For many, sleeping is a normal part of the normal, daily grind, and it’s easy to take it for granted.
Thus, when certain factors or issues contribute to sleep problems, everything in life can suffer as a result.
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It’s not uncommon to occasionally struggle to sleep, especially during times when you feel overwhelmed. However, chronic sleep problems can come with real consequences and shouldn’t be ignored.
For most individuals who struggle to get to sleep, pinpointing what factors might be contributing to the issue can be very beneficial. Once you’ve identified your personal roadblock, you can begin to find alternative routes or utilize specific techniques to make restful sleep possible.
High levels of stress or the presence of new stressors in life can certainly, and commonly does, affect sleeping patterns.
Whether the source of an individual’s stress is school homework piling up, work deadlines becoming overwhelming, instability within social relationships, or any other part of life, it can easily take over one’s mind.
The body’s response to stress contributes to hyperarousal (a state in which an individual is constantly on alert), which can make it hard to “turn off” the mind. Understanding where stress comes from, how it might manifest itself, and how to recognize it for what it is maybe a crucial part of improving your sleep habits.
Episodic Acute Stress
This type of stress is an amalgamation of individual moments that causes brief periods of stress. Examples of acute stress, or short-term stress, are missing a deadline, not catching the train ride to work, or barely avoiding a head-on car collision.
Those with episodic acute stress may indulge in unhealthy behaviors to get through their days, such as binge drinking or overeating. Left unaddressed, what started as acute stress can cause other serious consequences – like heart disease, poor work performance, etc. – and contribute to mental health disorder symptoms.
Insomnia: A Result of Stress
Insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep), as mentioned, is often a common response to high levels of stress; essentially, the body and mind are both on high alert, ready for action, and unable to fully disconnect or relax.
Insomnia is especially prevalent among those who experience chronic stress, and it can certainly wear people down and lead to feelings of hopelessness. Those with chronic insomnia may feel excessive daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and an inability to carry out necessary daily tasks.
An appropriately licensed doctor can diagnose chronic insomnia if their patient’s symptoms occur at least three times a week for a minimum of three months.
Even for those who rarely struggle to sleep, bouts of insomnia may occur during periods of isolated or acute stress. Some of these stressors may include:
- Death of a loved one
- Life-altering illness or injury
- Major lifestyle changes
2. Sleep and Mental Health Disorders
Along with stress, specific sleep disorders can also cause insomnia. These disorders may also result in certain complications of their own that may further prevent an individual from caring for themselves well enough and sleeping regularly.
Sleep disorders and mental health disorders can be interconnected; sleep disorders can lead to mental health disorders and vice versa. In addition, other factors in an individual’s life (other health conditions, for instance) may give rise to such disorders.
An estimated 40% of people with insomnia reportedly have a mental health disorder as well. Mental health and sleep disorders may lead to unsatisfactory feelings about one’s life, which could affect more than just someone’s sleep schedule.
During an episode of sleep apnea, an individual temporarily stops breathing throughout the night. This sleep disorder can cause numerous breathing lapses, sleep interruptions, poor quality rest, and more.
Roughly 20% of people are affected by sleep apnea. Untreated or undiagnosed sleep apnea can indeed be an underlying cause of insomnia and daytime drowsiness.
Known as parasomnias, abnormal behaviors during sleep can reduce someone’s chances of adhering to a healthy sleep schedule.
For example, restless leg syndrome (RSL), which causes an intense urge to move the legs and body, can make it hard to fall asleep or cause the sleep they do get to feel less effective.
Other examples of parasomnia include:
- Sleep paralysis
3. Lifestyle Changes
Certain lifestyle changes, especially those that are long-term and significant, may also change sleep patterns. Some changes might introduce new stressors into your life, but others might impact aspects of physical or mental health.
Insomnia can develop during pregnancy due to multiple factors. Fluctuating levels of hormones are to blame for many of the challenges experienced during pregnancy, including those related to energy.
Physical discomfort – thanks to changed body composition, aches and pains, swelling, cramps, etc. – may affect how easy it is to feel relaxed in bed. Some people have a chance of experiencing symptoms of parasomnia during pregnancy as well.
Atypical Sleep Schedules
Sometimes unusual sleep patterns are impossible to avoid. If your job requires that you work nights, for instance then you may go to sleep in the afternoon.
However, especially when just getting started, your body may not be accustomed to the change, resulting in an unhealthy and ineffective sleep schedule. Trying to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends, can help manage these effects.
To make things even more challenging, drinking large amounts of caffeine, napping frequently, and other behaviors we tend to turn to when tired can actually exacerbate the situation and should be avoided.
Sleep problems can reduce productivity and lower your overall mental wellbeing. But no matter where your sleep problems stem from, know that you are not alone.
Seeking the care of a healthcare professional is a great idea if your sleep problems are long-term and significantly impact your life. No one deserves to go through life without something as healing and essential as a good night’s sleep.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.