Anxiety and stress are notorious sleep thieves. In this article, we take a closer look at how they rob us of our precious rest, and what we can do to keep them at bay.
You’ve switched off the light; you’re lying in your favourite position, ready to surrender to a good night’s sleep. Your mind starts wandering. You start thinking about things you need to do, or some trivial incident during the day that upset you. No matter how you try to suppress them, more thoughts rise to the surface. It becomes more difficult to fall asleep.
Frustration sets in, as you are very much aware of the fact that you need to get some rest, but it is as if your body just won’t let you. Lying there in the dark, you start to feel physically uncomfortable, which, gently but firmly, pushes sleep away even further. At times, you begin to worry about the next day, about being able to cope. Furthermore, you start worrying about being worried. You wonder: is this stress – or is it anxiety?
The short answer is: it could be either. They both cause our bodies to release a range of chemicals in a chain-like fashion, enabling our bodies and brains to deal with a perceived threat. A surge in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine occurs, which sends our bodies into overdrive by increasing our heart rate and nerve reaction time. Cortisol triggers the secretion of glucose via the liver to ensure we have enough energy to deal with the sticky situation. We temporarily become physically stronger and more alert.
That does not sound very restful? So that is precisely why we cannot fall asleep when stressed or anxious – our bodies are preparing to fight or run away, and that is not a good time to feel sleepy.
The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety
Although both stress and anxiety affect our sleep similarly, they are distinctly different.
Stress is part of life and with good reason. It is an essential part of our survival, as it gets us to do things, like feeding or defending ourselves. It makes us get up off the couch.
Our immediate environment has changed dramatically over the past few thousand years, and our bodies (and brain chemistry) have not necessarily changed accordingly. One result is that we now experience stress in situations where it may be inappropriate – for example, when stuck in peak traffic. What is the use of becoming physically stronger in such a case?
The complexity of our lives also increases the likelihood of stress, as there is so much more that can go wrong, at any time. Whether it is appropriate or not, stress is temporary. It should subside automatically when the reason for it is removed, or the problem is resolved.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is not temporary. While stress comes and goes, anxiety comes and moves in, and gets comfortable. It is a very specific en enduring feeling of fear and dread, typically lasting for months. Where stress has an almost logical pattern, for example, the fight-or-flight -reaction when we are attacked, anxiety is for the most part illogical. People often feel anxious for no reason, or about something trivial that does not warrant such an intense reaction.
There is a link between stress and anxiety. If we experience chronic stress and are exposed to the resultant chemical cocktail our bodies release for too long, it may cause general anxiety syndrome. In such a case, our body chemistry does not return to a normal state, and we enter into a kind of limbo where it is impossible to relax. The condition also carries an impressive warning label with a long list of nasty symptoms, from cardiovascular disease to memory problems.
The Vicious Cycle
Ironically, when we aren’t getting enough sleep, we become stressed more easily. It seems to be a vicious cycle. You are stressed, which means that you do not sleep well, which in turn stresses you out, and so on.
To maintain any quality of life, one should try to break this cycle as soon as it becomes apparent. Sustained lack of sleep carries serious health risks and turns us into zombies.
Given the detrimental effects that anxiety and stress have on our sleep, it would be a good idea to tackle them head-on. The good news is that there are many effective ways to treat, or at least manage them. Treatment for both is similar, and generally follows the three-pronged approach of medication, behavioural therapy, and lifestyle changes.
The Pre-Emptive Strike
Furthermore, the best option, of course, is not to end up in any vicious cycle of insomnia, stress, and anxiety. Give yourself the best possible chance by being prepared.
Take your sleep seriously. Study your sleep patterns, do your research, try different things, and come up with your sleep plan.
Your sleep plan should include practical solutions for the following:
- preparing for sleep,
- falling asleep,
- staying asleep for long enough, and
- falling asleep again after waking up too early.
You will be less vulnerable to episodes of insomnia and less likely to get trapped in its vicious circle.
All the efforts above would be futile if you are trying to get a good night’s sleep in an uncomfortable bed. A good mattress is an essential tool. Furthermore, people spend more time sleeping than driving their cars. So it would be silly for us to skimp on a good mattress.
If you are prone to stress or anxiety, you are probably a light sleeper, easily disturbed or woken up by movements of your partner. The right mattress – one that minimises the transfer of such movements – solves this problem.
Essential for comfort is even distribution of weight. It is difficult to stay asleep for long enough if you are subjected to uneven pressure on different areas of your body. To eliminate stress on your back, your mattress needs to have good waist support too.
If you are forced to sleep in only one position, you tend to wake up from discomfort. Your mattress should provide comfort in multiple sleeping positions.
Dream Mattress Kooi B-Series Plush
Does this describe the mattress of your dreams? Then have a look at the Kooi B-Series Plush from Mattress Warehouse. Featuring memory foam, latex layers, Bonnell pocket spring coils and horizontal bars between springs, the Kooi B-series Plush delivers. It also offers a 150kg allowance for each partner per side and has a 3-year guarantee and a 20-year service warranty.