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Reduce Stress and Improve Mood Through Better Sleep

Stress is an inevitable part of life. We all encounter stressful situations in our jobs, relationships, finances, and other aspects of daily living. While a little stress can help motivate us, chronic or high levels of stress can negatively impact both our physical and mental health. Stress has been linked to headaches, stomach issues, heart disease, anxiety, depression and more.

One of the best ways to manage stress is to get enough high-quality sleep. Unfortunately, stress and lack of sleep often go hand-in-hand in a vicious cycle. Stress causes sleep problems, and then the resulting tiredness and fatigue leads to even more stress the next day. Breaking this cycle by improving your sleep habits can have powerful benefits for both reducing stress and improving your overall mood.

How Lack of Sleep Increases Stress

Missing out on sleep, even for just one or two nights, has been found to significantly raise stress hormone levels. Sleep deprivation raises cortisol levels, which is the body’s main stress hormone. Having high cortisol over long periods of time can suppress the immune system, cause weight gain and high blood pressure, and lead to mental health issues.

Studies show that lack of sleep also makes it much harder to cope with stressors in a productive way or manage emotions around stressful situations. Tiredness from poor sleep quality or quantity leaves you less emotionally resilient and more reactive to things that bother you. It essentially lowers your overall threshold for getting stressed out.

At the same time, research has observed that people who report feeling stressed out also have more difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. Racing thoughts and rumination keep their minds too active for quality rest. This reciprocal relationship demonstrates how critical sleep is for maintaining balanced stress levels.

How More Sleep Reduces Stress

Getting enough sleep on a consistent basis will help reverse many of the detrimental effects of stress. Here are some of the top ways better sleep habits lead to lower stress:

  • Reduced cortisol levels – With quality nightly sleep, your body will produce less of the stress hormone cortisol during the day. Lower cortisol leads to feeling calmer and less anxious.
  • Improved ability to cope – More sleep helps improve thinking skills, judgment, and decision making. You’ll be better equipped to deal with challenges without getting as frustrated or overwhelmed.
  • Increased resilience – Sufficient sleep makes you more resilient emotionally. Small frustrations will bother you less and you’ll bounce back easier from stressful events.
  • Clearer thinking and focus – When well rested, you can concentrate better on tasks and will have an easier time tuning out distractions or intrusive thoughts that increase anxiety.
  • Better mood – Sleep plays a pivotal role in regulating mood and keeping depression at bay. Even small amounts of extra sleep have been found to significantly improve mood.
  • Increased motivation – The energy and mental clarity from adequate sleep each night will make you more motivated to take care of yourself and be proactive about needs that reduce stress when left unmet.
  • Healthier immune function – Sleep deprivation compromises the immune system and increases inflammation, making you more vulnerable to stress-related physical illnesses. More sleep strengthens your body’s ability to fight viruses and heal faster.
  • Overall sense of well-being – Getting enough sleep helps you feel better emotionally and physically, making typical stressors seem more manageable. Life’s challenges won’t loom as large.

How to Improve Your Sleep Habits

If you want to reduce stress, improving the quality and duration of your sleep is one of the most effective things you can do. Here are some positive sleep habits to work on:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule – Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, including weekends. This regulates the body’s internal clock for better sleep-wake cycles.
  • Develop a relaxing pre-bed routine – Unwind by dimming lights, reading, taking a bath, listening to calming music, meditating, or doing light stretches. This signals to the body and mind that it’s time to sleep.
  • Limit screen time before bed – Don’t use phones, tablets, computers or TV right before bed, as the blue light inhibits melatonin production needed for sleep.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable – Keep the room cool, dark and quiet. Consider using blackout curtains, a white noise machine, earplugs or an eye mask if needed.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks late in the day – Stop intake of caffeinated coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that disrupts sleep.
  • Reduce alcohol intake – While alcohol makes you drowsy at first, it leads to poor quality fragmented sleep later in the night as the body processes it.
  • Manage worries and racing thoughts – If anxiety or rumination keeps you up, get up briefly to write a to-do list or worries down to clear your mind. Or try breathing exercises.
  • Go to bed when sleepy – Only try to fall asleep when you actually feel tired. Tossing and turning for too long creates stress and frustration that keeps sleep at bay.

Improving your daily sleep habits takes some trial and error and commitment, but the benefits are immense. The more consistent you can make quality sleep, the more you’ll notice reductions in your stress levels and improvements in your overall mood and well-being.