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A Guide to Sleep & Stress this National Stress Awareness Month

A Guide to Sleep & Stress this National Stress Awareness Month
1 April 2021 James Brooke

Tempur Sleep Expert explores the impact of stress on sleep and provides tips on managing stress levels to improve sleep quality and overall wellbeing.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the past year, they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope(1). National Stress Awareness Month runs every April to increase public awareness of the causes and cures for modern day stress; it is a chance to reflect upon how stress affects our work-life balance, relationships, and, crucially, the quality and quantity of our sleep.

Prolonged stress affects us both physically and mentally. Too much stress is linked to physical health problems including increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone), heart disease, immune system issues, insomnia, and other sleep disorders. Mentally, stress has been linked to an increase in depression and anxiety, it affects our ability to focus and can leave us feeling jittery or on edge.

When well-managed, however, stress is a normal and inevitable part of life, and so is the occasional poor night’s sleep.

Tempur Sleep Expert and chartered psychologist, Suzy Reading, believes taking a back-to-basics approach is the best way to minimise the negative effects of stress on our sleep.

Suzy says: “Stress and sleep are intrinsically linked; good sleep allows us to heal on a cellular level, emotionally restore and recover from stress, and also gives us a protective buffer against future stress.

“It’s important to know that the occasional poor night’s sleep is not usually a cause for concern, but it can quickly feel like a vicious cycle: the more you worry about poor sleep, the less likely you’ll be able to sleep well, so you’ll feel more tired and less productive during the day as a result. This can lead to yet more stress, as sleep deprivation lessens our ability to cope with everyday pressures.

“Allowing stressful moments to build up into something more serious can seriously impact our sleep, and we can combat this by making small adjustments in our daily routines and engaging in healthy behaviours and habits. Making positive choices during the day, such as taking daily exercise, eating healthily, and implementing a calming wake up and pre-bedtime routine, are all ways to diffuse stress and give our bodies and minds the best chance of sleeping well.

“Stress is a global issue, but on an individual level we need to understand what is causing poor sleep and learn what steps we can take to increase our chances of the best possible rest. This guide is a toolkit aimed at empowering people to make positive lifestyle choices; it includes simple practices and stress-busting rituals, plus a checklist of what to do if you experience a poor night’s sleep.

“Knowledge is power when it comes to managing stress, so don’t let stressful moments control you. Learn from the experience and know what triggers stress for you. Putting in place some of these techniques will lead to better management of stress – and as such better sleep and overall wellbeing – in the long term.”

Read on for Suzy’s stress-busting sleep tips.

Minimising stress during the day

Stress is a normal (and inevitable) part of life, whether it’s work-related stress – workload, issues with colleagues, pressures such as negotiating a pay rise or promotion, or stresses in our personal lives – financial worries, buying a house, having a baby, caring for loved ones, and juggling family life are often cited as the most stressful of life events.

Remember that when we are well nourished and have slept well we tend to interpret life differently; we may perceive things as challenging and exciting rather than stressful or worrying. Implementing healthy habits, prioritising self-care, and taking time to unwind are all essential ways to minimise stress.

Observe the ‘energy bank basics’, as these will all help you sleep better and dial down stress factors. This means good nutrition and choosing healthy foods, staying well hydrated (up your water intake, lessen your alcohol & caffeine), some form of daily exercise, spending time in nature, boosting social connections, rest & downtime, breathing exercises, and unplugging from tech to avoid sensory overload.

Stress and control

When you’re feeling stressed, ask yourself what lies within your control. So often we spend time, energy, and headspace on things beyond our control, which ultimately doesn’t achieve anything. When stress rears up, is there anything you can do about it? If yes, break it down into small, actionable steps and tackle it head on. If not, it may be a matter of accepting a difficult truth or reaching out for help. Give yourself the time and space to feel your emotional response, then direct your attention to something of importance that is within your sphere of influence.

When it comes to sleep, we cannot force ourselves to fall asleep, it is simply beyond our control. But we can cultivate the ability to relax well. Remember that rest is just as good as sleep, so if you find yourself tossing and turning with thoughts going around your head, accept it and know that these feelings will pass eventually. Lie calmly and try deep breathing. Work through your thoughts and compartmentalise them. If you’re still struggling to sleep after 20 minutes, get up and move rooms. Try reading, a soothing podcast, or meditation to help you feel sleepy before heading back to bed.

Healthy stress-busting habits

Carving out ‘white space’ in your diary is the mental equivalent of entering a light, airy room and creating a relaxing place in your mind to give yourself time to replenish. Factor ‘white space’ into your schedule; this could be on a Friday if there are fewer work meetings, for example.

Don’t wait for stress to pop up, instead, proactively factor in restorative time. Use the time blocked out to make appointments for activities that don’t easily happen on their own, or things that take an investment of time. Schedule time in to take a yoga or meditation class, or book in to see a physio if you have a niggling ache, for example.

Piggy-back existing habits with something calming. Do a yoga pose while the kettle boils, try mindful massage with hand cream after washing up – these small practices will enhance your relaxation. Meditation, muscle relaxation exercise, yoga… Trying any or all of these relaxing activities during the day will mean you’re ready to relax when your head hits the pillow.

Winding down & wake up routine

Habits are key to navigating the ubiquitous nature of stress; we need self-soothing practices to become as engrained in our daily lives as brushing our teeth.

Morning stress-busting rituals

  • Once you’re awake, resist the urge to scroll. Instead, think about one thing you are happily anticipating in your day, even if it’s simply getting back into bed at the end of it.
  • Take a mindful shower. Don’t use it as time to ruminate, use it as a chance to enjoy the experience and be mindful of all your senses.
  • Think of one quality you’d like to embody today, such as “I am calm, I am resilient, I am resourceful”.
  • Build your mindfulness muscles and better posture with some ‘mountain breaths’: Stand tall with your feet hip width apart, arms by your sides and looking forwards. Inhale and slowly raise your arms to your sides and above your head, touch palms as you finish breathing in. Enjoy a slow exhalation and reach your outer thighs as you breathe out. Repeat 5-10 times.

Evening stress-busting rituals

  • Write down all the things bothering you in a mind dump. Relish crossing off the things that aren’t important, aren’t your responsibility or you can’t control. Acknowledge the items required of you, but don’t hold them in your mind. It’s written down and can be actioned tomorrow. Now is time for sleep.
  • Identify anything on your list that is a recurring issue and take ownership and action. Whether it’s job stress, relationship issues or financial concerns, create a plan to tackle these worries in small, manageable chunks.
  • Practice gratitude. Think about blessings in your day and note the positive aspects behind it. For example, “I enjoyed a phone call with my Mum, because we care about each other and she is important in my life.”
  • Final tips. Stretch before bed, massage in magnesium body butter (anti-inflammatory properties), visualise your calm space and go there in your mind, try a guided resource such as breathing, meditation or relaxation.

The best sleep environment

The right sleep environment can make a huge difference to our sleep quality. Ideally, your bedroom should mimic a cave: cool, dark, and quiet. Keep it well-ventilated, prevent any chinks of lights with black-out blinds or on eye mask, and wear plugs to prevent any disturbance from outside sounds.

Remember that colour can play a key role to help soothe our minds in readiness for sleep. Choose muted, neutral tones in your bedroom, such as soothing blues, greys, and greens. You could also apply the principles of Feng Shui by keeping the layout symmetrical, such as a bedside table and lamp on each side of your bed or hanging picture frames in twos or fours.

We spend up to a third of our lives asleep, so investing in a quality mattress can really make all the difference to sleep quality. A good mattress will gently support your entire body, while keeping your spine in a neutral position. This will not only help improve your quality of sleep – the more comfortable and supported you are, the less you will toss and turn – but will also help muscles recover overnight and alleviate any aches and pains.

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Tempur Material is the original pressure relieving mattress product and the precursor to all memory foams. Made up of viscoelastic – billions of ultra-sensitive open cells that exist between a solid and a liquid state – Tempur products provide the ultimate comfort and support, helping you to sleep better, longer and deeper.

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