Is stress keeping you up at night? Here’s what you can do about insomnia
by Lily Dane
How often do you climb into bed after a long exhausting day, ready to catch some Zzzs…only to find that your brain has other plans?
Insomnia caused by worry is not uncommon – in fact, according to a new poll, stress is keeping a lot of people awake at night.
A whopping sixty-nine percent of Americans say they occasionally lose sleep because they are worried about something, according to a survey conducted by Bankrate.
Research firm GfK Custom Research polled 1,000 Americans on behalf of Bankrate to find out what’s keeping them up at night. Participants were allowed to select more than one answer.
Relationship worries cause 41 percent of those polled to lose sleep. Financial concerns came in a close second, with 36 percent of Americans saying worrying about money keeps them up at night.
Concerns vary a bit among different generations. Here are some of the survey’s findings:
Half of millennials lose sleep over relationships. Just 36 percent of baby boomers and 42 percent of Gen Xers say the same.
Compared with members of older generations, millennials are also more likely to say they lose sleep because they’re stressed about work (39 percent). That’s true for only 22 percent of baby boomers and 37 percent of Gen Xers.
Older millennials (ages 28 to 37) are most likely to say they occasionally lose sleep — 77 percent of them lie awake at night because of something on their minds.
For younger baby boomers (ages 54 to 63), money is the top concern keeping them up at night. Thirty-nine percent say financial worries occasionally keep them from falling asleep.
The oldest Americans, of course, are most concerned about health. Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents said they lose sleep thinking about health-related issues.
Overall, 36 percent of Americans confess that financial worries occasionally affect their ability to fall asleep.
Top financial concerns among all of the participants in the survey include:
- Saving enough for retirement (18%)
- Credit card debt (14%)
- Health care costs (13%)
- Ability to make a monthly rent or mortgage payment (12%)
- Educational costs (10%)
The “silent generation” (ages 73 to 90) seems to be the least stressed of all. Their top concern is health, with 29 percent of respondents saying this worries them, and only 13 percent worry about money.
Are you among the stressed? Here are some tips to try:
If your quality of life is being disrupted by stress, here are some tips from Jake’s Health Solutions that can help you cope.
Reframe: Change your perception about stressful situations and view them as a challenge rather than a threat. Focus on available resources, see the hidden potential benefits of a situation, and remind yourself of your strengths. Getting into the habit of thinking like an optimist can also help. Set realistic expectations – perfectionism can lead to more stress. Learning to tolerate uncertainty and accepting that you cannot control everything can help reduce stress, too.
Accept: Acknowledge that you are experiencing stress and that it is just a feeling and will pass. Look at the bigger picture: will this problem matter in a few days? A week? A month? Is it worth getting worked up over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
Understand: Realize that your mind is likely playing tricks on you. Things are probably not nearly as bad as you think.
Have self-compassion: Cut yourself some slack – we all goof up sometimes, and treating yourself with kindness and understanding will ease your stress levels and make it easier to learn from your mistakes.
Focus: Are you stressed out about something that might happen later? Are you imagining worst-case scenarios? If so, bring yourself back to the present and focus on what is happening now – and what you CAN control.
Breathe: Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful stress-reducing trick because it activates the body’s relaxation response. It helps your body shift from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, suggests slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4. Repeat several times.
Meditate: There are several ways to do this – you can find a quiet place to escape for a few minutes, go on a focused walk, or use imagery to bring yourself to a calmer place.
Visualize: Imagine yourself handling whatever situation is making you stressed with calmness and grace.
Move: Go for a walk if you can – clear your head and get some fresh air. Studies have shown that sitting too much can increase stress levels, so get up and move around throughout the day.
Write: Carry a notepad or a journal with you. Get your thoughts and worries down on paper and out of your mind.
Organize: You don’t need to micro-manage every minute of every day, but reducing the number of decisions you need to make by using routines can help you avoid stress. If there’s something you need to do every day, do it at the same time every day – that way, there’s one less thing you have to worry about fitting in or forgetting.
Use lists: To-do lists can either reduce stress or increase it. If you have a list that is steadily growing and you find you aren’t checking off any of the items, that’s not going to help you become less frazzled, is it? To improve your to-do list (and reduce your stress), try using “if-then planning.” For each item on your to-do list, add a specific when and where. For example, “Remember to call Bob” becomes “If it is Tuesday after lunch, then I’ll call Bob.” Now that you’ve created an if-then plan for calling Bob, your unconscious brain will start scanning the environment, searching for the situation in the “if” part of your plan.
Try Biofeedback: This technique can help you learn how to control your response to stressors. It is especially useful in helping people learn to deal with stress in a healthy way, and it therefore also helps to relieve a variety of stress-related illnesses.
Take care of yourself: Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, junk food, binge eating, and drugs as your primary means for coping with stress. While they can be helpful on occasion, using them as your only or primary method will result in longer-term issues, such as weight problems, alcoholism, or addiction.
Nurture yourself: Yes, you are busy – most of us are. But that’s no excuse to neglect your needs. Set aside time to relax and participate in activities you enjoy. Exercise. Take a yoga class. Read. Listen to music. Light some scented candles and take a long bubble bath. Treat yourself to a massage. Watch a funny movie or TV show.
If you believe that worrying is somehow beneficial – that it keeps you motivated and focused – please reconsider that belief. Research has found that this way of thinking actually contributes to maintaining your worry and anxiety.
“Being in a constant state of anxiety isn’t good for you, though, and can lead to many health problems, including heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions. Chronic worrying can interfere with your sleep, appetite, relationships, and work performance,” according to All Those Reasons You Think Worrying Is Helpful? They’re Wrong.
Are you among the tired? Here’s why it is important to improve your sleep quality.
Scientists have yet to discover WHY humans need sleep, but one thing is certain: not getting enough shut-eye can lead to serious – even life-threatening – consequences.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50-70% of us have trouble sleeping, leading the agency to declare insufficient sleep a “public health epidemic.”
A study published in the journal Sleep found that inadequate sleep is a public health problem affecting more than one in three adults worldwide and that insufficient sleep could also have serious economic consequences.
According to the article Six (More) Reasons to Get Better Quality Sleep, insufficient sleep is associated with:
- lapses in attention and the inability to stay focused
- reduced motivation
- compromised problem solving
- confusion, irritability and memory lapses
- impaired communication
- slowed or faulty information processing and judgment
- diminished reaction times
- indifference and loss of empathy
- increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression
How much sleep do we need?
How much sleep you need depends on several factors, including your age, lifestyle, and overall health. The general recommendation for people age 18 and over is 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Yet, polls and surveys show that 20-30% of us get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. And, sleep quality is even more important than quantity, so even if you are sleeping for 7-9 hours per night, but you toss and turn for much of that time, you might be sleep-deprived.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are questions you can ask yourself to help you determine if the quantity and quality of your sleep is sufficient:
Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear? Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease? Are you experiencing sleep problems? Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day? Do you feel sleepy when driving?
Tips to improve sleep
If you are one of the millions of people who just aren’t getting enough Zzzs, there are things you can do to naturally improve the quality and quantity of your sleep:
- Establish consistent sleep and wake times – even on the weekends
- Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep
- Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy
- Create a comfortable and inviting sleep environment – your bedroom should be calming, cool (65 degrees is optimal but no warmer than 75 degrees), and dark
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine – turn off electronic devices, take a bath or read a book (not IN bed), or listen to soothing music
- Avoid using your computer or watching TV while in bed – turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
- Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings
- Finish eating 2-3 hours before you go to bed
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime
- Exercise regularly (but not for a few hours before bed – it may keep you awake if done too close to bedtime)
- Avoid caffeine too close to bedtime
- Try a natural sleep remedy like ClarocetPM – this biologically-based formula promotes fast-acting relaxation to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer
For more tricks and tips to help you improve your sleep quality and quantity, please see Natural Ways to Improve Sleep.