How To Sleep Better When Stressed

The Stress Of Not Sleeping Because You’re Stressed

Poor sleep may be a symptom of being stressed. But prolonged bouts of disrupted sleep, or even insomnia, can start contributing to an even greater level of stress. It becomes a vicious circle. At some stage, extreme exhaustion will kick in. Your mind and body will simply say ‘no more’. And you’ll crash.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem. Sure, you’ll likely wake up the next morning slightly calmer and more energised, but it won’t resolve the underlying cause. In this blog, we get a few tips from a sleep scientist on managing sleep in the midst of stressful work issues or personal challenges.

Understanding stress and sleep

Sleep Scientist, Dr Dale Rae has seen it all. The pace of an ever-changing, and no less demanding world can be arduous. "A lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, can often be the tell-tale sign of stress,” says Dr Rae. “Conditions like panic attacks, prolonged periods of duress, or even short-term anxiety often manifest in compromised sleep. Restlessness, a racing brain or heart, and midnight sweats can play havoc with your vitally important quality of sleep.”

"There are certain techniques to employ when the pressure of life is affecting your sleep. Bear in mind, though, that sleep strategies are by no means psychological therapies. Sleep alone cannot resolve any underlying issues. Getting good quality sleep will also almost certainly be easier if you are also managing your stress, so dealing with these underlying issues is key. But, as we can all appreciate, improving the quality of our sleep will certainly bolster levels of energy, sharpen the critical mind and enable us to manage every next day with slightly more focus and composure.”

How to manage stress and sleep

When life seems overwhelming, a “fight or flight” instinct can kick in. It’s a human survival mechanism. You can decide either to go into overdrive and manage your challenges head-on, or you could just as sensibly step aside and evade the cause of your stress. Either way, prolonged “fight or flight” is not a sustainable way to live and is not conducive to good quality sleep. Dr Rae takes us through a few sleep-enhancing approaches.

1. Sleep with purpose – Approach your sleep with greater mindfulness. If at times, your daytime challenges seem insurmountable, your nightly sleeping routine needs to be all the more within your control. Even if you're having to put in extra hours, know when to shut down. There is a point at which meaningful productivity inevitably declines. While it might seem better to push through and keep working, you may not be functioning at your best. The work will take you longer (and will likely not be up to your usual standard), so you would be better off going to bed and tackling it again after a good night’s rest. Prioritise getting sufficient, good-quality sleep.

2. Monitor daytime behaviours – When operating at highly pressured levels of output, chasing down deadlines, or managing an unexpected crisis, your critical focus may be compromising your life balance. You’ll eat on the run. Keep the coffee flowing. Snack on sugary treats. Skip exercise, because you just can’t spare the time. Unwittingly, you are likely compromising the very performance levels you need to sustain. Come the evening, you may find it difficult to calm yourself and ready your mind and body for sleep. If possible, keep to your exercise routine. It's at least one way you can take your mind off things, if only for an hour or so.

3. Review your sleep environment – When sleep is the least of your worries, you’re less likely to press pause and consider your bedroom environment. It’s a bedroom, with a bed. It’s where you sleep. But could it be better arranged to promote, or induce, better sleep? If your mind is cluttered with all manner of priorities, you want your bedroom to be a retiring place of calm. Declutter your bedroom. Take out the 'noise'. Consider lowering the light intensity in the bedroom. Clear away anything that doesn't need to be there, like clothes piled over a chair, shoes left where you've kicked them off, the trinkets that just collect dust. Turn off, or get rid of, devices like the TV, your tablet or your phone. These are not agents of sleep. They are temptations, which only serve to prolong your inability to fall asleep, or even worse, interrupt your sleep during the night.

4. Know when to stop – If you need to take one last update for the day on emails and text messages, do it sooner rather than later. Have a definitive cut-off point. You can resume your crisis in the morning. If the cause of your stress is more personal, try to clarify what you’re able to control and what you simply can’t. And what you absolutely can control is your preparation for sleep. When tensions and emotions run high, sleep won’t fix the problem, but it will certainly help as a nightly release. Sleep does wonders for the mind and body. As they say, “If you’re well slept, you’re well kept.” Take care of your sleep.

5. Meditate, breathe, find calmness – You may be surprised by how sitting comfortably still, closing your eyes, and paying singular attention to breathing in and out, can be an instant calming technique. Switch off your phone and find a quiet space away from family. You could even sit in your car if that’s the quietest place. Breathe deeply and slowly. With every inhaling and exhaling, release each manic thought that has blurred your day. When eventually you are ready for bed, you will already have done half the job of relaxing and readying yourself for sleep.

Get professional sleep relief

The Sleep Science team in Cape Town consults with people from all walks of life. If you’re persistently struggling with proper, quality sleep, go to and consider scheduling an online consultation. Get the benefit of ongoing sleep science research, experience and knowledge that may very well help you take back control of your all-important sleep hygiene.

Don’t stress. Come to Dial•a•Bed

In good times and bad, there's no better moment than right now to check the quality of your comfort and support. Are you sleeping on the right mattress? Come into your nearest Dial•a•Bed store and take a simple Sleep Station test. We'll have you sleeping on your ideal dream machine in hardly any time at all. No hassle, no bother, no worries. And if even after delivery, you're not happy with your choice, you have a 100-Night Comfort Exchange period to swap it for another mattress.* Now that’s taking the stress out of investing in your best sleep. #SleepForLife.

TAKE CARE: Lifestyle recommendation is not medical advice. Always consult your healthcare professional should you be experiencing prolonged sleep difficulties or related health issues. *Ts & C’s apply.