I would say one of the biggest obstacles I faced trying to get a decent night’s sleep was overcoming my own mind.
Racing thoughts, overthinking, constant worrying, turning positives into negatives, my mind was simply awash with stress and anxiety.
And this went on all day, every day.
The title of today’s article is “What is Stress-Induced Insomnia?”
In a nutshell it’s what I’ve described above, and I would hazard a guess that this daily process (which typically gets ten times worse at night) is something that sounds familiar to a lot of you.
What is Stress-Induced Insomnia? – The Facts
You might be stressed out for any number of reasons – your job, your finances, your relationship, your weight, your overall health, your children, your parents, your pet, etc.
You may even be stressed out by the fact you can’t fall asleep at night or the complete lack of sleep that you’re getting.
We often look at stress as a problem of the mind, which of course it is.
Stress can lead to anxiety and depression, poor concentration and focus, constant tension, etc.
However, it also can impact on the body as well. You may experience headaches, upset stomach, aches and pains in your neck, back or chest. Stress can also cause appetite loss and overeating, both of which will affect your mental and physical well-being further.
When you look at all these factors it seems pretty obvious that it will eventually start causing issues with how well you’re sleeping.
What’s My Story With Stress and Insomnia?
The biggest problem I faced was shutting my mind down once I got under the covers.
I’d had all day to think about certain things and deal with them then and there, but for some reason I’d rather ignore these problems during the day, and then stew on them at night, generally as I was trying to fall asleep.
If I’m being completely honest, the vast majority of things that went through my mind were completely insignificant.
In fact, while lying in my bed I’d often stress myself out over some of the most stupid things. These weren’t even “real-life” problems, and yet I allowed these thoughts to keep me up half the night.
Do you want to know exactly how insignificant and stupid some of the things I was stressing over were?
Here’s an example:
“Should I make sandwiches or just go out for lunch while I’m at work tomorrow? Well to be honest, we’re going out for dinner on Friday night, so I don’t want to eat loads tomorrow, as I mind end up putting on weight.
So, sandwiches it is. But will I have time to make sandwiches before I go to work? Won’t that make me late? Should I set my alarm 15 minutes early now so I’ve got time to make sandwiches in the morning?
But I don’t want to turn over and reset my alarm because then I’ll get less sleep. Although I’m not actually sleeping at the moment, am I? Why aren’t I sleeping? That means I’ll probably feel tired all day tomorrow, so I might not get everything done that I need to.
I’ll be tired and won’t have much energy tomorrow. Oh, I know I can go out for lunch, have a decent meal, and that’ll give me energy to work harder in the afternoon. But I don’t want to go out for lunch because I might put on weight because we’re going out for dinner on Friday night.”
I know what you’re thinking – hand that man a straight jacket and order him a padded cell.
Don’t get me wrong, oftentimes there would be something significant and more important for me to worry about, and of course this once again affected my sleep.
However, I have been lucky in one respect – I mentioned that stress (and a lack of sleep) can lead to various physical symptoms as well, and (touch wood) this hasn’t affected me as yet.
But many of you may not be so lucky.
How Did I Deal With Stress (And Insomnia)?
Okay, I could once again discuss the various “good sleep hygiene habits” that I often extol the virtues of in many of my articles.
You know what I mean:
Turning off electrics well before bedtime, creating a sleep routine, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and onward, getting plenty of natural light during the day, exercising regularly, enjoying a balanced diet, turning your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary, and the list goes on.
BUT, as I say I’ve discussed these factors in great detail before.
Today I want to deal with the root cause. So, not so much the insomnia, but the stress that is causing it.
I guess everyone has different ways of dealing with stress, but this is what worked for me.
I was never a fan of either of these words to be fair – “Mindfulness” and “Meditation”.
I avoided both concepts for many, many years.
It all seemed a bit New Age to me, and once Mindfulness became a buzz-word over the past few years, I ignored it even further.
Oh dear, to my detriment. I finally caved in and decided to give it a go.
I followed the 7 Minute Mindfulness Program and to be completely honest it has made me feel far more relaxed, calm, and a lot less stressed.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t some kind of miracle cure, but it has made a huge difference to my life.
I view working on the mind in much the same way as working on the body.
You can’t expect magical changes to occur overnight, but if you keep working at it, the “mind muscles” get stronger through practice and repetition, and eventually you get stronger and fitter (mentally).
Once again, not something I was immediately taken with. I mean we all breathe, each and every single day. We can’t survive without it.
So, how can breathing actually help to deal with stress?
As it turns out, in a wonderful way.
Firstly, one of the first physical signs of stress is typically an increased breathing and heart rate. Therefore, by slowing down both the breath and the heart rate, this somehow has a calming effect on both the mind and the body.
Ever since this discovery I’m always on the lookout for various breathing relaxation techniques, and one that I came across is Alternate Nostril Breathing.
A little more research into this and I soon found out that it is also pranayama (yoga-based breathing technique).
Plus, it also has it’s very own yogic name – Nadi Shodhana.
You can check out the video below to see how this is done, Yoga Style.
However, I must admit this isn’t quite how I do it. Whenever I practice alternate nostril breathing – I do not sit cross-legged on the floor, I do not have my eyes closed, and I do not use the yoga finger/hand sign.
I think just the act of slowing your breath down and concentrating on the specific technique works well to reduce stress and to keep you calm. However, please be my guest if you find the following method more suitable.
Believe it or not, even though I’m about to espouse the benefits of journaling, this is a practice I have only taken up in the past couple of years, whereas insomnia (and stress come to think of it) is something that has been part of my life for decades.
There are actually many methods of journaling, and I use various approaches depending on how I’m feeling at the time.
However, what I like to call the “brain-dump” is one that has served me well when dealing with stress-induced insomnia.
I simply set a timer for 15-20 minutes and then write… and write… and write, about anything and everything on my mind. Just get it all out on paper (I use a pen and paper for journaling, as opposed to any online method).
Once the timer goes off I read through what I have written, and often I giggle away to myself about how silly some of this stuff is.
I would say again that this isn’t going to immediately sort out all your problems with stress, and it is something that you have to do regularly, but after a while it just seems to click.
Very therapeutic I promise you.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that a lot of the problems I’ve faced over the years with sleep are simply down to what’s going on in my head.
I understand that there are various reasons that others may suffer with insomnia, and that is what my research, and this website, is dedicated to finding out and discussing.
However, stress and anxiety will typically account for many sleepless nights and therefore it is vital to deal with this.
I’ve spoken many times of good sleep hygiene habits, but for me I have found that mindfulness meditation, breathing techniques and journaling have a wonderful way of calming my mind.
What about you?
Is stress ruining your night’s sleep?
How do you deal with this?
Would you be willing to try one or all of the above methods?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Until then, happy sleeping.