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Sleep and Stress: How to Use Rest to Control Your Cortisol

Sleep and Stress: How to Use Rest to Control Your Cortisol

There’s an unbreakable bond between sleep and stress.  The two are intimately connected, and one has an enormous impact on the other. Rather than thinking about each in isolation, you should understand exactly what stress is and how it impacts (and is impacted by) sleep. Here’s all you need to know about the link between sleep and stress.

What is Stress?

Before you can take control of your stress, you need to understand it. In essence, it’s an emotion but one that has very real physical symptoms. It’s how the body reacts to being overwhelmed or threatened and plays an important evolutionary role.

It can initiate a fight or flight mode that makes you capable of achieving more than you usually can. This is to help you run away from danger or take on a large predator. But, in the modern world, where you don’t need to flee or fight a sabre-toothed tiger, it can help you get through work quickly and achieve a lot in your life and career.

It does this by increasing your body’s production of a hormone called cortisol. In small doses, this helps to regulate your blood pressure during high-stress situations, giving you the energy you need to take on the challenge in front of you. It gives you a sudden boost of blood sugar and lowers inflammation.

However, when stress becomes overwhelming, as it is for 85% of British adults, cortisol can wreak havoc on the mind and the body. In this instance, it causes your blood pressure to spike to dangerous levels, inducing a racing heart and chest pain. You may feel dizzy, experience headaches and stomach pains, endure aching muscles and lose the strength of your immune system. Over time, this can lead to severe mental health conditions like anxiety and panic attacks.

Luckily, you can take control of your cortisol by improving your sleep.

How Stress Impacts Sleep

First of all, it’s important to understand how stress may be affecting your sleep. If you’ve been feeling restless at night, it may be due to the stress you’re enduring throughout the day. In fact, stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia, which impacts between 10-30% of the population.

As mentioned above, cortisol in your body increases your blood sugar, giving you a burst of energy. This can be useful when engaged in a task that requires concentration. However, when this energy is still coursing through your body late at night, it’s only going to inhibit sleep.

You need to find a healthy way to reduce this stress to allow your body to enter a state of calm before you go to sleep. Many adults will turn to alcohol or browse social media. However, both of these are also sleep-inhibitors. Instead, consider reading a book, practising meditation, or taking a sleep supplement.

If stress is causing anxiety, then this can also keep you up at night. Meditation and supplements are great for this too. You may also want to seek therapy to find ways to challenge your anxious thoughts. This will help keep your mind calm so that you can more easily drift to sleep.

How Sleep Impacts Stress

Sleep and stress is a two-way street. It may not be that your stress levels are causing your insomnia but rather that your lack of sleep is leading to more stress. Perhaps you have a poor routine and simply aren’t getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep that you need.

While you sleep, your body is doing amazing things. It’s replenishing weakened cells and flushing out the toxic waste that builds up throughout the day. If you don’t get enough sleep, then this process won’t get completed. You’ll wake up without having fully recovered from the day.

As a result, you’re likely to experience increased blood pressure. This manifests itself in the body as increased stress. Furthermore, your ability to concentrate will be diminished. This makes tasks harder so your cortisol levels have to be turned up to help you get through the day’s work.

If you continue on this path, your stress will continue to go up during the day, and you won’t have enough time to bring it down while you sleep. Added to this, you’ll be irritable which could cause tension in relationships, adding yet more stress.

By now, it should be clear that not only does stress affect sleep but sleep also has a significant impact on stress. Deal with one to cure the other.

Quick Tips for Achieving Stress-Free Sleep

Now you know about the link between sleep and stress, it’s important to learn how to work on improving them both. So, here are our top tips for achieving stress-free sleep:

  • Have a bedtime routine: a couple of hours before bed, start to carry out a bedtime routine. You need to completely switch off from work and bring your cortisol levels down. Take a bath, meditate, read a book, and avoid screens and bright lights.
  • Take a wellness supplement: it’s okay to use products that help you improve your sleep while lowering stress. Using natural ingredients, help you easily achieve a healthy balance.
  • Exercise: Even a moderate workout can do wonders for both your sleep and stress. Just being outside in the fresh air, among nature, and bathed in sunlight gives you a hit of stress-busting serotonin. Exercise also tires you out so that you drift off more easily at night.
  • Eat a more balanced diet: Healthy nutrition gives your body the vitamins it needs to stave off the weakened immune system and increased blood pressure and sugar levels that come with stress. It also gives you a steady flow of energy throughout the day while sugary junk food keeps you awake past bedtime.

It’s important to take a holistic approach to sleep and stress. Everything is interconnected. Improving one thing has knock-on effects for everything else. Now you understand what stress is, you can take control of your cortisol. Enjoy a more restful and stress-free life.

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