Do you struggle with sleep, and then either feel like a total zombie the next day, or alert and wired? If so, then you are not alone. One of the culprits behind poor sleep is stress – but the catch is, most of us are so used to living in a state of stress, we don’t even realise we are stressed, because it has become the new ‘normal’.
The Australian Psychological Society’s Stress And Wellbeing survey showed Aussies in 2015 were more stressed than ever before in the survey’s history. Research conducted recently by Medibank confirmed that the number of Australians affected by stress had risen to 4.9 million by 2017, compared to 3.7 million a decade earlier. Significantly, it was also found that 44% of respondents cited inadequate sleep as a factor in their stress levels.
The pattern of being constantly under stress can wreak havoc with our ability to fall asleep easily and enjoy a restful night’s sleep.
How stressed are you, really?
There’s a saying among health professionals that the body never lies. If you aren’t sure about your true stress levels, your body can provide you with an objective reading.
- How are you breathing? If you are taking fast, shallow breaths that feel like they’re only going into your upper chest, this is a sign of stress. So is holding your breath.
- Are you tensing your muscles? Tensing your neck and shoulders, clenching your fists, even frowning and grinding your teeth are all indicators of stress. Your muscles are quick to contract when you are under stress.
- Is your posture hunched over? Notice how the traditional boxing stance is hunched forward in a protective pose to shield vulnerable areas of the body. This is similar to the ‘fight or flight posture’, an evolutionary mechanism by which we instinctively try to protect our vital organs.
- Is your heart racing? An increase in heart rate and blood pressure is one of the first physiological signs of stress. This is easy to detect when your heart is pounding.
Four ways to let go of stress
The good news is that once we become aware of the our stress levels, we can take steps to remedy it and help us sleep more easily. Try these simple exercises to shift into a calmer state.
- Steer away from thoughts that are causing you stress, and make a conscious choice to focus on ones that are serving you, instead. Your state of mind has a powerful effect on regulating your stress levels.
- Focus on your breathing and deliberately start taking slower, deeper and more rhythmic breaths. This is one of the oldest and most practical methods for calming your nervous system.
- Loosen up your muscles, tensing each muscle group tightly in turn, then allowing yourself to soften and relax those contracted muscle fibres.
- Stretch out your spine, open up your posture and roll back your shoulders. When you signal to your brain that you feel safe by adjusting the positioning of your body, your levels of stress hormones will begin to dissipate in response.
Once you get into the habit of loosening up during the day, you will be in a more relaxed state when it’s time for bed. This in turn will help you drift blissfully away to dreamland!