Stress and Sleep
Who's stressed? Who isn't? Three in four U.S. adults say they felt moderate to high stress levels in the past month, according to a 2009 stress survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. Even teenagers find that school and family finances are stressing them out, with nearly half of teens polled saying their worries have gotten worse over the past year. The result? Many of us hit the sheets with our minds still churning, too wound up to sleep.
"No one sleeps well with worries," says Joyce Walsleban, RN, PhD, associate professor of medicine at NYU's School of Medicine. "They are too alerting. They will either keep you up or wake you up later on."
Stress hormones shoulder some of the blame. When you're stressed out, your adrenal glands release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which keep you amped up and struggling to snooze.
Completely eliminating stress and anxiety from your life isn't realistic. But learning how to place your worries up on a shelf for the night can help you manage them so they don't ruin your sleep. For starters, bar your work life -- a common cause of stress -- from your bedroom.
"We see people using BlackBerries and laptops in bed, answering emails, and continuing to do the work they do all day long. For people who suffer from insomnia, that can perpetuate it," says Alon Avidan, MD, associate professor of neurology and associate director of UCLA's Sleep Disorders Program.
Walsleban suggests giving your body time -- an hour or so -- to unwind before slipping into bed. Take a bath, read a good book (try fiction!), and learn to practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises to calm nerves and encourage a peaceful night's sleep.