Do you feel stressed when you can’t sleep? If so, you probably know the more stress you feel, the harder it is for sleep to come. And the less you sleep the more stress you feel. A lack of sleep does more than just make us groggy and crabby the next day. Sleep deprivation actually causes physical changes in our bodies which increase our levels of stress, while decreasing our stress resistance.
How can we break this sleepless stress cycle? One good place to start is to consider changing our attitudes about sleep, and whether or not we are giving it the respect it deserves.
Sleep is not just another item on your agenda.
Have you ever thought, “I’m too busy; I don’t have time to sleep?” Or do you routinely keep pushing yourself until you almost fall over, before you’ll go to bed?
If you go to bed resenting the time sleep takes from your busy life, you actually sabotage how effectively you can manage your day. We need to be relaxed before we can move into the delta brain wave state of truly deep sleep. And deep sleep is what rebuilds our bodies and our minds, and protects us from more stress in the future.
Studies have shown that a lack of deep delta sleep causes our bodies to produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol, in turn, continues adding to our stress levels for days to come, and even makes us fat.
Instead of attacking sleep as a task on your must-do list, appreciate it as a precious gift, designed to boost your mood, your health, and your productivity. Sleep may extend how long you live, and ensure that your years are vital ones.
Sleep is not an indulgence.
I once had a boss who scolded us junior managers, “Four hours of sleep is all you need.” We bleary eyed underlings were too exhausted to even respond.
Both in business and family life, there are plenty of people ready to label you as self-indulgent, or who expect you to demonstrate your loyalty by working around the clock. Don’t buy it. Their stress inducing, manipulative behavior can cause you to lose far more than sleep…like perhaps your sanity.
Modern society encourages the view that sleep is only for the weak or the lazy. We see this in the 24 hour shifts interns work in hospitals, or the over-scheduling of airline pilots and long-haul truckers. Some airlines and hospitals are finally getting the message that the consequences of this attitude can be costly, or even tragic. Luckily, the subway train which ran up an airport escalator when the driver fell asleep last month caused no fatal injuries. Not all cases end that well.
Stand up for your right to sleep, and take back control of your life. When you let go of the stress of other people’s demands, your energy and alertness will improve, and you can find brighter days.
Create a calming routine, and a calming space.
Treating sleep with respect encourages you to create a more stress-free sleep environment, where you can unwind, maybe meditate, and leave your day behind. Calming behaviors like eating less at night, turning off your computer or TV sooner, or listening to soothing music may also help you get the rest you need.
In the end, better sleep equals less stress, and less stress equals better sleep. For once there is a cycle that is good for you, and will help you lead a happier, more stress free life.
Fighting chronic insomnia? In my next article, we’ll explore how chronic insomnia is different from occasional sleepiness, and how it is linked to stress and depression.
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