In countries around the world, the quality of sleep seems to be declining, while the connection between quality sleep and stress reduction is elusive. To address this subject thoughtfully, I think it may be wise to discuss the virtues of quality sleep, and how to increase it. Once you have a better understanding of the foundations of good sleep, then we can discuss how good sleep can help you to reduce stress levels and live a happier, more balanced lifestyle.
But first a little disclaimer. Health, as I see it, is a journey and not a destination. We are all on a different path, but with information, some baby step action, and proper support, our journey becomes a lot easier. Your sleep and stress reduction journey may look a lot different than that of a close friend or loved one, and that’s completely fine. We are not here to preach, judge, or shame each other, instead we are here to offer support and encouragement. This way, we can keep an open mind and grow.
The Virtues of Quality Sleep
Good quality sleep is generally characterized by the ability to fall asleep within 30 minutes, sleeping straight through the night, waking up not more than once, and finally, getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
You already know that the virtues of quality sleep are many. Instead of sounding like a broken recording, let’s look at some of the not so commonly known benefits of a good night’s sleep.
Quality sleep can:
- Improve immune function
- Help maintain a healthy weight
- Sharpen your brain and improve cognitive function
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve long term memory
- Enhance relationships by boosting your mood
- Act as a natural painkiller
- Increase athletic performance
- Steady your blood sugar
- Increases your ability to learn and retain new information
- Keep your heart healthy
- Boost productivity
- Reduce stress (more on this, later)
In our beautiful modern world, getting good quality sleep has become more challenging. There are so many amazing conveniences, such as artificial light, that allow us to stay up longer to check email and engage with our devices, and so on.
But to really get some of the benefits listed above, maybe we could consider making small changes over time so that we can win big in the longevity game of life.
3 Tips to Increase the Quality of Sleep
- Pay Attention to Your Circadian Rhythms: Circadian rhythms are defined as “a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It can refer to any process that originates within an organism (is endogenous) and responds to the environment (entrained by the environment). These 24-hour rhythms are driven by a circadian clock”. Whew, that is a lot of information. However, it is a good idea to learn more about our circadian rhythm, aka, our sleep/wake cycle and the impact they have on every system of our bodies. How regulated are your circadian rhythms? Is your body synced to the rising and the setting of the sun? Is it close? These are the questions to ask yourself as you improve the ultimate quality of your sleep.
- Start creating a more consistent schedule: Consistent and predictable sleep, work, exercise and eating times help synchronize and amplify the rhythms of your inner clock system; this supports a vibrant circadian rhythm. Whereas irregular and unpredictable timing cause desynchronization and reduce the force of the rhythms and can lead to a number of stress related and metabolic disorders. Our bodies crave harmony.
- Understand the 4 Primary Factors of Good Sleep: Good sleep is characterized primarily by 4 factors:
- Onset (getting to sleep)
- Quantity ( uninterrupted 7-9 hours)
- Quality ( cycling through the sleep cycles properly)
Problems may occur if any of these 4 primary factors of good sleep are not met. However, being consistent is probably the most important of the four because consistency can be used to heal these other three areas.
The Sleep Stress Connection
Most of us are well aware of the impact that stress has on our health. Listing all the ways that stress is coming for you, in and of itself is stressful. Instead of rehashing the obvious, let’s look at how we can potentially mitigate the ill effects of stress by simply sleeping better.
The sleep stress connection can present itself as a cycle. In other words, which came first: the chicken or the egg. Does poor sleep lead to higher levels of stress? Or, could higher levels of stress lead to reduced sleep quality? The answer: Both are true. For this article, we are going to discuss the impact of stress on your sleep.
As stress causes the body to go into fight or flight mode, not because a wild animal is chasing you, but because you have chronic health conditions, problems at work, or relationship struggles, it can cause sleep deprivation. This heightened sense of alertness can quickly dismantle those 4 factors of quality sleep listed above. Not getting enough quality sleep can cause even more stress and anxious thoughts, creating a vicious cycle. Not to mention all the others systems of the body that this condition can wreak havoc on.
Some solutions can help you reduce stress and sleep much better.
How to Reduce Stress and Sleep Better
As you create your own plan of action to reduce stress, here are a few lifestyle tips to consider:
- Create a mindfulness practice
- Eat more nutrient-dense foods
- Start an exercise routine that you enjoy
- Decrease your intake of caffeine and alcohol
- Seek the support of a health care professional
- Examine your daytime habits
- Practice deep breathing exercises
- Create a healthy nighttime routine
The link between stress and sleep is real. It can be challenging to reduce the stress in your life, but it can be done. You don’t have to allow it to take control and keep you captive. Once you start gaining knowledge and begin to understand how these systems work in your body, you can devise a strategy and continue to tweak it as you learn and grow.
Remember, we are all here on this journey called life, figuring it out as we go along.
You can do this!
Be well + prosper,
Read this next for more on this topic: Sleep 101