Understanding the link between stress and insomnia•
Posted on February 17 2021
What is insomnia?
Insomnia refers to a sleeping disorder that is characterised by a difficulty to fall asleep, maintaining continuous sleep or waking up early. Even if this is not always the case, the duration of sleep is often reduced and people suffering from insomnia will be affected during day time, in the form of fatigue. A lack of sleep will lead to mood swings, lack of energy and attention, and more generally an inability to function as usual. A bad night is unlikely to cause harm, but chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Insomnia can be present in a patient as an isolated problem, but it can also be related to anxiety or other psychological problems such as depression. While 10 to 15% of adults complain of chronic insomnia (lasting more than 3 months), transient insomnia, which lasts less, still affects many patients and is often linked to stress or environmental factors.
How is stress triggered?
The reaction to stress is part of the "physiological" reactions of our body that occur when we encounter an unusual event that we will interpret as "dangerous".
In such a situation, the body will go into "alert" mode in order to increase its chances of survival. While this reaction is perfectly adapted and effective in a context of real danger, it becomes problematic when it occurs daily at work or within the family. Additionally, stress can trigger sleeping difficulties, which in some cases, persist even when the triggers are resolved.
Indeed, after several nights of disturbed sleep, insomnia itself can become an additional stress and cause the affected person to fear sleep. Very often, insomniacs begin to change their habits: their sleeping pattern will become irregular and they will start to focus on different activities in bed (watching TV, working, using the computer or the phone, etc.). These distractions, along with sleep anxiety, will become factors in the maintenance of insomnia which will be largely responsible for the persistence of the disorder.
A few habits to change
Practicing mindfulness for 10 to 30 minutes before going to bed may be an effective method of reducing stress and improving sleep. Exercise is also a very useful tool for improving mental and physical health, reducing depression and anxiety. Other lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, avoiding bringing work home, and enjoying the support of loved ones, give also very good results. Of course reducing stress is not easy, but eliminating sources of anxiety is essential to regain good sleep and balance in life.
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