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Stress and anxiety are at an all-time global high as countries and regions battle COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus). Many of us are doing our part to fight coronavirus by staying at home and practicing good hygiene to stay healthy. While social distancing can do a lot to flatten the curve, keeping yourself separate from friends and family can make anybody (even the healthiest among us) feeling stressed and anxious. Compounded by anxiety around your health, the safety of your loved ones, when the economy will rebound, and even your own job security, stress levels are definitely higher than average. While it’s difficult not to feel stressed when you read the news of new coronavirus cases and infections, we must remind ourselves that too much stress can affect us physically and mentally. In fact, stress can negatively affect the one thing that has the largest impact on your immune system: your sleep. Continue reading to learn how to reduce stress and improve sleep quality.
Even before Covid-19, data showed that residents in many urban areas and metropolises, such as Hong Kong, suffer from decreasing sleep quality and even insomnia, due to stress. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Americans say they lose sleep because of stress and similarly, stress is the number one factor keeping the British up at night, based on a recent sleep survey. The 2016 AIA Healthy Living Index ranked Hong Kong as the least healthy in Asia Pacific, showing that Hong Kong and its millions of residents suffer from severe chronic stress overload and sleep deprivation. Hong Kong’s stress level is no doubt tied to its fast-paced urban lifestyle and culture. But what does this all mean? It is imperative to reduce stress to sleep better and to live healthier.
It’s no surprise stress and sleep quality are inversely related. The more stress you feel, the less quality sleep you obtain. Unfortunately, stress relief can be a complicated topic. First, we need to understand how stress affects our daily life. Our sleep-wake cycle is a daily pattern guided by the hormones cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol keeps us awake and is essential for our daily productivity. However, it is also known as a “stress hormone” because higher levels of cortisol will be triggered in stressful situations where our body needs to be prepared to take immediate action, also known as the “fight or flight” response. Conversely, melatonin makes our body feel less alert and our mind more fatigued, helping us fall into deep sleep. In normal and ideal circumstances, these two hormones work perfectly opposite of each other to regulate a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Stress can cause the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to release more cortisol which was vital for survival during the earlier stages of human evolution. It is normal and helpful to feel stressed occasionally because it improves our focus and keeps us more awake during the day time. However, chronic feelings of stress can cause the level of cortisol to be too high, making it harder for your body to regulate and thereby throwing the cortisol-melatonin relationship off balance. This imbalance can delay the onset of fatigue and cause a decrease in sleep quality.
Generally when people first experience a significant decrease in sleep quality , it’s not deemed a serious issue and that usually they can self-adjust the next day. While our body is resilient, that ability can decrease with age. So as we get older, it becomes harder to rebound overnight to the same energy level. Some may fall into a vicious cycle of being stressed because of not getting enough sleep, and so forth. So it is vital to manage stress levels consistently and maintain good sleep quality.
Although you may be overwhelmed with stress, it is good to spend half an hour sitting down and meditating. Try to chew over all the problems you are facing. Are you overthinking? If so , try to cool down, stay calm and set a plan to handle all your issues in an orderly manner. There are always more solutions than there are problems.
If you feel restless and find it hard to sit down for half an hour, moderate-intensity physical exercise is designed for you. Research shows that afternoon workouts—particularly cardio exercises—may help with reducing stress and overcoming insomnia.You should avoid strenuous workouts after 9 pm.If you prefer pre-bedtime movements, try yoga or simple stretching to unwind your body.
If you need to work overtime, please avoid drinking coffee or tea which contains caffeine. You can instead choose hot milk or kiwi as late night snacks because they are rich in melatonin, which helps you fall asleep faster after you finish your work.
Taking a hot bath helps you to relax your tense muscles. Also, hot water lowers your body's core temperature and the temperature gap between your body and your cool room helps you feel sleepy.
If you can’t stop thinking about tomorrow's work, take 10 minutes to write down your to-do list on your schedule before going to bed. The writing process can calm down your anxiety and clear your mind. Plus, you do not need to worry about forgetting anything after waking up because you have already written them down! Picking out next day’s outfit is also a way to prepare yourself for the following day. It’s simple and it works. By doing these things, you can leave your stress behind and go to bed for a good night’s sleep unencumbered.
Life and work will always make you feel stressed, pushing you to keep up with the ever-changing world. It is important to live a balanced life in face of pressure from modern times. Try taking it slow and relax, spend more time with your beloved ones. These small changes are bound to help you reduce stress and sleep better, and most importantly, recharge your body and make yourself perform better in work and life.
Certified Wellness Consultant &
Co-founder of Hush Home
As a certified health and wellness consultant, Stephanie is on a mission to inspire everyone to live a fuller life by sleeping better.
Stephanie designs and leads Hush Home's sleep workshops for Fortune Global 500 Companies such as Citibank, Manulife, and Standard Chartered to boost their employee performance and productivity with sleep science.
When Stephanie is not getting her 8 hours of snooze in, or reading and writing about sleep & wellness, she’s probably somewhere hiking with her little pomeranian, Dookie!