In today's fast-paced world, the pressure to excel and meet demanding schedules has become an unfortunate societal norm. With packed workdays, family commitments, and social obligations, finding time to unwind and sleep has become increasingly difficult. If you’re busy and stressed through the day it’s actually more difficult to fall asleep at night, because your body is constantly releasing adrenaline when it’s busy. You might have heard the phrase “fight or flight”, and constant boosts of adrenaline throughout the day contributes to this response, giving you a continual energy boost. In order to get to sleep (let alone have good quality, restful sleep, you have to switch off your body’s fight or flight response. But if you’re constantly on the go, this response can get stuck in ‘overdrive’ making good sleep really difficult.
Understanding the Stress-Sleep Cycle
To understand why it's challenging to unwind and sleep when you’re constantly busy, you need to gain an understanding of the stress-sleep cycle. Stress is a natural response of our body to challenging situations. It keeps our body awake and alert.
When faced with a stressful event or prolonged pressure, our bodies release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger that "fight or flight" response. This response prepares us to deal with the immediate stressor, heightening our alertness and mental focus.
So it’s easy to see why it’s difficult to sleep when you’re highly stressed. The loop of being alert and stressed, then not being able to sleep, then being stressed you can’t sleep, creates a sleep-stress cycle. This cycle can become a serious drain of your emotional and physical health.
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your overall well-being, including sleep patterns. When you are continuously engaged in a hectic lifestyle, your body remains in a constant state of heightened intensity. As a result, you’re probably going to find it difficult to unwind and relax, leading to a disrupted sleep cycle.
Different Stages of the Stress Cycle
Stress isn’t great for your body. Research suggests, “when you’re experience stress-induced physiological changes, you may experience three stages:”
- Alarm - during this initial stage, information is transported to the rest of your body through your nervous system alerting you to the potential ‘danger’. It can lead to physiological changes, such as fast breathing, increased heart rate and an energy surge. This is also commonly known as the fight, flight or freeze response.
- Resistance - once the initial sense of danger has passed, your body will try and put the brakes on your stress response. But if you still feel that you’re unsafe, stress hormones will increase and you might experience symptoms such as poor concentration, irritability and frustration.
- Exhaustion - if you’re unable to complete the stress cycle your body might complete its stress response. This takes a massive toll on your body and can lead to depression, sleep dysregulation, anxiety, fatigue and burn out.
How Do You Ensure You Complete The Stress Cycle
There are a number of research-based ways to support you to complete the stress cycle and manage your body’s response to stressful situations. These include:
- Prioritise physical activity
- Express yourself creatively
- Laugh more, watch a funny movie or find other ways to induce laughter
- Crying is another way your body releases stress
- Increase your physical affection
- Deep breathing or meditation
- Make sure you're getting enough rest and sleep each night.
Remember to Prioritise Rest and Recovery
In a society that glorifies busyness, it’s important to recognise the value of rest and recovery. Prioritising sleep is a crucial element of maintaining good health and productivity. When you allow yourself the time to unwind before getting into bed each night and do your best to get enough restful sleep, you will become more focused, alert, and resilient during the day.