Stress is a normal part of life, and describes any kind of change that the body undergoes in reaction to outside events. The truth is that some stress can be good, keeping us alert and out of danger, but for the most part the term has come to have a negative connotation, and to be used as a description of a physical, mental or emotional reaction that causes harm. Stress can result in the creation of physical conditions such as headache, stomachache and cardiovascular problems, and when people turn to substances such as alcohol or tobacco in response to stress, these conditions can be exacerbated.
One of the most important ways to help us deal with stress and to counter its harmful impact is to make sure that we get enough sleep, but unfortunately sleep has become a low priority item for most Americans. We choose to work, to stay up and socialize, even to stay up and watch television or play video games over getting the seven to nine hours of sleep that we need each night, and when we do that we make our reaction to the stress in our lives that much more damaging. The best way to arm ourselves and protect ourselves against stress is to make sure that we are well rested, as doing so not only gives us strength but also helps us to understand what is happening in our lives and to remain calm in the face of unsettling events.
People who are dealing with a great deal of stress in their lives need to redouble their efforts to get enough sleep, making it their top priority. Doing so will help to prepare them for whatever they are facing.
There are a number of easy but important changes that can be made in the way that we approach and think about sleep that will make a big difference in the way that we feel. The top way of ensuring that you are getting enough sleep each night is to establish a specific bedtime routine and stick to it. The more clear cut and regular your bedtime ritual is, and the more rigorously you stick to an established hour for sleeping and for waking, the more positively your body will respond to it. Your biological clock will adjust to a regular schedule very quickly, and you will soon find that you no longer struggle with insomnia or with having a difficult time waking up in the morning. You will have more energy during the day and be more alert in the face of difficulty.
Another important thing that you can do to help yourself face stress and prioritize sleep is to set aside a full thirty minutes each night for the specific act of getting ready for bed. Simply establishing a bedtime does not account for the various things that you need to do each night, whether that includes making and drinking a cup of herbal tea, washing your face and brushing your teeth, or having quiet conversation with your partner before going to bed. The more clear cut your nightly rituals are and the easier it is for you to do them by virtue of having aside time specifically for their practice, the more quickly you will find yourself dropping off to sleep, and the lower your stress levels will be.
Another important aspect of getting the sleep that you need in order to counter the harmful impact of stress is to identify and eliminate the things that are working against you. There are a number of things in your environment that you may think of as completely normal but which may be causing you added trouble. They include the use of electronic devices such as smart phones and tablets, too much light or noise entering your room from neighbors or street sounds or other residents of your home, or the tendency to want to check work email just one more time before getting to bed. Sleep experts suggest that all electronic devices and communication should be cut off at least two hours before your bedtime, not only because they emit a specific wavelength of blue light that causes your brain to become more alert and makes it harder for you to fall asleep, but also because the content that you are reading within work email or by communicating with family or friends may actually add to your stress level, increasing your arousal and making it more difficult for you to fall asleep and get the rest that you need.
Another aspect of your life which you may be indulging in with the best intentions but which may actually be working against you is the tendency to exercise late in the evening. Though some people say that after work is the best time for them to exercise because it enables them to release tensions from the day and to exhaust themselves before bed, some sleep experts argue that doing so puts the body into too elevated a state of arousal and makes it difficult for the body to relax. There has been some research that indicates that working out at night is no more damaging to the ability to fall asleep than not exercising at all, but there is unanimous agreement that the best time to exercise in terms of allowing yourself to get the rest that you need is early in the morning. If it is at all possible, try to exercise then.
Finally, if you find yourself pushing sleep aside in favor of other things, take a good long look at your attitudes about sleep to determine whether you are carting around outdated beliefs. Though sleep was once equated with laziness, it has been well established that it is essential to our health and wellbeing, particularly for those who are facing stress.