is not always the true solution based on the root cause. Sometimes there is a problem that can and needs to be dealt with, but for some reason, we avoid it or move it to an unclear future. It might be difficult to face some things or think that someday we will be better prepared to face them later, but this never works. It certainly does not work for bad relationships, smoking, work, or money problems. These things, if left unchecked, grow like virusses. The earlier you face the issue, the sooner you’ll start the recovery. Start with the first step, which is digging deeper into the cause or causes of your stress.
- Ditch the things that drain your energy like smoking, alcohol, toxic people, users, and staying up late. You will be amazed at how much better your energy levels will be.
Pre-plan your recovery time by managing all aspects of your life in an as-organized-as-possible a manner:
- Prioritize your energy as ruthlessly as possible: Focus your energy and time. Prioritize. This is one of the essential skills to learn for anybody, but a difficult one. What are the vital things in your life right now? Focus on those. Everything else must take the back seat. And recovery time is one of the priorities, at least from now on.
- Prioritize your time as ruthlessly as possible: We are torn into a hundred different places and actions at once most of them; however, we cannot let other people's demands or our inboxes manage us, we must drive our day and not let it drive us. How? You have to plan your time. One way is to block your time - take 30-minute blocks for everything you do and plan your day in time blocks. The other suitable method is pacing. If you have bigger things to take care of, don’t try to do them at once or wait for a good opportunity. Do them in small chunks - for example, 15 minutes or 1 hour every day for a longer period. One other method is to never overlap things, but only do them in succession. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everything. Basically, it is anti-multitasking. Only start the next thing when you have finished the previous one. One thing that unites all principles around time management is to learn to be proactive, not reactive.
- Find the hobby, ritual, or activity that replenishes you: Find the thing that restores your energy. We’re not talking about relaxing, watching television, or drinking a couple of beers with your buddies at a local pub. Those things are fine, but they won’t necessarily restore your energy. This might be: reading, spending quality time with a loved one, a hobby like gardening or volunteering, listening to music or an audiobook, walking in nature, etc.
- Deal with scars from your past: We all have them. Others are more debilitating than others. If your childhood traumas, past relationships, or other hardships are still haunting you, you may want to do something about them. Our mind tries to protect us and develops different kinds of mechanisms to cope. The problem is when those mechanisms grow too strong or last far beyond the time they were needed. There are several ways to deal with those: read and learn about psychology, go to a psychologist or therapist, go to group therapy, enroll in internet therapy, enter a support group, get a coach or a mentor, etc. Of course, those aren’t the only ways to deal with scars. For some people, it might not be dealing with their past but helping others. If you don’t know what to do, start with something. Do not just ignore the issue.
- Take care of your body. It is an old cliche that a healthy mind needs a healthy body. But it is true, nonetheless. Nutrition, hydration, sleep, rest, chronic diseases, and physical activity - those all need to be addressed.
To summarize the most important points:
Stress is necessary; distress needs to be dealt with.
If distress has an exact cause, deal with this first.
Stress needs an equal amount of recovery. You don’t want to get rid of stress, because it is the power that keeps you evolving and moving forward, but distress is problematic. Look at finding solutions for it as best as possible.
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