How to Deal With Stress-Related Insomnia

Woman resting in bed

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Are you stressed enough over finances, your job, relationship conflict or other stressors that you're experiencing insomnia? You're not alone! While sleep researchers generally agree that insomnia prevalence statistics vary because of the criteria used to define insomnia, at any one time about one-third of adults sampled will experience some form of insomnia, either difficulty going to sleep, trouble staying asleep, or insomnia so severe that it disrupts daytime activities. New diagnostic criteria for insomnia released in 2020 reinforce the connections between insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Although not always stress-related, these associations with mental health and the pace of daily living make insomnia an important topic for us to discuss here.

Because sleep is so important to overall health, insomnia can affect your life in many ways. A sleep deficit can make you feel mentally slower and more emotional, which can exacerbate your experience of stress. Dealing with lasting insomnia can cause stress, too, which can lead to more stress-related insomnia. And, if your insomnia is stress-related to begin with, being overly tired and stressed does nothing to help solve the problems creating the stress in the first place. Here are a few things to try if you are dealing with stress-related insomnia.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Tension in your body can make it difficult to sleep. While people often don't even realize when they're stressed about something, their bodies are feeling the stress, and are tensed up as a result.

Progressive muscle relaxation has been an accepted evidence-based treatment for insomnia for twenty years. PMR is a great tool for de-stressing your body.

Journaling

If you find yourself waking up in the night because you can't stop thinking about something that's causing you stress during the day, journaling may be an effective technique for you.

The act of journaling carries several health and stress management benefits. In this context journaling can help you clear your mind, process strong emotions that are causing you to lose sleep, and brainstorm and construct plans that can help you manage the situations causing you stress.

Work Through Your Stress

If you're losing sleep due to anxiety, you may be able to relax and get better sleep with a change of perspective. Anxiety, including the type that keeps you up at night, is often a natural response to situations that need some sort of action. Viewing your situation as a challenge to be faced, rather than a threat, can help you get into an active, decision-making mode rather than remain in an anxious, passive state.

Looking at a situation from different angles can help you see opportunities you may have missed. Cognitive restructuring can help you change your perspective on a stressful situation.

Take the Pressure off Sleep

As mentioned, when losing sleep becomes a regular occurrence, bedtime itself can become stressful. If you've reached this point, there are a few things you can do to take the stress off insomnia.

First, if you're having trouble sleeping, you might want to get up and do something after a few minutes, when you're sure that sleep is a long way off. (This helps take the pressure off watching the clock for hours, and can help you feel more in control of your time as you engage in other activities.)

It's also a good idea to use your bedroom primarily for sleep so that you associate your bed and your bedroom with sleep and not stress. Think of getting up and reading a book, getting things done around the house, and doing other not-too-stimulating activities that can help foster sleep when you're ready. Also, avoid caffeine during the afternoon and evening.

Don't Do It Alone

Many people who suffer from insomnia do not seek help. This is unfortunate because several interventions can help with insomnia, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication, and can help you take charge of stress-related insomnia.

If you're experiencing persistent insomnia, consider talking to your doctor about your options.

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