Does stress or anxiety keep you from getting a good night’s sleep?
It’s more common than I once thought and it’s something that has started to affect me personally over recent years.
What I’ve noticed both from observing my own behaviour and from conversations with clients is that we all handle stress very differently, and we all have different stressors but it affects us in a similar way – exhaustion, poor memory, lowered libido, and a lack of energy.
I’m the first person to put my hand in the air and admit that I’m a chronic over-thinker. To be completely honest, the Facebook page I launched yesterday for my personal brand (Ben Hidalgo – Strength & Nutrition Coach) took me 9 months to publish.
I literally created the page in January and it took me until yesterday to hit the green button.
Why? Because I think about the ‘what ifs’ too much and for me, the fear of embarrassment is crippling.
For some, it’s finances, relationships, work, dieting, body image, kids, partners, and study that causes their stress or anxiety to take over, but nonetheless most of us, if not all fall victim to stress and anxiety at some stage throughout our lives.
How you address, reduce, and manage it, is what counts.
A common theme amongst us ‘stress-heads’ is a lack of sleep or poor sleep quality. Sure, you might go to bed early enough, but it takes 30-40minutes and sometimes longer to fall asleep, only to wake up multiple times throughout the night for no particular reason other than the same old thoughts racing around inside your head and the struggle to fall back asleep is certainly real.
The problem with this stress-sleep cycle is that broken sleep does not leave you feeling rested when you wake up. Low energy levels, poor concentration, poor memory, and a poor mood are all related to poor sleep quality.
Poor sleep quality will also negatively affect your ability to recover from exercise, it detracts from your motivation, and it can increase your appetite which leads to constant snacking and overeating. Poor sleep quality also increases your stress levels and as a result, further compounds the issue.
Reducing Stress vs Managing Stress
A great way to help get on top of things is to look at ways to reduce your stress levels. Delegating tasks, asking for help, being better organised, and sharing the load or responsibilities at work are all great ways to help reduce your stress levels. Although some things are simply outside of your control it is important to control what you can and for the things you can’t, this is where getting better at managing stress is important.
Managing stress is a skill that takes time and constant effort to improve upon. First you need to control the controllable things in your daily life, like your schedule. The simple task of writing a daily to-do list is an extremely effective way to ensure you don’t forget the important things.
It’s easy to feel busy and stressed out but being busy isn’t always productive. Focusing on the things you can control like the time you go to bed and the time you wake up, scheduling your workouts and kids sporting commitments, writing these down in your diary so that you don’t miss the important things, going grocery shopping on the same day each week to ensure you’ve got the food you need in the fridge – these are all well within your control.
If you find that you’re forgetful but don’t make a conscious effort to write things down, you’re not helping yourself at all. We all forget things, but writing it down makes sure we can remind ourselves and complete the task or arrive to the appointment on time.
Improving Your Sleep Quality with A Simple Routine
Unwinding at night time and having a daily routine is another extremely powerful habit to develop in your efforts to better manage your stress and anxiety. Most people spend their evenings watching T.V, scrolling social media on their handheld devices or working away on their laptops. This is normal behaviour but it is not helping your situation.
In the evening you need to unwind, and I by that I don’t mean feet up with a glass of red. I mean clearing your head and letting your subconscious switch off from the daily b.s.
If you find it hard getting to sleep because your brain won’t quiet down, or you can’t stop thinking – you need a routine at night time.
First off, you need to get off your devices. Staring at those screens continues to stimulate the part of the brain that we want to relax so it’s counterproductive to be watching cat videos on youtube until you dose off.
If you use your phone for the alarm function, set it for the week and then switch off or put down your devices at least 1 hour before bed time. If you can’t resist looking at your phone for whatever reason, purchase an alarm clock for your bedroom and leave your phone in the kitchen.
Get yourself organised for tomorrow. If you’re an early rise like me, get your breakfast or first meal of the day organised so that it’s not a rush first thing in the morning. My coffee cup and teaspoon is sitting on the bench next to the kettle, my protein shaker has the powder in it and is also on the counter accompanied by a banana or mandarin. This makes my morning a lot easier at 4.30am.
Next thing to do is to write down your to-do list or a brain dump. In a notepad write down everything that you think you need to do tomorrow from changing the bins, to paying your phone bill, to dropping the kids off at school. Everything you can think of, write it down – You’ll start to feel more relaxed as you go.
After you’ve written out your to-do list/brain dump it’s time to express a little gratitude. Take a minute to write down at least 3 things that you are grateful for today. It can be anything, just 3.
So that’s your breakfast for tomorrow sorted.
Your to-do list/brain dump written down.
And 3 things that you’re grateful/thankful for today.
Seems simple, right? It is! But simple works.
The next part of your routine is optional but I recommend it, and that’s 5-10 minutes of quiet time. Sit down in a dark room, or lay in bed without your phone, and focus on cycling your breathing by using your diaphragm.
Most ‘stress-heads’ take short breathes using only their upper respiratory system and neglect to use their diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing helps to slow down your heart rate, and improve relaxation.
To practice breathing with your diaphragm start by laying on your back, place your hands on your stomach over the top of your belly button and begin to breath in. As you inhale, use your stomach to push your hands up, hold that breathe for a moment and slowly exhale and let your stomach deflate.
Repeat this breathing technique for 5-10 minutes before drifting off to sleep. Focus on inhaling for 2-3 seconds, holding the breath for 1-2 seconds and then exhaling slowly for 2-3 seconds.
If you suffer from high amounts of stress and/or anxiety I highly recommend implementing the habits I mentioned above. It’ll take a few weeks to really get in to the routine and to start to notice a difference but it’s certainly a worthwhile investment of your time.
Experiencing stress and anxiety to some degree as an adult is inevitable.
Discovering your triggers for stress and/or anxiety and learning how to better manage them is optional.