You know that feeling when you can't sleep, like, ever, and it's absolutely ruining your life? It's stressful. And it's even more stressful when you know that stress is the thing keeping you awake.
Insomnia has many different causes, but if your inability to get any shut-eye kicked in right when you started trying to manage an intense work, school, or personal situation, you may very well may have stress-induced insomnia. Unlike other kinds of insomnia, which can be based in health issues like sleep apnea, stress-induced insomnia occurs when anxiety takes its toll on your so intensely that it strips you of your ability to sleep. As a longtime sufferer of stress-induced insomnia, I am ardent believer in raising awareness of any insomnia-based stress.
And not to stress you out more, but insomnia can wreak havoc on more than just your sleeping patterns — it can also deeply impact your mind and body in a wide variety of ways. For example, insomnia can affect your immune system by weakening it. Have a tiny cold? It'll take way longer to get over it if you're not sleeping.
But you shouldn't lose hope. There are ways you can get a handle on your stress-induced insomnia — as long as you remember that stress-induced insomnia isn't the same as other insomnias, so you have to treat it differently. Read on, and discover what you can do if stress is keeping you awake.
1. Face The Source Of Your Stress Head-On
When you're stressed out, the odds are pretty good that you can't sleep; in fact, stress is a pretty common cause of a lack of sleep. But this can jump-start a vicious cycle — because not sleeping can make things even more stressful, which in turn makes you sleep even less.
When stress-induced insomnia hit me, I was muddling through the day, exhausted and therefore even more stressed out (I'm too tired to think!). I became increasingly more stressed out every day, out of fear that there could potentially be yet another sleepless night ahead. Bottom line: when you can't or don't sleep your body can't properly repair itself, both physically and psychologically.
What To Do: Don't ignore the problem that's stressing you out. Even if you think you're successfully putting it out of your mind while you're awake, if you keep having sleep problems, you're not really forgetting about it. So the first step is to deal with the source of your problem — whether that means looking for a new job, getting into therapy, or talking to a friend about an uncomfortable issue.
2. Make Small Changes To Alleviate Your Stress
You may not be able to instantly change your job, but you can still make little changes to get a handle on your stress in the meantime. A healthy diet and exercise can relieve some of the stress you're already putting on your body from not sleeping.
Your schedule is a big place where small changes can help lessen stress. Maybe you're a freelancer with irregular hours. It can be be really exciting to not have a typical schedule — but lack of irregularity can make it tough for your body to know when to turn off at night. It doesn't know if you're getting up at 6AM or 10AM the next day. So even if you have an irregular schedule, try to set some routine in your daily life, to give your body some kind of cycle so that it knows it's time to unwind.
It sounds almost too simple, right? You've struggled with insomnia so mightily, you might believe that only something big can turn things around for you. But really, little changes that incorporate balance can go a long way. Saying, "I'll wake up at 8AM everyday, no matter what" could potentially change your sleep patterns.
What To Do: Adding healthful choices in your daily life — like meditating, working out, or just eating less bacon — can help eliminate stress, and help your body wind down at night. Your diet, actually, plays a huge role when it comes to sleep. It's a no-brainer, but caffeine at night is out of the question. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means that it can lead to anxiety, and therefore no sleep. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time each night.
3. Change What You Do In The Bedroom
When you're dealing with stress-induced insomnia, having good sleep hygiene is especially important — and I don't just mean clean sheets. Sleep hygiene is a method of treating insomnia that hinges on a certain set of sleep-related practices, such as making sure that you only use your bed for sleep and sex.
A lot of people do very stressful things in their bedrooms, like balance their finances, or even working on projects for their jobs. Suddenly, your bedroom becomes a hell hole (would you sleep for eight hours in your cubicle? I mean, other than because you're flat-out exhausted from not sleeping in your own bed.) The bedroom should be a place of rest and sexy time and that's about it! Making the bedroom a place of comfort and relaxation (as opposed to a war zone of stress) will let your body and mind know that settling into bed means that it's time to get some shut-eye — not that it's time to pay your gas bill.
Perhaps you think that bed time is the best time to have deep conversations with your significant other — you know, the "never go to bed angry philosophy, or the post-sex "let's talk about our feelings" moment. If those feelings are the ones will unlock all of the tears in the world (and let's be real, they likely will), then don't do it in bed. You may feel like you're bonding, but you're also creating a space of tension and emotional stress in the bedroom. If you've got anxiety already, save the talks that stress you out for a place other than the bedroom.
What To Do: It's imperative to preserve the bedroom for only bed-based activities, and to get on some kind of schedule and go to sleep at the same time every night. Oh, and those power naps you're taking to "make up" for sleep? Not helpful. You may think it's a way to de-stress, but it's actually telling your body that bedtime is not sleeptime. If you absolutely MUST MUST MUST nap, keep it super short, like 15-20 minutes.
4. Get To Sleep Naturally
If you're trapped in on the stress-related insomnia treadmill, it can be tempting to think of sleeping pills as a magic bullet that will solve all of your problems. But even though a whopping nine million Americans use them, sleeping pills will not right your sleeping patterns. They'll most likely only serve as a band-aid (not to mention, they can have some wacky, WTF-kinda side effects). Though they may help you get some zzzz's, they won't teach your body how to have an adaptable sleep cycle (which is what's linked to the stress at hand).
What To Do: Instead of pills that knock you out, try a natural sleep aid. Some studies have reported that natural supplement valerian root can help aid in naturally falling asleep for those battling stress-related insomnia, as it can help alleviate the stress that's causing the insomnia. Melatonin supplements are a popular option that naturally enhances your body's sleep cycle.
And remember, no matter what, that there's always hope (even if you haven't sleep for days and really, really feel like you don't have any left). You will sleep again, we swear.Images: Giphy