Why stress might be causing you to lose sleep!

Vitamin D Deficiency and Poor Sleep
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Stress is tiring but manageable

We all know stress and university go together like butter and bread. Humongous reading lists, a never-ending batch of essays to write, hours upon hours of lectures, and that all-important dissertation, looming over you from afar. Honestly, university is stressful – but it’s not unmanageable.

If you’re struggling to sleep at night – which isn’t surprising – stress might well be the cause. As soon as you hit the pillow, all you can think about is the above, and so, you spend the night tossing and turning, and this is dangerous. A lack of sleep can make you grouchy, affect your health, and most importantly, damage your grades.

Nobody wants to turn their 2:1 into a third now, do they?

What does stress do to you?

Below are reasons why stress is a common culprit behind sleep problems:

1. Disrupted Physiology: When stressed, your body enters “fight-or-flight” mode, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness, all of which are counterproductive to falling asleep. Additionally, chronic stress can keep cortisol levels elevated throughout the day, further disrupting the natural sleep-wake cycle.

2. Racing Thoughts and Worries: Stress often triggers anxious thoughts and rumination, making it difficult to quiet your mind and relax at bedtime. Worrying about deadlines, finances, or relationships can keep you mentally engaged and prevent you from transitioning to sleep.

3. Sleep Fragmentation: Even if you fall asleep initially, stress can lead to restless sleep and frequent awakenings throughout the night. This fragmented sleep, even if it adds up to the recommended hours, leaves you feeling tired and unrested due to the lack of deep, restorative sleep.

4. Increased Arousal: Stress can heighten your sensitivity to stimuli, making you more likely to wake up from noises or slight temperature changes. This further contributes to fragmented sleep and reinforces the feeling of not getting enough rest.

5. Negative Sleep Associations: If you consistently associate your bed with stress and difficulty sleeping, it can create a negative feedback loop. When you get into bed, your body anticipates difficulty sleeping, making it even harder to drift off.

While there’s no magic number of hours of sleep to get in one night – although experts would suggest that we should get 7 to 9 hours kip – research suggests that we’d all be happier with more sleep. The sad thing is that we can’t stop thinking about our anxieties, so the only way to solve these is by putting them to one side at bedtime or dealing with them throughout the day.

Stress stops you from logging enough hours at night

Have you ever spent the night tossing and turning, but can’t quite work out why? It’s probably stress. Those restless hours at night build up you know, like a savings account of misery. Around 43% of adults (including students) say that stress keeps them up at night, and 50% say they feel sluggish after a limited amount of sleep.

Healthy Food
Pictured: Healthy food. A healthy diet supports sleep and well-being and nowadays there is quite a bit of help online and via phone apps to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

The quality of your sleep decreases

Not only is stress ruining the amount of sleep you have, it’s ruining the quality of your sleep. So, not only are you getting a reduced amount of hours – there’s a good chance that the sleep you are getting is poor.

Your brain will fire into overdrive

Everybody has two nervous systems – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. At night, you switch from one to the other. However, this change is disturbed by stress, and results in you becoming over-worried and anxious. This, as you would guess, keeps you awake at night!

It turns into a vicious cycle

Stress not only affects you during the night, it can also turn into a cycle of misery. You end up in a self-repeating loop and this can get you down.

You go to bed and can’t get to sleep, this makes you tired. You wake up in the morning and feel stressed because you couldn’t get to sleep the night before. After a pretty bad day at university (through lack of sleep) you go to bed and well, you’re so stressed about the horrible day you’ve had, sleeping is again, impossible.

A few things you can do to relieve stress!

The 4 7 8 breathing technique.
The 4 7 8 breathing technique is based on pranayama, an ancient yoga practice.

If you’re reading this and suffering from stress, we’ve come up with a range of stress-busting tactics:

  • Take a whiff of lavender: floral scent has the knack of relaxing the body and is well known as a cure for insomnia.
  • Yoga is the way to a better life: whether you’re a yoga pro, into progressive relaxation, or meditation, engaging in a few relaxing exercises before bed can work wonders.
  • Discard your thoughts: grab yourself a pen and paper and jot down all your bad thoughts. It’s shown that simply getting them out of your head can help.
  • Take a deep breath: if you’re not one for yoga, lie on top of your bed and breathe in and out. This breathing system can trigger the calming parasympathetic nervous system.
  • If all is bad, maybe see a therapist: if you think you’ve tried a thousand things before, maybe getting professional help is the right way forward.

Stress management strategies:

  • Identify your stressors: What triggers your stress? Understanding your triggers will help you avoid them or develop coping mechanisms.
  • Prioritise and say no: Take on only what you can realistically handle and learn to decline requests that would add unnecessary stress.
  • Practice self-care: Make time for activities you enjoy, like reading, listening to music, spending time with loved ones, or taking a warm bath.
  • Connect with others: Talk to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or join a support group. Social connection can be a powerful tool for managing stress.
  • Healthy habits: Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and limit alcohol and caffeine, as these can worsen stress.

Of course, there’s plenty more that we’ve covered in this article here. It might be best to exhaust all other options before seeing a therapist. So, there you have it. It just goes to show how much impact stress can have on your life.

Remember: If you’re struggling with stress-related sleep problems, it’s important to seek professional help. A therapist can provide strategies for managing stress and improving your sleep habits. Additionally, practicing relaxation techniques, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and creating a calming bedtime routine can be helpful steps toward better sleep.

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