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Here's How Stress & Trauma Take A Toll On Your Sleep

Tired Female Rubbing Eyes On Bed
Image by Sergey Filimonov / Stocksy
April 5, 2020

Stress and sleep go hand in hand. And with stress levels rising around the globe due to the coronavirus pandemic, there's a chance many of us may be feeling a bit exhausted lately. Some of us, in fact, may be experiencing micro-traumas from the sheer stress of our current situations.

To dig into the how that's affecting energy levels, plus what we can do to support good sleep in these uncertain times, we spoke with Shaili Jain, M.D., a psychologist and trauma expert. "It's OK if you're feeling stressed and anxious," she says. "That's normal, and I would be concerned if someone was not feeling a bit anxious these days."

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And as we all keep hygiene top of mind, Jain says now is a crucial time to ensure we're all practicing our "sleep hygiene," too.

How stress and trauma affect sleep.

"The typical story I hear as a physician," Jain says, "is someone is stressed about something and then that leads to them having insomnia." And not only does insomnia make it harder to fall asleep, but once you finally do, it can diminish quality of sleep as well1.

The National Center for PTSD also notes on their website that a whopping 92% of people with PTSD experience clinical insomnia—spotlighting the connection between trauma and sleep difficulties.

"It's natural that we all have the odd night here or there, but the problem arises in conditions of chronic stress—which many of us are going through right now. And if you are not getting high-quality sleep on a consistent basis, it's going to affect everything from your immune system to mental health to anxiety. You name it, it can be affected."

Even subtle changes in your sleep routine, Jain says, can cause a lot of disruption over an extended period of time.

Combating stress and supporting sleep.

Thankfully, there are lots of ways to practice good sleeping habits. "Every single person can benefit about practicing sleep wellness, even when we're not in the middle of a pandemic," Jain says. But in times like this, doubling down on sleep wellness can make a big difference.

"A lot of people are working from home, kids are off school, and that regular structure isn't there," she explains. "Going to bed or waking up at a different time is the best way to deregulate your sleep, so you really want to have a set bedtime and wake time. And you don't want to be napping during the day, because that reduces your sleep drive and makes you more alert at nighttime."

And if you're stressed, "unfortunately some coping strategies can be unhealthy, so keeping your healthy ways of coping and doubling down on good ones like yoga, taking the dog for a walk, listening to music, or reading a book. And that is a challenge, I think, in times like this. So also, be kind to yourself. Life doesn't always go according to plan, and that's ok. Keeping that perspective helps."

Some of Jain's other tips for keeping your sleep on track include reducing your caffeine intake, limiting screen time and notifications late at night, avoiding activities before bed that might be too stimulating like watching the news, and prioritizing your nighttime routine. So when you feel like you're more tired than usual, remember to be kind to yourself and do what you can to prioritize your well-being.

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