Sleep disorders caused by stress are becoming a common problem affecting adults worldwide. It is not a secret that stress symptoms (such as anxiety) are linked to trouble sleeping and other health conditions. Wouldn’t it be great to have a better understanding of the reason behind why you can’t sleep at night so you can do something about it?
But wait. Why is this a concern?
Why do you need to know about stress symptoms and sleep disorders when you could just take a stress pill or a sleeping pill and be done with trouble sleeping?
Things are not as easy as that.
You have to know that trouble sleeping is often caused by a variety of factors, same as stress. Therefore, it is very important to understand why simply taking pills will not work for the long terms.
Take a look at these 4 common stress and sleep scenarios:
- For a lot of people, the issue with having sleeping problems due to stress is because of their failure to recognize the condition as what it is.
- For some, it could be that they are in denial about the link between their anxiety and stress symptoms in relation to their trouble sleeping.
- For others, they are simply too involved thinking about their sleeping problems prompting them to stress out even more and engage in a vicious cycle of stress and sleep problems that seem to have no end.
- And don’t forget people who are aware that they need to deal with stress effectively and address the problem right at the roots, but are already too tired from lack of sleep to do anything. They’ve run out of steam.
Do you recognize yourself in any of the above?
If so, the time to act is now.
Begin by reading through this entire write-up. The easy-to-digest sections below are written that way so you can just read a part whenever you want.
Ready? Here goes!
The Link Between Stress and Sleep Disorders
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, although stress and sleeping disorders can occur by themselves, it is usually a case of one causing the other.
There are instances when an individual has a medical or a physical condition that causes that person to have trouble sleeping, such as when someone has hyperthyroidism or is dealing with pain. In situations like this, the sleeping problem isn’t caused by stress but rather the reason why someone becomes stressed out.
There are also cases when an emotional condition or a mental condition causes someone to have trouble going to sleep, giving rise to the development of sleeping disorders.
In both scenarios, it is either:
- Stress and anxiety manifesting first and triggering the development of trouble going to sleep…
- Or that sleeping disorders can be something the person already has which in turn causes that individual to develop anxiety and stress symptoms.
Yes, pretty messed up situation to be in! Don’t worry, though. You can get yourself out of this vicious cycle.
By arming yourself with the right information so that you can deal with stress and trouble sleeping effectively!
Here’s the thing: There’s not much that you can do without professional help if your sleeping problem is due to a medical condition (example: dealing with an overactive thyroid gland), so we’ll focus on what you can do to deal with stress so that you’d be able to prevent yourself spiraling into a cycle.
How Stress Causes Sleep Disorders
A paper in the National Center for Biotechnology Information says that prolonged exposure to stress can cause disruptions in the various systems of the human body.
Believe it or not, something so simple in our bodies such as sleep is governed by quite a number of interacting systems that our bodies use to regulate our health and overall well-being.
When someone is stressed, the body goes into a fight or flight response. This means that the brain goes into overdrive getting ready to face the cause of the stress head-on. The body also releases hormones and other substances that place the body in an alert mode when it is under stress.
All of these are normal and help us to deal with stress by helping our brain solve problems (find ways to address the stressor) and mobilizing our body to act on a solution (for the stressor).
So, how does stress cause sleep disorders when our bodies were built to be capable of dealing with stressors, to begin with?
The real problem when it comes to ways to cope with stress is when a person is exposed to prolonged stress. Prolonged stress wears down the mechanisms that our bodies have in place to deal with stress effectively.
Simply put, prolonged or chronic stress puts your health at risk. Long-term exposure to it can also lead to the development of a lot of other health problems.
This is why you need to know how to deal with stress so that you can avoid sleep disorders and other issues that might develop when you can’t sleep.
You need to learn how to identify symptoms so that you can act fast!
How to Identify Stress Symptoms
Stress symptoms are the changes that you see when you are under stress. These symptoms of stress are divided into acute stress symptoms and chronic stress symptoms, both of which are further subcategorized into (i) behavioral, (ii) cognitive, (iii) emotional, and (iv) physical symptoms of stress.
(i) Acute behavioral symptoms of stress include:
- Experiencing changes in appetite such as wanting to eat too much or not wanting to eat at all
- Increasing procrastination
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Increasing use of drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes
- Manifesting certain nervous behaviors you don’t usually have. These may include pacing, fidgeting, and nail-biting.
(ii) Acute cognitive symptoms of stress include:
- Worrying constantly
- Exhibiting disorganization such as becoming increasingly forgetful
- Having racing thoughts as though your brain is in overdrive
- Experiencing difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
- Becoming increasingly pessimistic
(iii) Acute emotional symptoms of stress include:
- Becoming easily irritated
- Increasing frustration even with small matters
- Feeling like you’re losing control
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Difficulty relaxing or trying to relax
- Feeling negatively towards yourself such as feeling worthless, depressed, and lonely
- Avoiding people you like
- Avoiding activities you usually enjoy
(iv) Acute physical symptoms of stress include:
- Having low energy
- Having tummy issues such as constipation, nausea, or even diarrhea
- Experiencing muscle tension, pain, and other aches
- Having rapid heartbeat and/or chest pain
- Manifesting trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Experiencing loss of sexual desire
- Manifesting signs of nervousness such as shaking, sweaty hands and feet, or other symptoms such as ringing in the ear
- Having dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
The above stress manifestations are called acute stress symptoms because they are usually experienced by people who’ve only been under stress for a short period of time. On the other hand, chronic stress is defined as what an individual goes through when exposed to repeated stress or prolonged stress.
Chronic symptoms of stress include the acute stress symptoms listed above (but they are experienced in a much more severe form) as well as symptoms of prolonged stress such as the following:
- You’ll have increased occurrence of contracting common cold and flu due to decreased immune response. Yes! Even the American Psychological Association recognizes that stress can weaken your immunity because of the wear and tear it has on the immune system!
- You’ll be at an increased risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression because chronic stress can disrupt the balance of your neurotransmitters.
- Aside from the above, you’ll develop cardiovascular and endocrine issues because chronic stress causes the body to produce excess corticosteroids to help you cope with stress. Unfortunately, that occurrence will disrupt many of the normal systems in the body leading to high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, eating disorders, and losing or gaining weight excessively.
- From therein, you can just imagine the domino effect that stress will have on your body. Because your endocrine system was disrupted, you’ll have hormonal imbalance that can lead to decreased sexual desire, sexual dysfunction, menstrual problems (for ladies), and premature ejaculation and impotence (for men).
- Some people share that they developed hair and skin issues such as permanent hair loss, acne, eczema, and psoriasis as a result of chronic stress.
- It is also not uncommon for people who deal with chronic stress to develop gastrointestinal problems such as ulcerative colitis, gastritis, GERD, and irritable colon.
That is a lot!
So, why is it important for you to know more about stress symptoms?
It is important for you to know how to identify stress symptoms because unlike the signs of stress which can be seen by people around you (including professionals who can help you cope with stress); stress symptoms are not obvious unless verbalized by the stressed individual.
That’s why you need to know all these to help yourself cope with stress including understanding why it is causing you to have difficulty sleeping!
How to Deal with Stress When It’s Causing You Trouble Sleeping
Stress-induced insomnia (and other sleep problems) is a real thing. Huffington Post has an informative blog on how you can deal with stress when it is one of the reasons why you can’t sleep but they didn’t touch on a few other important things. Here are more good ways to deal with stress when it is causing you sleeping problems:
Find a way to compartmentalize stress.
Or get away from what is causing you stress by choosing a sleeping environment that is as far removed from it as possible.
If you’re stressed out dealing with issues at work, make sure that you don’t bring your work home. Make it a point that you don’t work on your laptop in the bedroom and that you turn off your work phone when you’re getting ready for bed.
Find out what helps you relax naturally.
Does reading help you relax or switch your brain awake?
Does light exercise signal your body to prepare your body for more engaging activities or help you wind down?
You have to know what helps you chill so that you can use them to help your body relax naturally. You need to help your mind and body wind down for it to go through the process of naturally falling asleep without hassle.
Know too that there’s nothing to feel guilty about being different. Some do not do what helps them fall asleep fast because they deem it weird or not normal. Hey, if drinking coffee makes you sleep like a baby, go for it! Do what works for you! Yes, even if it does not work the same for most!
Learn to enjoy your ‘me time’.
Believe it or not, according to a post in Psychology Today, a lot of adults feel guilty when they are not stressed out or when they are having quiet time for themselves. Feeling this way is actually part of the vicious cycle of stress and sleep problems and why it is so difficult to get out of it (more to this in the next part).
Sometimes the problem is having a mind that loves to create problems when things are too quiet. This is usually caused by an underlying anxiety disorder (which is different from basic anxiety) and should be assessed by a mental health specialist. Remember, your mental health is just as important as your physical health!
The above tips are certainly not an exhaustive list of what you can do to deal with stress when you have trouble sleeping. You can read our write-up on How to Fall Asleep Fast When Dealing with Insomnia for additional helpful information on this topic.
Why Sleep Disorders Caused by Stress Are Difficult to Break Free From
As mentioned in the previous sections, it can be difficult to break free from sleeping disorders caused by stress because they have a tendency to create other issues that cause more sleep problems.
Even thinking about how difficult it is to fall asleep can cause sleep anxiety!
Can you imagine how it is like to dread going to sleep?
For some, trying to fall asleep itself is a source of stress which is mind-blowing because the reason why they can’t sleep was due to stress as well.
From here, you can really see how big of a problem the vicious cycle of dealing with stress and sleep is. It can eat up one’s life and consume that person’s waking hours without respite.
So how do you deal with stress this way?
How can you cope with stress that’s consuming your life?
As mentioned in the earlier sections of this write-up, the human body is governed by various systems that check on each other to keep things in harmony. With this in mind, the best way to deal with stress effectively is to try to get things in perfect balance again – after all, the symptoms of stress and the resulting sleeping disorders were caused by a disruption in the body’s balance, to begin with.
Yes! It is definitely all interconnected!
Stressed and Can’t Sleep: How to Beat The Vicious Cycle?
Too often, the reason why we keep having the same problems over and over again is due to using faulty coping mechanisms that simply do not work for us anymore. It is important to have an open mind and be open to trying new methods to solve problems – including your trouble sleeping!
Below are ways on how you can achieve this:
Stop and reassess.
Perhaps what you need is to take time to reassess what can be done about your stress and sleep problems.
Ask yourself: Could it be that the coping mechanism you’ve been using is causing you more stress and sending you on an endless cycle of stress and sleeping problems?
Reset your equilibrium.
Easier said than done, but if you’re looking for a way to deal with stress and sleep problems that have the highest possibility to give you the results you want, you have to break your current flawed cycle and reset it.
Think of this as just like having a computer that’s loaded with viruses and malware. The most effective way to clean up the system and have things working as it should again is to perform a complete system reinstall. Start from square one.
Note: You have to read our article on How to Fall Asleep Fast When Dealing with Insomnia to get the most out of this tip.
Conclusion: Why You Need Sleep to Deal with Stress Effectively
Prolonged Stress can lead to problems such as decreased immunity, the development of psychiatric problems such as anxiety, and you guessed it, sleeping disorders!
Yes! Prolonged stress can damage brain structures and your normal body systems! It is definitely not something that you can just set aside and hope that it will go away on its own. You have to act and you have to act fast!
Preparing yourself to face your stress and sleeping problems head-on will take a lot from you, energy-wise.
You’ll have to identify your stressors as well as stress symptoms so that you can gauge how you are dealing with them. This is to keep tabs on your progress as you are trying to fix how your mind and body functions. Doing this and the rest of the tips in this article is a huge drain on energy.
So yes, you definitely need sleep or you’ll burn yourself out!
More so, you need sleep to give your mind and body the rest it needs for a fuller, happier, and more productive life.
Think about this: Pills can work for a while, but do you really want to keep popping pills just so you can deal with your stress and sleeping problems? Or would you rather work on a long-term and healthier solution for yourself?