If you are stressed, we are willing to bet that you’re not sleeping well, either. But did you know that if you are not sleeping well, chances are you also feel the effects of stress even more? That’s right, called a stress-sleep cycle and it’s impacting how you wake up every day. Stress and sleep have a reciprocal relationship. This means that high levels of stress will have an effect on how we sleep, and in turn, if we sleep poorly it can lead to maladaptive changes to the stress response.
When we feel stressed, our brain triggers the fight-flight-freeze response, which means it starts pumping out hormones like adrenaline. Adrenaline causes a rise in blood pressure, muscle tension, breathing and heart rate, and blood sugar. Higher levels of alertness decreased sensitivity to pain and slowed digestion also result in this trigger response, which is our body’s way of helping us face a challenge or escape safety. This response is a good thing! It’s kept us alive! But it also makes us feel like we are going to have a heart attack when we see all the emails we got after our last vacation.
In our modern world, where as many as 74% of us walk around feeling so stressed that we are unable to cope, our nervous system is in a near-constant state of being amped up and ready to go. While we don’t exactly need all that adrenaline in order to run away from a man-eating wooly mammoth anymore, it is still causing problems for our health and making it difficult to sleep at night. Do you wake up at 3 am thinking about work/kids/bills/health issues? You’re not alone.
How stress affects our sleep:
Our brains are always working to figure out ways to keep us alive. It will keep needling the issues in our lives until we’ve arrived at a solution. This is why it’s important to help our brains chill out, by either internal or external means. Why do we worry about things at night? Because when we sleep, we are paralyzed, exposed, and defenseless. The wooly mammoth might return! No, not really, but we lie in bed thinking about all the other modern-day things we have anxiety about, struggling to find ways to protect ourselves from them.
There’s another hormone at play here too – cortisol. Cortisol is also released during the fight-flight-freeze response and is known as the “stress hormone.” while we produce it during the day to regulate the stress response and our body’s metabolism, its production naturally starts to decrease at night as we get ready to go to sleep. However, if you are experiencing higher levels of cortisol at night (or lying there getting worked up about that noise the fridge is making again), that may result in waking up more during the night.
The stress response may also reduce rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and deep sleep-both of which are important for mental and physical health. It will probably also give you some crazy stress dreams (fun!)
How sleep affects stress:
We all know that getting sleep (quality and quantity) is important. When we don’t get enough sleep, we are at an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and depression.
If you slept poorly the night before, it could also impact your ability to deal with a stressful situation the next day. Poor sleep is thought to influence cortisol levels and inflammation in the body, ramping up your cortisol and creating a vicious cycle of poor sleep and high stress.
On the flip side, if you mostly get plenty of good sleep you could improve your mood, and help reduce anxiety, depression, and inflammation.
Ways to reduce stress to improve sleep:
According to the book, Cannabis & CBD For Health and Wellness by Aliza Sherman and Dr. Junella Chin, your endocannabinoid system (ECS) helps to regulate those stress hormones and balance our nervous system again. Ways to support your ECS include eating omega-rich foods and probiotics, as well as exercising, and possibly consuming CBD. There is continuing research on CBD and sleep and we are learning new things all the time. One study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that CBD may help increase sleep.
At Rooted Hemp Co, we enjoy mixing up some Total Well Being Full Spectrum CBD with warm milk and just a few dashes of cinnamon – it gives us all the sleepy cozy vibes! Drink about 30 minutes before bedtime for optimal results.
Another tip is altering your nighttime routine. Giving yourself a “shut down” time at night by giving yourself a cutoff time from TV, phones, and other electronics. Activities like writing in a journal, making your to-do list for the next day (so it’s out of your head and on paper), or reading something positive are all suggestions for helping to start the process of the brain “shutting down” for the night.
Finding ways to soothe your nervous system during the day may also help. Hey, the less adrenaline and cortisol swirling around in your body, the better, right? Try things that are calming throughout the day, such as a lunchtime yoga class, meditation/breathing breaks, or even an exercise session to release some endorphins are all healthy ways of reducing daily stress.
Check in with yourself and do a body scan. Simply put, this is when you start to check in with your body at the typical “stress trigger points” of your day. Does your heart rate increase when you open your inbox? On your drive into work? When you pick up the kids and start thinking about what to make for dinner? When you notice yourself feeling stressed, work on slowing down your breath, engaging others for distracting conversation, or turn on a funny podcast or music (you can have a carpool lane dance party anytime you need to!)
Don’t take naps – that’s right, naps sabotage nighttime sleep. As tempting as it may be, they do affect your nighttime zzzs. Instead, use a method we already mentioned, or take a walk and get some fresh air to fight the afternoon sleepy slump. Dr. Roane, Ph.D., professor, and certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist, says that if you must nap, do it before 2 pm and limit it to 20 minutes. This way, we are saving the bulk of our restorative sleep for a night, when we relieve our “sleep pressure.” Dr. Roane says: “It can still feel refreshing without releasing too much sleep pressure.” This way you will still have plenty of “sleep pressure” (this is tiredness that your body builds up during the day, helps you fall asleep and stay asleep) to let go of when your head hits the pillow, and you won’t end up waking up with the birds.
You can have better sleep and less stress!
With these tips and possibly some sleep aids like CBD, warm milk, or meditation, you can start to reclaim your 3 am, take back your sleep, and let your brain know it’s all going to be OK. Everyone’s body is different, and we all need different amounts of sleep, but we all deserve to have a good night’s sleep.