Ever since I became a parent, sleep has been a limited resource in my life. Pried from my dreams one too many nights to deal with invisible monsters or run through my lullaby repertoire, my fractured nights and sleep-deprived days started to turn me into someone who belonged on the set of “The Walking Dead.” (And I don’t mean in a Rick Grimes capacity.) The more sleep I lost, the more stressed I became, and the more stressed I became, the more sleep I lost — even on nights on which my kid slept through the night. When her sleep dramatically improved over time but my days and nights remained just as miserable, I had to investigate. How could I be free of this vicious cycle? Would I ever get eight hours of sleep again?
This Is Your Body on Stress
What I didn’t know at the time was that a good night’s rest is impossible if your stress levels are up all day. And you can’t expect your stress levels to drop if you aren’t getting enough sleep. When we’re stressed, our bodies goes into “fight or flight” mode and release the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. When it only happens occasionally, stress is not dangerous, but in excess it can wreak long-term havoc. Common side effects of stress include high blood pressure, restlessness, inflammation and a weakened immune system. With our bodies in “fight” mode, ready to take on perceived danger, no wonder it’s impossible to sleep.
This Is Your Body on Little to No Sleep
Not surprisingly, the brain chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop producing stress hormones. When we don’t sleep well, our bodies keep releasing these hormones, so that the next day we feel more stressed and the following night we still can’t sleep. Even more, stress hormones tend to peak in the afternoon and early evening, when we should be winding down. This explains why I sometimes encountered sleep issues in the past, long before becoming a parent. Whether I was stressed about an upcoming test in high school, a relationship issue in college, a work deadline in my 20s, or some other temporary crisis, my sleep always suffered. And when my sleep suffered, my crises only seemed to multiply. Until I learned to manage both stress and sleep, the two would always be at war with each other.
How to Ease Stress and Sleep Better
There are actions you can take to achieve better sleep and feel less stressed. Only when I take the time to prioritize do the two magically come together. Here are the steps I take to achieve better sleep and lowered stress levels.
Exercise has the power to reduce stress and help us sleep better due to the release of feel-good chemicals. Even if you shudder at the thought of jogging or joining a gym, a brisk walk can do the trick. Yoga and meditation have been linked to improvements in sleep quantity and quality. Studies have also shown that yoga may help reduce stress and anxiety by enhancing your mood. I try to fit in yoga every day to ease stress and sleep better. Even if I can’t make it to my favorite class, my living room can look just at zen.
You might need that morning cup of coffee to get going, especially if you’ve had another bad night of sleep, but don’t overdo it. Caffeine is a stimulant and increases the production of adrenaline. Try to avoid it in the evening hours.
When you find your stress hormones revving up, try taking long, slow, mindful breaths to slow things down and think clearly again. At night, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, count your breaths like you might count sheep.
I tend to steer clear of marijuana because it makes me paranoid, but CBD has all the healing properties of cannabis without the psychotropic effects. A healthy endocannabinoid system works to optimize stress management and improve sleep quality, and CBD may interact with endocannabinoid signaling to help keep you balanced. Add RESET Balance, a water based, scientifically-backed CBD product, to your daily routine. It is produced using pharmaceutical technology to be fast-absorbing and efficient. CBD is not currently FDA-approved for the treatment of insomnia or other sleep problems.
Talk to a Doctor
Sometimes poor sleep or chronic stress may be symptoms of a more serious underlying issue. Talk to a doctor about what’s keeping you up at night or fueling your stress-filled days to ensure you’re not ignoring all aspects of your well-being.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Telegraph and VICE. She lives in Los Angeles.