It’s a cruel trick that when we most need to sleep we can’t. Olivia Arezzolo shares how to nail a successful bedtime routine – and get those zzzzs – even when you’re feeling stressed.
Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our Sleep Well Wednesdays series. Check back every fortnight and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.
Stress – managed, well, can be a catalyst for action. In fact, the term for this stress is clinically named “eustress”, and it encourages us to take action. However, when stress becomes excessive, chronic or overwhelming, it results in distress – which results in insomnia, anxiety and depression.
With respect to our sleep, when we have high levels of stress, hormonally, we have high levels of a stimulating hormone called cortisol – which reduces sleep depth, increases night time wakings, and in particular, increases the likelihood of waking at 3am. And, unfortunately, with overinflated levels of cortisol – read: high stress – when you do awaken from your slumber, your mind is typically racing at 1,000 miles an hour, you’re probably sweating, and will find it extremely difficult to return to sleep.
If it does – know – I am here for you, and have some simple solutions which will help you get that sleep you need – even when stressed.
Step 1: Get support
Stress isn’t something you should just manage on your own – rather, there are therapists, counsellors and alternative healers who can help you. And, after my own experience overcoming anorexia, anxiety and depression, I know the way out is to get support. Don’t expect yourself to solve your problems with the same thinking that created them – it doesn’t work like that. Be humble enough to know others will have insights and wisdom you do not, and in times of stress, reach out.
Step 2: Reduce blue light – especially in the evening
Sounds strange, especially considering we are talking about managing psychological stress – right? Sort of. When you understand sleep science though, it makes perfect sense. See, the body does not distinguish between what calms it down – whether it comes via physiology or psychology. Think about it – when you have a coffee (a physical stimulant), you mentally feel more alert. Reducing blue light has the opposite effect – as it typically stimulates the production of cortisol, by minimising it, we naturally feel more relaxed.
This is of particular importance in the evening, and can reduce that ‘wired but tired’ feeling. Although differentchronotypestypically need to wear blue light blocking glasses for different lengths of time, when stressed, I advise a blanket rule of – minimum – three hours prior to bed.
Step 3: Avoid dietary stimulants
Certain foods spike cortisol levels, which will create further chaos for your sleep, and stress levels alike. Of particular note is caffeine and refined sugar – both trigger a surge of cortisol in the body, and in a sleep deprived state, your cortisol increases more than normal. As a result, you struggle to sleep – even if you can normally have caffeine or sugar.
Step 4: Increase omega 3 intake
This has a two fold effect: first, clinical research by Ohio State University College of Medicine has found anxiety in itself can be reduced by 20 per cent with omega 3 supplementation. Second, omega 3’s protect the production of sleepiness hormone melatonin – when stressed, it’s typical to have an alteration in your melatonin levels, which is in part why we can’t sleep. However, with high levels of omega 3s, they support its normal production. Omega 3 foods include fatty fish, nuts, seeds and avocado.
Step 5: Avoid alcohol
Although it’s a depressant, it doesn’t mean it’s pro-stress. Rather, due to excessive depression of the central nervous system, after the depressive effect wears off, it causes an exacerbated increase of cortisol – exactly why after a night of boozing, you’re likely to wake around 3 or 4am. Like a jack in the box, the central nervous system, after alcohol, tries to return to homeostasis, but overshoots the margin – cue you waking up in a sweat with the energy of 10,000 suns.
Five simple steps to follow, but often, especially when stressed, we can forget. Thus, this is a friendly reminder to take action here, and get back to basics. Not only will all of these steps help you sleep better, they will help you feel less stressed too.