Stress can affect your quality of sleep. But sleep preparation habits can help put your mind at rest so you can get the shut-eye you need.
Sleep and work stress often loop on a continuous cycle — the more stress you have, the less sleep you get, and vice versa.
Worrying about that task you didn’t finish at work or that early morning meeting can keep you from falling asleep at night. The less sleep you get, the more agitated you might be the next day.
Adopting relaxation routines at bedtime and making choices that help your body sleep can help you step out of this cycle and get a good night’s rest.
Sleep disruption is one possible result of work stress. You may also have physical symptoms such as headaches and difficulty concentrating. Some people handle work stress by engaging in unhealthy habits such as overeating and drinking alcohol.
In turn, those unhealthy habits can make it harder to sleep. Insomnia can add to overall feelings of stress, making work stress even worse.
It can be hard to disconnect with smartphones and tablets, making work stress even more challenging. Many people check email at all hours of the day. This makes it easy to think about work problems, even when your body signals that it’s time to go to sleep.
Not enough sleep can increase symptoms of stress. The reverse is also true — experiencing stress can make it harder to sleep.
In a 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), up to 66% of U.S. adults said work was a significant cause of stress. In that same survey, nearly 74% reported feeling the physical effects of stress, including changes in sleeping habits.
A 2013 APA survey found that up to 43% of people reported lying awake at night in response to stress in the previous month. Nearly 21% said they felt more stressed when they didn’t get enough sleep.
But not everyone responds to stress the same way. A
- negative perception of the stressful event or period
- longer duration of the stress
- lack or underuse of coping skills
- substance use
The review authors note that when stress impacts sleep, worry and rumination can make the effect worse. The impact can therefore act as a cycle whereby stress reduces sleep quality, and lack of quality sleep contributes to stress.
Not getting enough sleep can impact your physical and mental health. It could lead to:
- low energy
- difficulty with focus
- poor decision making
- changes in mood
You can help lower your stress levels at bedtime and increase the amount of quality rest you get. Here are some strategies to try.
Create a to-do list
Avoid stimulants before bed
Stimulants, such as caffeine or alcohol, can keep your mind on alert. If you can, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the few hours before bed.
Physical activity can also act as a stimulant. It might be a good idea to try to get in your exercise earlier in the day, well before you try to fall asleep.
Adopt a relaxing routine
Choosing a favorite relaxing activity to do before bed can help you relax and get your body and mind ready for sleep.
Relaxation activities you can try include:
- taking a warm bath
- reading a physical book (or book reader with paper-white type screen)
- listening to soothing music
- mindfulness techniques such as meditation or yoga
- deep breathing
Create a sleep-positive environment
Many people find that a dark room with cooler temperatures helps them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
When you’re ready to go to sleep, consider leaving your electronics in another room. This might help cut down on the temptation to check your work emails when it’s bedtime.
Try different environments to find the one that works best for you.
Many people experience sleep disruption because of work stress. Taking steps to improve your sleep length and quality can help you create balance in your work life and maintain your mental health.
Learning how to manage your stress can also help you get a good night’s rest.
With the right balance between stress and sleep, your home can become a place of respite and solace at the end of a long workday.
If you’ve tried these and other strategies and you’re still having trouble sleeping or managing your stress, consider speaking with a mental health professional. They can provide more tools and strategies to help.