You lay down to sleep. What you could really use is a good night’s sleep to help you feel less stressed tomorrow. But your mind is still full of thoughts. You try laying in several different positions, adjusting and re-adjusting. You’re still thinking about the day, or about tomorrow. After awhile, you get agitated and start to worry that you won’t be able to fall asleep.
Any of that sound familiar?
Often, the best revenge against stress and anxiety is a good night’s sleep. Of course, getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge if you’re dealing with prolonged or cumulative stress or anxiety. It can turn into “the chicken or the egg” sort of thing: does the stress make it hard to sleep, or do sleep problems create more stress? The answer is YES!
There are many different reasons why you may have sleep problems. Sleep “disorders” are becoming a more popular diagnosis these days and “sleep centers” and “sleep tests” are becoming more commonplace. While there are many physical conditions which can cause sleep problems, most people with ongoing stress and anxiety have problems sleeping.
And this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “sleep disorder.” Anxiety can cause the majority of sleep problems.
Here’s what happens in your body when you are in a continuing state of stress, anxiety, fear or worry…
Your brain signals your body that there’s a problem. Your body then produces excess stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and DHEA to give you a rush of energy to help you physically deal with the problem(s). Your body is now in a state of agitation or excitation – too many stress chemicals flooding the body. This is called the “Stress Response” or the “Adrenal Response” or the “Fight/Flight Response.”
Your body adapts to that excess level of stress hormones, so it starts to produce more and more. Your body’s (autonomic) nervous system gets out of balance. The sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive, keeping you in a continued state of stress both physically and emotionally.
And here’s the real problem as it relates to sleep and anxiety: the parasympathetic nervous system (the part that allows you to “rest and digest” and calm your nerves) becomes underactive. It can’t do it’s job properly, which is to help you restore and rejuvenate, particularly during sleep time.
You’ll be better able to handle tomorrow’s stress after a good night’s sleep (thanks to the parasympathetic nervous system!). The good news is that there are many things you can do to help calm your nervous system so it can support you to rest and digest and come back into balance.