Following the coronavirus outbreak, the UK has seen an overwhelming increase in the number of people reporting deep levels of concern and stress, with figures almost doubling since 2019 [i].
Stress is our body’s reaction to pressures from a situation or life event. [iii] In many everyday situations it can be seen as a normal reaction that helps keep us awake and alert, but when stress becomes excessive or persists over a period of time the opposite happens.
The knock-on effects of stress can have a vast impact on our mental and physical wellbeing, whilst disrupting the balance of hormones released.
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, the co-founder of The London Sleep Centre and neuropsychiatrist, commented:
“When our internal neurochemical systems are working normally, they regulate biological processes like sleep, appetite, mood, and energy levels. If we are stressed, the Adreno-Cortical System is dysregulated and our energy sources are diverted, resulting in sleep disruption and mood changes.
Before we sleep it’s important to de-stress, reducing levels of cortisol, and replacing them with increased levels of melatonin, the hormone released in the brain that signals to the body it’s time to sleep.”
The persistence of stress can in turn worsen our ability to sleep. As we continue to accrue a sleep deficit – the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep, [iv] our ability to concentrate worsens, mood drops and productivity decreases, all of which can emphasise feelings of stress and anxiety. The physical effects of stress can lead to a heightened risk of respiratory problems, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. [v]
Feeling stressed increases physiological and psychological arousal in ways that are incompatible with the conditions your body and mind need to enter a relaxed, restorative sleep. [vi] When this process repeats, a stress-sleep cycle is formed.
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim explains: “Many peoples’ sleep issues are worsened through anticipatory stress, whereby we fear an outcome before the event has taken place. When this happens repeatedly, a cycle begins to form.
“The stress-sleep cycle is when feelings of stress stop you from achieving a sufficient night’s sleep, or when the thought of not achieving a good night’s sleep intensifies feelings of stress, thus exacerbating the cycle and making it harder to break.”
In order to break the cycle and improve the number of hours sleep achieved, and equally the quality of sleep obtained, Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim recommends making simple changes to our daily lives.
Losing sleep due to stress – Ensure consistency with your sleep schedule.
No matter how your life has been affected, it’s of the utmost importance to keep a regular routine in order to achieve good sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time helps maintain the circadian rhythm – the body’s 24-hour internal clock. Try and wake up earlier as you’ll feel more tired by the end of the day, helping you to fall asleep.
Losing sleep due to stress –Create a personalised bedtime routine.
Having a relaxing ritual you complete before bed is a great way to notify your mind and body that it’s time to go to sleep. Try a warm bath or reading a book. Other activities you could incorporate into your bedtime routine include completing your skincare routine, practicing some mindfulness meditation, or listening to a relaxing podcast – as long as it helps you to unwind and feel calm before bed, anything works.
Losing sleep due to stress – Switch off your electrical devices.
The internet has proved to be an invaluable tool for communication and entertainment during a time in which people across the world have been mandated to self-quarantine or shelter in place. However, bright lights before bed can stimulate us, again interfering with a person’s circadian rhythm. Turning off your electronic devices an hour before bedtime is a powerful intervention to assist sleep – go on try it for two weeks!
Losing sleep due to stress – Consider trying a traditional herbal remedy (THR).
Using a herbal remedy can help to relieve stress and improve sleep. Valerian root is a popular choice that has long been used to promote relaxation, reduce stress and improve sleep, depending on the quantities consumed. Traditional herbal remedies such as Kalms Night One-A-Night Tablets can be used to improve sleep without experiencing drowsiness the next day, while Kalms Day helps to relieve stress.
Losing sleep due to stress – Losing sleep due to stress – Get outside.
Lockdown makes it all too easy to sit indoors at our desk all day but getting outside and exposing yourself to natural light plays an important role in keeping your circadian rhythm in balance. Exposure to outdoor light helps to regulate a hormone in your body called melatonin, which helps to regulate your sleep and wake patterns. Getting outside when it’s light is especially important at this time of year when daylight hours are much shorter.
Losing sleep due to stress – Losing sleep due to stress – Eat well and exercise.
With lots of us still at home more than normal, it’s easy to spend a lot of time sitting down and feel less motivated to eat healthily. However, studies have shown that regular exercise and being active during the day can help you sleep better by relieving any worry or anxiety you have. Whether it’s taking a brisk walk on lunch or completing an online workout, make sure you keep your body moving each day.
Maintaining a healthy diet is also linked to good sleep. Avoid eating large meals late at night, as these can cause indigestion and affect your sleep. Try and have a light dinner earlier in the evening and drink enough water during the day.
If you still have trouble sleeping after implementing these suggestions, talk to your doctor. They may recommend other lifestyle changes, therapies, or medications that can improve your sleep quality.