The Effects Of Stress Upon Our Sleep Patterns
Carl Nassar, Ph.D., LPC, CIIPTS
Many sleep-related surveys carried out in recent years have shown that we’re not getting the amount of sleep that we ideally need. While some people can cope with less sleep than others, most are still not meeting the recommended requirements. As a result, many people may struggle to function and remain as mentally and physically sound as possible.
The reasons behind this countrywide epidemic of sleeplessness can usually be attributed to several common factors, such as problems with relationships, difficulties at work, financial hardships, and even traffic jams on our daily commute. Stress from the pandemic has only worsened the problem.
Improving the quality of our sleep patterns is possible, but only when we tackle the many chronic stressors that are preventing us from getting the rest we so deeply need.
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Managing Stress to Improve Sleep
Getting good, quality sleep may be more achievable if you try to implement some healthy stress management techniques before you climb into bed. The ways in which we can learn to cope with stress come in many forms, and some involve emotional engagement.
A recent study showed that those strategies aiming to minimize emotional avoidance and enhance emotional awareness can greatly reduce the impact that stress can have on sleep.
On the other side of the coin, strategies that tend to increase avoidance, such as drinking alcohol or taking illegal substances to forget about the stress, usually lead to longer sleep delays and a lack of quality sleep.
What is Emotional Avoidance?
This type of avoidance can refer to any action we take that is designed to help us prevent feeling an uncomfortable emotion, whether it be through dissociation or using drugs or alcohol. Normally considered to be an unhelpful coping strategy, emotional avoidance may be effective in the short term, but will often go on to make those emotions become stronger and more difficult to avoid.
Some strategies that can help to minimize emotional avoidance include meditation and simple breathing exercises. These can reduce stress and bodily tension, and lower the levels of the stress hormone, which will aid sounder sleep.
When to Seek Professional Help for Sleep and Stress
If self-help methods of lowering your stress levels don’t seem to be working and your sleep patterns haven’t improved, then it might be time to meet with a qualified counselor who can talk to you more about the way you’re feeling.
An experienced counselor will advise you on other strategies of stress management to help you sleep better, and will be a sounding board for any worries or fears that you might have surrounding your emotional responses to stressful situations.