The topic of stress and sleep is of the outmost importance as we head into 2021. The unprecedent times we have been living in since March 2020 have had a devastating effect on sleep, especially because of the stress caused by different situations linked to the pandemic such as financial hardship, isolation/confinement, loneliness, fear of catching or seeing a close one catching and dying of COVID-19; working from home, having kids home, etc.
1.) It is normal during periods of stress to feel that our sleep is not of good quality or has deteriorated. We can take longer to fall asleep, wake up more often during the night or even wake up in the wee hours of the morning without being able to go back to sleep. When we experience sleep difficulties, we may start to worry about our sleep and then get anxious about the fact that we are not getting enough sleep. From there, our health might deteriorate because of the lack of sleep.
We can get ourselves into a kind of vicious circle where stress induces sleep difficulties and sleep difficulties increase stress. And being sleep deprived is associated with emotion dysregulation. Feeling irritated, more depressed, more anxious, lacking concentration and attention are common consequences of sleep deprivation.
2.) Sleep can help stress. By sleeping, your body is relaxing, and your mind is at peace (besides the occasional bad dreams which could be punctually disturbing). Thus, if you get a good night’s sleep, your body and your mind is more ‘equipped’ to face stressing situations: your stress coping mechanisms are more effective.
3.) Lighten the mood to lessen the stress. There are many things you can do and they relate mostly to sleep hygiene and general health hygiene: have a nice sleeping environment, make sure you have plenty of time to recuperate, learn something new (cooking, language, etc), talk to family members and friends to release some of the stress, exercise (but no later than four hours before going to bed), watch funny movies, do not use any electronics in your bedroom, attend some relaxation/meditation/mindfulness/yoga classes and eat well to lighten your mental load and mindset.
4.) Stress during the day, instead of at night. One other recommendation would be to reserve a time during the day (30-60 minutes) during the day to sit down and take the time to write what stresses you. It will not only give you the opportunity to find solutions to what is stressing you, it will also allow you to say “this is my time to worry and to think about all my problems.” This reserved time to “worry” is the time to worry so when you get to bed, you can recognize that it is not the time to worry as you already had your reserved time to that during the day.
Many resources are now available online to help you and offer sleep tips for sleeping better. For example, you can visit sleeponitcanada.ca to find some of these tips.
Dr. Bastien of the School of Psychology at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada has been working in the field of sleep for more than 30 years.